Three generations of DeHoffs — 50 years of developing Stark County

Bob DeHoff once considered a different career path. In his early 20s, fresh out of Mount Union, he was tempted by a job offer from Chubb & Son, a nationally known insurance business. A fellow Mount Union alum pitched him the job.

Bob DeHoff once considered a different career path. In his early 20s, fresh out of Mount Union, he was tempted by a job offer from Chubb & Son, a nationally known insurance business. A fellow Mount Union alum pitched him the job. Bob would earn $7,100 a year and get a company car. He would live in a bigger, livelier city — Pittsburgh.

How could someone reject that kind of offer?

Bob had worked with his family’s business — DeHoff Realtors — through college. He spent mornings doing maintenance at Versailles Gardens, a new apartment complex, and afternoons selling real estate. Not very interesting compared to all the possibilities tied to the Chubb & Son offer. “I told my dad I was going to accept the offer,” Bob recalls.

Glenn DeHoff understood Bob’s desire to pursue his own career and fortune. But Glenn asked his son for one small favor before he accepted a new job; he wanted Bob to attend a real estate class in Los Angeles. “Who could pass up a week in California?” Bob said.

The first morning in the class Bob found a seat in the back of the room. The instructor asked each of the 20 or so men to introduce themselves and give their background. Bob found he was in a classroom with graduates of major universities and they were on corporate career paths. Some had MBA degrees. Now they wanted to give up those jobs to begin a real estate career.

The guy from Mount Union with a job at the little family realty company listened. “I’m thinking, why would I want to get out of real estate when all of these guys with great pedigrees wanted to get into it?”

When Bob’s week in California ended he came home and stayed with the family business. That was the late 1960s. DeHoff Realtors still stood as a newcomer among local realty firms. Today the family owned North Canton-based company is among Northeast Ohio’s leading real estate brokerage and developers. During the past 50 years the DeHoff family has spurred some of Stark County’s biggest residential, retail and commercial developments.

The family tree

Glenn DeHoff did not start his business career at DeHoff Realtors. He had climbed the corporate ladder with The Hoover Co. and reached the position of assistant to the president.

The family’s adventure into the real estate business began with Ardis DeHoff. Also known as A.J., she was Glenn’s wife, and began her career in real estate “just as a whim.” Son Bill was in college and Bob was in high school. Ardis found herself selling houses for Martin Surbey, a small North Canton real estate company. When Surbey died suddenly in 1962, his wife, Marie, asked Ardis if she was interested in buying the business.

She jumped at the chance. Six months later she coaxed her husband to join her. Glenn “was dynamic, a natural salesman,” Ardis recalled. Glenn still was involved with the company when he died in 2002 at age 88. Bob began helping at the company while still in high school. Linda taught third grade at Woodland School in Canton before joining the company in the late 1980s. The couple’s son Dan joined the family business about 12 years ago after receiving his bachelor’s degree from Wittenberg University in Springfield and attending Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Dan said his parents didn’t pressure him to join the firm. “I was always interested in the business,” he said. “My father brought me with him to work all the time.”

Now Dan works with Bob in the development company. Dan’s focus is financing, developing new business and discovering ways to grow the business in directions that also serve others.

The DeHoff family’s sense of place seems to be the driving force behind the company’s developments because their Stark County roots run deep. Bob’s family hails from East Canton, where grandparents Lodi and Sadie Dehoff operated a service station with 14 cabins on old state Rt. 30. Bob graduated from East Canton High School before moving on to Mount Union.

Linda graduated from the former Glenwood High School, then headed for Ohio University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in education. Her father and uncles were bricklayers who helped build the roads in many of Canton’s historic neighborhoods.

The couple met on the tennis courts at Stadium Park. While their backgrounds are different — she grew up in an Italian Catholic family and his family is German Protestant — they embrace their differences, respect one another and share a zest for life. They have been married 42 years and reside in Jackson Township. In addition to Dan they have a daughter, Molly Holtzer, and four grandchildren.

