John “Tiger” Cleek Sr. was a family man deeply involved in his community. He served as President of Cleek’s Home Furnishings, Rentals & Sales – a longtime Columbia family business – until his dying day.
Since childhood, Cleek Sr. has always been a Missouri football fan. His father, Clifton Elmo Cleek, known as “Missouri Mo”, started a tradition in 1962 by predicting the score of every game. After his father’s death in 1973, Cleek Sr. continued the tradition by displaying the sheet music in his store windows.
There was a common theme: Missouri always won.
“My father was an icon in Colombia,” said Cleek’s son, John Cleek Jr.
Since he started attending Faurot Field aged 8, Cleek has only missed three home games.
“He was one of the most incredible Missouri football fans you’ve ever seen,” Cleek’s longtime friend Bill Schulz said.
Cleek Sr. had a relationship with several Missouri football coaches, including Gary Pinkel, and was a lifelong member of the team’s boosters, the Tiger Quarterback Club.
“John was a wonderful person. He was always ready to help,” said Jo Ellen Milner, club secretary.
The club is planning a special event in honor of Cleek, Milner said.
Cleek was recognized at halftime of the November 2021 Missouri vs. Florida game for his community involvement and raising awareness for the disease ALS, which Cleek had battled for nearly two years.
“For my father, it was one of the greatest moments of his life,” said Cleek Jr.
A family businessman, John Cleek Sr., died March 16 at the age of 72, coincidentally the same date as his favorite Bible verse, John 3:16, Cleek Jr said.
On January 16, 1950, Cleek was born to Clifton and Wilma Cleek in Colombia. His mother and father founded the family business as an appliance company in 1956. It has been family owned and operated for over 65 years, expanding to include furniture and establishing four other locations in the central Missouri.
Cleek is survived by his wife, Ann Cleek; his son, John Cleek Jr., and his wife, Heather; grandchildren Mary, Thomas and Johnny and his wife, Renee; great-grandson Rhett; and two sisters, Susie Cleek and Sally Cleek Francis, and Sally’s husband, Roy Francis.
Cleek Jr. described his father as someone who put family first and was the type of leader people wanted to follow.
“I was always a part of his life,” said his younger sister, Susie Cleek. “And he always made sure I knew I was important to him.”
Cleek Jr. said he and his dad “do everything together.” Cleek Jr. started working for his father when he was in high school. Now he takes on the role of president of Cleek’s.
“My dad was my father, my boss and my best friend,” he said.
Outside of work, Cleek Sr. preferred to spend his time outdoors. Living on land with an 18-acre lake, he was an avid fisherman and hunted frequently.
Cleek Sr. caught the biggest bass of his life, 10 pounds, 14 ounces, on one of his regular trips to Florida for the Missouri away football game.
A community leader
Cleek Sr. was heavily involved in the rental business community. He co-founded the Missouri Rental Dealers Association in 1987. For more than 30 years, he has held various positions as a member, president or board member of the Missouri association and the National Association of Progressive Rental Organizations .
He lobbied on behalf of the industry in Washington, DC for 20 years in a row and received numerous awards, including the Rent To Own Tiger Award in 2020, which was named in honor of his services.
After being diagnosed with ALS, Cleek and his family became involved with the ALS Mid-America Chapter and participated in an annual awareness walk. The Cleek family and friends, known as “Team Tiger,” raised $83,000 for the 2021 walk.
“Even though my father passed away, we will continue to fight (and) do what we can to help others,” Cleek Jr said.
Cleek Jr. said his family appreciates the overwhelming support from the community. However, they requested that instead of sending food and gifts, community members donate to the Central and Northeast Missouri Food Bank in memory of Cleek Sr.