I had a lot of fun going through old pictures to help tell the story of Real Estate Guide, the topic I chose to reveal about myself in a community-building assignment for team retreat. It’s sometimes interesting to have two lives—all the years leading up to 1994, when I married Mauri, and the years following. I don’t get many opportunities to tell about what was, even though what was equals nearly four fifths of my years to date. Maybe you’ll indulge me the retelling of this particular slice of my life.
The story of Real Estate Guide actually began back in the early ’70s. Paul and I lived in Tallahassee, Florida, and had two kids at the time. Paul, ever the idea man, sat at the counter of a Denny’s one day with his friend Jerry Lundquist and drew his latest business dream on a napkin. It involved selling advertising to real estate brokers that would be published in a magazine and distributed at restaurants and local establishments where potential home buyers could pick it up free. You see these publications everywhere these days, but back then it was still only an idea. Now, I mentioned that Paul came up with great ideas, but he didn’t always know how to put them into action. Jerry did! He worked the plan and eventually had a successful magazine called Homes and Land of Tallahassee.
This is Jerry with his family on the cover.
The way I’ve written this story, you might think we’d be upset with Jerry for taking off with Paul’s idea. We weren’t, thankfully, because as the story plays out, we gained a lot from it. What I want you to see, though, as I weave the parts together, is God’s hand in it.
Enter my brother, John Nill. He’s the one with the business head who partnered with Jerry to franchise the magazine across the country. Let’s just say they both did very well. This is John, and that’s Quinn on his back.
Eventually Paul got involved in the business. I had homemaker mentality and didn’t think it was my place to meddle in his work. But that changed as I gradually found my place in the “office” side of it.
In 1983 we lived in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and worked together in most aspects of pulling together a twice-monthly Homes and Land magazine: selling ads, picking up copy, photographing houses (one-hour labs were a fresh and very helpful idea back then), laying everything out on a ping pong table in the basement, mailing it to the printer in Tallahassee, then distributing the magazines to the Realtors and public places. We stayed in Chattanooga less than a year, but it was long enough to give me the confidence I needed to “do” an entire magazine by myself while Paul and the kids moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Two weeks after they moved, I joined them. Immediately I was introduced to our neighbors, Dick and Shirley Walker. Only God knew how important they would be to the Carlson family. Paul found gainful employment at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services through ServiceMaster. That was a bigger blessing than met the eye because both Paul and I needed medical help and hadn’t been covered by health insurance for quite some time. My stage III endometriosis was cured with an operation. Paul’s freshly diagnosed multiple myeloma (bone marrow cancer) was not. The doctor estimated he could control it for a while with oral chemotherapy but not longer than two and a half years.
I can’t say the news surprised me. Paul’s lingering symptoms couldn’t have led to any other conclusion. But the reality that I had three growing but not grown children to finish raising with no life insurance or savings hit me between the eyes. It had been years since I had held a “real” job. We moved to Grand Rapids in February and by June I had recovered from surgery and was putting together my first issue of Real Estate Guide. Lest this sound like bragging, please understand I can’t take credit for any of it. On my own steam and without the experience I had just gained, I could never have driven to neighboring Holland and sold advertising to a community of Realtors while driving a clunky station wagon with Tennessee license plates. With $200 borrowed from my cousin Helen Katherine, I printed up some copy sheets (what they used to type—yes, type their ads and give the addresses for me to take the pictures) and other miscellaneous necessities. Grandville Printing couldn’t print the magazine without advance payment so I convinced the Realtors to pay up front. I had much to learn along the way, but here I am with volume one, number one, beaming with pride for the ugliest baby I ever birthed.
Earlier I mentioned our neighbors, the Walkers. Here they are at a local restaurant. See what interesting reading they have at the table?
And here’s a picture of the Carlson family at the Walkers’ house with three of the five Walker kids. For the sake of this story, please notice their son, Bryan, over on the left.
Bear with me now. It’ll all come together eventually. Next I’ll show you a picture of my Ben at his high school graduation. The girl standing next to Ben, wearing sunglasses, is Ami. Bryan married Ami. That’s all you need to know for now.
You gotta love this. We didn’t have money for those fancy newspaper distribution-type boxes so Paul decided to build some cute roofed houses for outdoor distribution. Here he is staining them and then how one looked on the street.
So Real Estate Guide began to grow. Eventually Paul left his job at Pine Rest to help with the magazine. He was a shining people person and salesman extraordinaire. While I expanded my graphics and layout knowledge, he expanded the page count. Gradually we added four more magazines to the schedule and added Quinn and friend Tina Anderson to the employee pool. Paul’s health improved; we got out of debt and breathed easy for a while. He pushed me, resisting all the way, into the computer age. Here I am with my first computer in 1988.
We bought a big old building close to home and housed our business there, but by the time we had only one kid living at home we could move it back there. Here’s where Quinn and I spent a lot of time typesetting and keylining magazines. The utility room doubled as the darkroom, where Paul did the “screens.” Digital photography was still a long way off.
Paul’s health held up remarkably well with regular treatments, but by the early ’90s he needed frequent blood transfusions to keep going. It was time to groom Ben for all the jobs Paul did. He was willing to give up his full-time job, move back to the area, and settle into the task at hand. Do you see God’s hand in all of this? Here’s Ben on a pile of outdated REGs. Please, please notice its improved appearance!
Paul died in 1993 and Ben stepped into his dad’s shoes. In early ’94 Mauri and I decided our renewed friendship would make a good marriage partnership. Moving to Oregon would mean I needed to find a buyer for Real Estate Guide. Dave Schick, a friend from church, was still at least ten years away from retirement. I knew he was looking for something and wondered aloud if REG might interest him. We struck a deal, signed the documents, and dove into training. Meet Dave and Millie, who learned the business too.
When it was time to marry and move, I delegated those Grandville Printing boxes to a different task.
The Schicks worked hard and kept up with the changing technology, faithfully sending us a check every month. Eventually we celebrated their final payment. Or should I say they celebrated? We kind of liked that regular deposit in our account.
About a year ago Dave called with some exciting news. He and Millie decided it was time to retire and sell REG. You’ve probably already guessed who bought it: Ami Walker! The mother of three daughters was looking for something she could do at home, and a casual conversation led to another ownership transfer. No more picking up copy or photography; the advertisers send ads and pictures via cyberspace. And who distributes the magazine? Dick and Shirley Walker. Dick told me when I was in Michigan last month that one of Paul’s funky distribution houses remains intact. And look at what Ami has done with Real Estate Guide. You can’t tell from the picture, but this issue is a whopping 108 pages! And she has one in another location with almost as many pages.
If I ever need a reminder of God’s constant care and attention, I don’t have to look very far.