Linda and Bob banter easily. Linda joked that she knew she was in for a wild ride when early in their marriage she came across a mug belonging to Bob — a fan of Teddy Roosevelt — that read “Life should be led like a cavalry charge.”

Linda laughs, explaining that she knows her husband and son very well from the back. “They are always running!”

Dan, 38, agreed. “We all believe that you should work hard and we also believe that you should play hard.”

Setting the stage

Ardis, who celebrates her 95th birthday in October and remains in good health, fondly remembers her early years as a Realtor. There weren’t many women selling houses in those days, she said. “We were in the minority, but we would soon be recognized as equals.”

Helping area residents find homes was extremely satisfying, Ardis said.

“It’s the most wonderful occupation because of what it gives a family. A home is a place to come home to, no matter how big or small. It really is the foundation of our nation. The satisfaction of putting a family in the right home is the most wonderful feeling.”

In the mid-1960s, the average price for a home was between $12,000 and $15,000 for a three-bedroom house with a single bathroom, she said. Items we take for granted now were major selling points then, she said.

“If a house had a garage door opener, you got it and took it along when you were showing the house. You explained how the wife wouldn’t have to go out in the rain to open the garage door,” she remembered. “A lazy Susan in the kitchen was a real plus,” she added, noting that built-in appliances were “a treat” because they were not common.

DeHoff Realtors emphasized customer service with their staff.

“We trained our salesmen to take care of the customer,” she said. “We told them, ‘You might have
something (to sell) but you need to find what the customer wants.’ ”

That idea of meeting a community’s needs always has been a DeHoff hallmark, Ardis said. Glenn and Ardis developed the Versailles Gardens Apartments at 171 Applegrove St. NE. They were the first garden apartments in North Canton and helped pave the way for commercial and retail development along North Main Street.

“There was nothing between the square and Applegrove,” Ardis said. “Versailles Gardens was an important part of the growth of North Canton.”

About a year after joining his wife in the real estate business, Glenn’s corporate connections gave the company a commercial development opportunity. Glenn took a telephone call from a classmate in a course he recently had taken. Herbert E. Markley, president of The Timken Co., was on the other end of the line and he wanted a meeting. Glenn raced south to Canton and left Markely’s office with the task of acquiring the land where Timken Research is located. Over the years DeHoff Realtors helped Timken acquire property for several developments, including the Faircrest Steel Plant in Perry Township.

Glenn also spearheaded assembling several farms along Frank Road, which eventually became the campuses of Kent State Stark and Stark State College.

Not long after helping Timken find a new home for its research operations, Glenn and Bob began efforts to develop what now is known as the Akcan Industrial Park in Stark and Summit counties, across from the Akron-Canton Airport. The park is home to about 50 companies, including Diebold’s current headquarters.

Henry Timken suggested to the DeHoffs that the area be developed as an industrial site. The project was funded with investments by local residents, who bought shares in the property to help pay for its purchase and development. Bob said his father placed a newspaper advertisement for a meeting at the Onesto Hotel to raise funds for the project.

“He told people it wouldn’t be a way to get rich quick,” Bob recalled. “Truer words were never said.”

Pulling it together

The DeHoffs had support from three area banks — United, Harter and Peoples Merchants. Herb Markley stepped forward with an offer to buy five shares at $5,000 and that prompted other investors to come forward.

Bob said the DeHoff family have been blessed through the years by relationships with significant land owners in the county. During the 1970s, Bob built a reputation of developing small farms into residential neighborhoods. In 1988, W.R. “Bob” Timken Sr. contacted Bob about selling 330 acres of the family farm in Jackson Township. It led to the Noble’s Pond residential and retail development that lies in an area some consider to be Jackson Township’s “downtown.”

Noble’s Pond also is memorable because of its historical significance beyond the boundaries of Stark County. The site has neighborhoods and a shopping area that includes Buehler’s Fresh Foods grocery store.

