leo leichterLeo Leichter, 73, a Czechoslovakian immigrant with a heart of gold who built the highly respected Biggers Auto Group in Elgin and Schaumburg, died Tuesday, Dec. 14 in his South Barrington home of complications from cancer.

Mr. Leichter's talent for salesmanship and knack for business helped him pilot his auto dealer group to become one of Chicagoland's largest. Mr. Leichter's incredible story began in Czechoslovakia in 1951 when he was arrested and sentenced to 14 years in prison for distributing anti-communist propaganda leaflets.

After a short while, he, as well as three other prisoners and a Russian guard were able to escape by stealing a fire truck. They traveled by night and hid in the woods by day, eventually working their way into Germany where they connected with the Allied Underground.Subsequent to that, Mr. Leichter joined the American Army and in turn gained his U.S. citizenship.

Upon coming to America, Mr. Leichter took up car sales, first in Texas and finally in the Chicago area where he worked for Long Chevrolet, then the largest dealership in the country, where he learned every aspect of the car business and earned the title of General Manager. In 1969, he purchased Biggers Chevrolet in northwest suburban Elgin and in 1983, he added an Isuzu franchise. In 1989 Mr. Leichter became partners with his son, Jim, and under their guidance the dealership became one of Chicago's largest privately held companies.Also in 1989, Leo, Jim and their partner, Joe Mitchell, opened Biggers Mitsubishi in Elgin and a second dealership in Schaumburg in 2000. Most recently Biggers Mazda opened in Elgin.

In spite of his success, Mr. Leichter remained a simple and humble man, always willing to help a friend in need or donate to a worthy cause. His loyalty and generosity helped launch many of his friends in business. Even though Mr. Leichter was a highly respected businessman, he was a friend to many. In 1989, he was chosen as Man of the Year by the Elgin Riverside Club, an honor he always cherished. He also was elected as President of the Illinois Auto Dealers Association in 1984. He served several terms and was instrumental in getting landmark legislation passed to close auto dealerships on Sundays. Mr. Leichter enjoyed travel, electronics, and sifting through ''treasures'' at swap meets or garage sales.

Mr. Leichter was a devoted family man who loved to spend time with his children and grandchildren. Mr. Leichter is survived by his wife of 43 years, Shirley; his daughter, Leslie (Brian) Schwartz and son, Jim (Lynne) Leichter, and their children, Blair and Grant.

His parents, Alfred and Livia Leichter; and sister, Magdalena Rohanova preceded Mr. Leichter in death. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be directed to Hospice of Northeastern Illinois at 410 S. Hager Ave., Barrington, IL 60010, 847-381-5599. Visitation will be on Thursday, Dec. 16 from 3 to 9 p.m. and Friday, Dec. 17 from 9 to 100 a.m., followed by a Memorial Service at 10 a.m. at Salerno's Rosedale Chapels, 450 W. Lake Street, Roselle, IL. 630-889-1700.

Published in Chicago Tribune from December 15 to December 16, 2004