Jerry Duerksen already had put together a pretty full resume by the time he got into real estate in the late 1970s.
Graduate of Valsetz High in the lumber company town in the Coast Range that no longer exists. Four-year Navy veteran who was in Vietnam for the 1968 Tet Offensive. Pilot’s license — he remembers flying a Piper Cub in 1967, when an hour in the air cost $3 for the instructor and $2 for the plane. Worked as a commercial fisherman in Newport and Coos Bay. Came within 12 hours of completing work on a degree in fish and wildlife from Oregon State University.
The real estate gig, however, appears to have worked out. Duerksen, 71, weathered the 1980s recession, a chaotic time in the industry, and his family-run group, Duerksen & Associates, is now the leading property management firm in the city in terms of units managed.
“We’ve just been here longer,” Duerksen said drily.
That longer tenure has helped the family to see beyond the day-to-day grind of inspections, rental agreements and finding lodging for a couple of generations of OSU students. To community involvement and community building.
The company is transitioning into a second generation of leadership, with Duerksen’s son, Steve, and daughter-in-law Dawn, moving into the primary roles.
“I have no day-to-day involvement at all,” Jerry Duerksen said. “Steve and Dawn do it all.”
All, for the Duerksens, includes managing more than 1,000 rental units (1,042 to be exact, Dawn notes) and extensive community work and charitable contributions that focus mainly on assisting youth.
In 2013, amid tempestuous citywide discussions on livability issues that stemmed from OSU growth, Duerksen quietly formed the Rental Property Managers Group, which meets monthly at the Elks Lodge and focuses on education and training for landlords and collaborations and partnerships with OSU, the police and fire departments and city housing officials.
The group started with a meeting of 10 individuals in the lunchroom at the Duerksen office on Northwest Grant Street. These days Dawn, who plays a primary role in coordinating the group, has a list-serve of 170 people who receive notices on the meetings. And the Duerksens pay for the meeting room and the food, with turnouts of more than 100 people common.
“I’m ecstatic about it,” Jerry said. “I stuck my neck out, but we knew we had to try it. How do we get landlords to fix these things?"
“It was all about education for landlords,” Steve said.
“People used to have to go to Salem or Eugene to hear about the programs we are offering,” Dawn said. “We really created a lot of opportunities for people to do things right.”
The group has worked with the Corvallis Police Department on an email alert system. If officers make a call at a rental unit, the property manager gets an email the next morning. Dawn says that the property managers sometimes follow-up on issues before the tenants are even up, and Chief Jon Sassaman has said that the group’s work provides an important layer of education and enforcement — OSU students fear eviction more than a minor in possession citation, he says.
The Duerksens also are active in charitable circles. Their involvement with the Old Mill Center for Children and Families goes back to 1980 and the company recently gave $500,000 to the $6 million campaign to build an expanded teen operation at the Boys & Girls Club of Corvallis.
The family also works with the Corvallis and Philomath school districts and has done some preliminary outreach with OSU. Their overriding concern: graduation rates.
“We want our youth to graduate here and stay here and work here,” Dawn said. “It all goes hand in hand.”
“Our biggest effort,” Jerry said, “is to really try to focus on our kids and make sure they have all of the services and support they need. It’s something we feel that we should try. We need a new funding source for our youth."
A third-generation Duerksen, meanwhile, is spending his summer working for the firm. Dawn and Steve’s son, Trenten, who will be a senior at Philomath High School in the fall, is making maintenance calls for the group. Trenten is dual-enrolled at Linn-Benton Community College.
Steve got his start with the company 16 years ago, “laying gutters” as he put it. Now, he is a licensed broker.
So will Trenten make Duerksen & Associates his career?
“We have no idea,” Steve said.
“He’s 17,” Dawn said. “Some days he wants to work with us. Others days …”