But before construction could begin, the DeHoffs learned that archaeologists were researching part of the site as a one-time home for Paleo-Indian tribes, early residents of the Americas. Scientists found pieces of flint, which had been used for hunting, at the site. The discovery meant Noble’s Pond was perhaps “the most established neighborhood in the country,” Bob said. The presence of flint — used in sharpening tools — indicated the area had been inhabited for about 11,000 years.

The DeHoffs stopped work at the development to make room for the archaeologists. The discovery captured the public’s attention and about 2,000 volunteers, mostly school children worked the dig to search for artifacts that told the story of the people who once lived on the land. Scientists for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. joined in the dig.

Their work here was significant, Linda said, because it provided information that changed previous theories about migration patterns of early tribes. Today an Ohio historical marker stands at the site explaining the discoveries.

Other well-known area families sought the DeHoffs when it came time to sell their property. The Carrington development in Jackson Township was once part of a 240-acre farm owned by Sarge and Nancy Hoopes. The property that now is St. James Place in Lake Township was the John Ketterer family farm.

Sarge Hoopes, then an executive at Timken, owned the farmland in Jackson. Bob had walked the farm a couple of times with Hoops and told him to call if he ever wanted to sell. The call came one afternoon in the middle of meetings aimed at resolving a lawsuit, Bob said. Sarge wanted to know how soon Bob could meet.

“I looked around the room. I I thought, ‘I’m not going to settle this lawsuit,’ so I pulled my lawyer aside and said I was leaving,” Bob recalls.

The meeting with Sarge Hoopes took place in the study at the old farm house. Sarge decided on a price and interest rate. Everything was written down on the back of an envelope. “He said, ‘Bob, let’s shake on this so we have a deal.’” Sarge didn’t need a contract, but they got one all the same, Bob said. The Hoopes’ family land was sold to DeHoff for development, but later on it was learned that Sarge’s wife had requested the orchard would not be sold until after his death. The DeHoffs deeded the land back to the family and repurchased it later.

W.R. “Bob” Timken Sr., Sarge Hoops and John Ketterer all were contemporaries, Bob said. He sees some irony in the fact that he ended up developing all three properties.

That likely stems from work by Glenn and Bob helping many industries and institutions assemble and develop property. “We’ve been blessed to have a small hand in the development side of major projects in the county,” Bob said.

A sense of stewardship

Noble’s Pond, Carrington, St. James Place and other projects illustrate the DeHoff family’s sense of stewardship over the land they develop. As lifelong Stark County residents, they care about the place they call home.

“We really are caretakers of the land during the relatively short period of time that we own it,” Linda said.

Bob agreed. “This community is our home so we try to be good stewards in the work we do.”

As caretakers, they consider the lifestyles of people who select their residential developments. That is why sidewalks and street lighting are important components of the projects, bringing improved safety and giving the neighborhoods a feeling of community.

“We don’t sell bricks and mortar,” Linda said. “We introduce people to neighborhoods.”

With that in mind, the company works to create what DeHoff staff members call “a sense of place” with each development. The DeHoffs share the same vision with the William Lemmon and Theodore Boyd families, who have been longtime partners in many projects throughout the county.

Washington Square on the east side of North Canton, for example, combines residential, office and retail business with the Hoover walking trail and the historic Hoover farmhouse. A former Hoover family farm, the property had become something Maytag Corp. no longer wanted to maintain.

The DeHoffs were an active participant to convert 260 acres for community use and preserve some of the area’s history. Turning Washington Square into a retail destination didn’t come without some battles, most of them over zoning.

As he spelled out the initial plan, Bob DeHoff didn’t expect problems getting approval. He wanted to set aside 75 acres where North Canton could develop city parks. Another 50 acres would go to Walsh University, where the DeHoffs planned to relocate the historic farmhouse, barn and tannery. The remaining land would be for development.

The reaction? “A firestorm,” Bob said. But the development changed the intersection of Market Avenue N and Easton Street NE from a busy crossroads to a bustling retail center. The farmhouse and out buildings are part of the Walsh University campus and house the Hoover Historical Center. Walsh has used the vacant land to develop athletics fields. A grocery store, numerous restaurants and other retailers anchor the eastern end of the development.

