Jerry Duerksen enjoyed river rafting. He enjoyed a lot of things — fishing, his family, working his property management business and helping out in the community.
His son, Steve, his usual rafting partner, remembers a time late in his father’s life when he and Jerry were going through the “boulder patch” on the Siletz River.
“And he told me,” Steve said, “‘you know, I could just let go and bounce all the way down.’ Most people get nervous about a situation, but he would never show it.”
That’s because he always had a plan … and the patience to know how to carry it out.
“He always had a plan,” remembers his wife, Beckie. “And a backup plan and a third plan. He always did that. He kept thinking about all the details to determine which one was going to work best.
“And he was very enthusiastic for his ideas,” she said. “Sometimes he would come up to me and say ‘I got the best brainstorm this morning.’"
And Jerry, who died last week at the age of 72, had the patience to wait. To wait for others to speak. To wait for any contentions to expire. And then he would speak.
“He would try to make everybody comfortable and let everybody have their say. Then he would put his spin on it and say ‘maybe we can do something about it.’ " Beckie said.
Steve said, “he always wanted to make sure other people felt good at the end of the meeting.”
Then there was the Jan. 29, 2013 meeting at the library. More than 150 people crammed into the room to discuss housing issues. People were yelling and gesticulating and throwing things at the walls. Tenants were complaining about the conditions of rental housing. The city was talking about an expensive mandatory inspection protocol. Landlords were livid.
Then, the last of the 23 speakers came to the microphone. It was Jerry Duerksen. He suggested, quietly but firmly, that landlords and property managers could regulate themselves. And he promised to put something together.
Jerry kept his word. The Corvallis Rental Property Management Group, although it wasn’t called that yet, began holding informal meetings at Jerry’s office. The meetings soon moved to the Elks Lodge, where Jerry paid for lunch and his daughter-in-law, Dawn Duerksen, produced the agenda, put together an email list of 170 people and moderated the lunch sessions.
The sessions attracted as many as 100 people, with programs led by the Corvallis Police Department, the Corvallis Fire Department, city housing officials, Oregon State University officials, Republic Services and more. Participants briefed the group on legislation affecting the industry. Folks brought up information on training opportunities.
And things started to change. A key program was a cooperative effort in which the Corvallis Police Department agreed to inform the property manager every time they paid a call on a rental.
Dawn Duerksen said when she gets an email from the Police Department, sometimes she is in touch with the tenants before they even wake up.
“They’re knocking on the door at 9 a.m. and talking to tenants — and that’s powerful,” said Corvallis Police Chief Jonathan Sassaman. “We can write tickets all day long, but at the end of the day it’s just a ticket,” and nowhere near as powerful a message as an eviction notice or a school suspension.
In 2012, Sassaman said, his officers were answering more than 2,000 calls per year for livability offenses such as disturbances, fights, alcohol violations and loud parties. It’s now around 1,000 per year, with OSU helping by holding students accountable for off-campus behavior.
“It was Duerksen and OSU saying we have to have a way to hold people accountable,” Sassaman said. “They’re the ones who helped change the culture.”
Duerksen had the clout to make it happen because his company, Duerksen & Associates, controls a big chunk of the rentals in the city — with a few more sprinkled in Philomath and Albany.
The business made him and his family rich. Which made the family want to give the money away, particularly to causes affiliated with youth. The Duerksens are longtime contributors to the Old Mill Center for Children and Families and they gave $500,000 to the campaign for a new teen center at the Boys & Girls Club of Corvallis.
“He really liked to see everybody succeed,” Dawn said. “Graduating and finding jobs and going to college. It made him happy. He really wanted people to give more. He would have loved to have been a professional fundraiser, but it was hard to figure out how to do that and still run our business.”
The giving was all local.
“That’s where we got it from and that’s who we should be giving it back to,” Steve said.
Dawn said that famed investor Warren Buffett was one of Jerry's personal heroes because “he tried to get more rich people to give.”
A bit of history
Jerry lived a full and interesting life before he got into real estate in the late 1970s.
He was a graduate of Valsetz High in the Coast Range lumber town, which no longer exists and was a four-year Navy veteran who was in Vietnam for the 1968 Tet Offensive. A licensed pilot, he once recalled in an interview a flight in a Piper Cub in 1967, when an hour in the air cost $3 for the instructor and $2 for the plane. He worked as a commercial fisherman in Newport and Coos Bay. And he came within 12 hours of completing work on a degree in fish and wildlife from OSU.
Late in his life Jerry told Steve “I’ve done everything in my life that I ever wanted to do. I don’t have a single regret.”
“I think he mentioned that to all of us,” Dawn said.
During a recent interview with the Gazette-Times, Dawn was taking notes, assembling word choices that fit Jerry.
“Calm, giving, loyal, unimpeachable integrity, loving, trust and patience,” she said.
“Integrity,” repeated Beckie. “That was the strongest thing. He never wanted anyone to think that he didn’t have integrity.”