Real Estate Mogul and Community Icon
Where it all started: I came back from the service in Anchorage, Alaska, in 1965. My dad was developing a mobile home subdivision in Astatula, so I went over there to manage that. In the process I would sell people’s houses for them because people would ask ‘What about that for sale sign?’ and I wouldn’t get paid because I didn’t have my license. So that made me say ‘Well, If I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna get paid,’ so I went and got a license. That was in 1968.
Humble beginnings: I moved back to Leesburg and worked out of a barn, basically, just a one-man office. I built the little office in the Holiday Inn parking lot in 1974. People would come in asking about houses, and I didn’t know anything about houses, so I started building a residential team. My background was selling mobile home parks and orange groves. From there, I met a girl who was a franchise salesman for ERA. I was the first franchised broker in Lake County.
Expansion: I sold the company to my son, Gus, six years ago. At that time, we had an office in Leesburg, one in Lady Lake, and a small one in Pembroke. Since then, he’s acquired offices in Mount Dora, Tavares, Clermont, and just opened an office in Orlando. He’s a busy boy.
Family Man: With my second marriage we raised six kids; I had four and Linda had two, and we raised them all together.
Activities: Boating and fishing—my real love is to be on the water. That and golf are the two primary things, and doing things with family.
In The Community: We believe in giving back to the community. We’ve been active in the Leesburg Partnership and supporting the activities that they do with Mardi Gras and Bikefest, and the Leesburg Center for the Arts, which hosts the Arts Festival. In fact, Linda and another friend (Kathy Cook) were instrumental in getting The Center for the Arts started. Then we found Amy Painter to take that on and run. She’s been doing a wonderful job with it. We’ll get involved with just about anything that supports the community.
Favorite Event: The Fish Fry, because I cook hushpuppies for the fish fry. We have six to eight hundred people come, and we cook a lot of food. It’s generally the first week in April.
On Local Growth: I was born here; we always felt Leesburg was the hole in the doughnut surrounded by Ocala, Orlando, and Lakeland. And it has not grown as fast as those places, which was kind of fortunate when we had the big crash. Although it hurt, we didn’t have as far to fall. The rebuilding has been steady, long, and good.
Why here: We’ve had a good life here. It’s a great place to raise kids. My dad said the way to make money in Florida was to buy land to grow hogs and cows on, and sell it to grow children on.
PHOTO: Fred Lopez