Association of Progressive Rental Organizations | America’s Champion for Rent-to-Own

RTO Loses a Champion: “Tiger” John Cleek (1/16/50-3/16/22)

“Tiger” John Cleek was a titan in the RTO industry and leaves behind a legacy of achievement and service unlikely to be equaled any time soon. Tiger got started in the RTO business in the late 70’s working for his father, Clifton Elmo Cleek, in Cleek’s Appliance and Food Service in Columbia, Missouri. Immediately after graduating from the University of Missouri in 1972, Tiger was made store manager and the rest was history. Since then, Tiger and his son, John Jr. grew the family business, operating five stores in Mid-Missouri. Tiger has been active in the business every day despite his diagnosis of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) on June 4, 2020. In regular Tiger fashion, the Cleek’s have actively engaged in fundraising for the ALS Association. On August 14, 2021, “Team Tiger” raised $83,000 for the ALS Walk, thanks primarily to the huge support from the RTO industry. 

Tiger was not only active in the day-to-day running of his RTO business, he was also active in the RTO industry. In 1987 he co-founded the Missouri Rental Dealers Association (MRDA), where he served as President for four years and afterward, remained on the board until his passing. Tiger’s efforts in MRDA made it one of the largest and most successful state associations in the country. Tiger, early on, had the foresight to hire a paid administrator to help maintain and grow MRDA, the first state association to do so.

He was also active at the national level, serving on the APRO board for 12 years and as APRO President for two terms. He was a champion for RTO at all levels and was heavily involved in the industry’s legislative efforts, working closely with Rep. Lacy Clay (D. MO), the lead sponsor for favorable legislation in 2008, which did not ultimately pass, but which garnered the largest number of co-sponsors for RTO legislation ever and raised the profile of the industry to new levels in Washington, D.C. 

Tiger will perhaps be best remembered for having recognized early on the importance of having strong state associations as the first line of defense for the industry that he loved and wanted to protect. He singlehandedly got the APRO State Association Coordinating Committee up and running and spent his time and money traveling the country organizing and re-organizing state RTO associations. He was given the APRO Dealer of the Year Award in 1996 and the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016. Most recently he was presented the inaugural Tiger Award, created and named after him in honor of his many contributions to APRO and the industry.

He is survived by many members of his family, his wife, Ann Cleek, son, John Cleek, Jr. (Heather), grandchildren, Johnny (Renee), Mary, and Thomas, a great-grandson, Rhett, plus his two sisters, Sally Cleek Francis (Roy) and Susie Cleek all of whom miss him very much as do his scores of friends in the industry. 

APRO has provided a collection of photos of “Tiger” John Cleek from his lifelong career as an RTO Champion. He is missed.

Below is the information for the services the family has organized:

Visitation:
Friday, April 8
4:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Parker-Millard Funeral Home
12 East Ash Street
Columbia, MO 65203

Funeral Service
Saturday, April 9
1:00 PM
The Crossing Church
3615 Southland Drive
Columbia, MO 65201

Celebration of Life Party: 
Saturday, April 9
5:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Faurot Field – The Columns Club (Eastside of Stadium)
Wear black and gold (Missouri Tigers) attire!

The family asks that in lieu of flowers, memorial contributions be made to one of the following organizations in “Tiger” John Cleek’s memory: 

1) MU Healthcare ALS Clinic
2) Special Olympics Missouri
3) The Food Bank of Central & NE Missouri 

John, Jr. will send contributions to the appropriate organization. Please mail all contributions to: 

Cleek’s Inc.  
401 West Boulevard North Suite C                    
Columbia, MO 65203

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