Building communities

As the DeHoffs develop a parcel, the family likes listening to what community leaders say they need and then helping fill those needs, Dan said. “We like to help communities,” he said.

An example of that philosophy is the Mills Business Park at Faircrest Street and Sherman Church Avenue SW in Canton. The park is jointly owned by the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce Foundation and the DeHoff family foundation.

The 140-acre park was developed by DeHoff development after discussions with city and county officials and business leaders who wanted to find ground to attract industry into Canton.

Medline Industries, a national manufacturer and distributor of health care supplies, and Old Dominion Freight Line, a North Carolina-based trucking company, have built facilities at the park. More companies are looking at the site, Bob said.

Mills Business Park grew from Canton’s need to have a Class “A” industrial park, Bob said. The Stark Development Board found the property and working with the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce, the land was annexed from Canton Township into the city and then zoned as a business park.

But private developers hesitated to take on the property as a development project. The DeHoffs began working with the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce Foundation, then created the DeHoff Family Foundation. The foundations partnered to create the nonprofit Canton Commerce Development, which owns the Mills site. Forming the partnership helped with securing federal grants. Meanwhile, profits from developing property in the park go back to the foundations to be re-invested in the community, making it a self-sustaining property.

“It’s kind of like the gift that keeps on giving,” Bob said.

The business of moving

The DeHoff Center for Real Estate Services is another success story within the company. The company offers relocation services that help people across the country and around the world make the move from one community to another.

Relocation services include “anything that you can imagine that you would need,” Linda said. Looking for school districts in the Boston suburbs? Or a family doctor in Phoenix? DeHoff staff will do the research for you.

Relocation services also include locating a Realtor either in the community where someone lives now or in the area where he or she is locating, Linda said.

Individuals can use the relocation service, as well as companies looking for help with employees transferring to another part of the country. DeHoff provides relocation services to about 200 companies around the country. When it partnered with the Prudential Co. several years ago, DeHoff was the leading relocation company in the Midwest, said Linda, who has taught relocation courses for Realtors around the country.

Relocation has been brisk lately because of the growing interest in this area by petroleum and natural gas companies.

“We’re finding that the oil and gas industry is keeping us busy,” Linda said.

DeHoff’s relocation services are a natural extension of the “above and beyond” service the company staff already provides clients. A DeHoff Realtor recently drove a client’s family to Akron Children’s Hospital and waited with them during a physician appointment. Other Realtors have helped clients tasks that range from rearranging furniture to mowing grass to painting a patio. It’s just part of the service, and a reason why DeHoff Realtors are consistently the highest producing agents per capita in the region, Linda said.

The company also offers unique initiatives to its sales staff, such as “team pricing.” That’s a process where DeHoff Realtors work together to provide input on how to price a property. This collaboration is a way for Realtors to share their experience and expertise, Linda said.

Another sales initiative that is beneficial to clients is “value range pricing (VRM).” This strategy assigns a price range to a property for sale — instead of a single price. For example, a home valued around $100,000 may carry a value range price of $87,000 to $105,000. The advantage is that the range listed can attract a broader spectrum of potential buyers, inviting more people to view the house. That extra traffic can lead to multiple offers and reduce the time a house is on the market, Linda said. The range in pricing also helps sellers obtain a price they want.

Other advantages that DeHoff clients receive are the great working relationship between the company and its neighbor, Cornerstone Real Estate Title. DeHoff Realtors frequently work with Cornerstone on property title searches and legal questions related to purchases or sales.

DeHoff also boasts a very high staff-to-agent ratio of 4-1, assuring agents they have the clerical and other assistance they need to serve clients. The Ohio Board of Realtors ranked the DeHoff Marketing Department and its website No. 1 for three consecutive years among businesses of comparable size.

Dan said the company’s success has come because of the network of people that is part of what DeHoff does, including employees, Realtors, contractors and community leaders.

“We’ve surrounded ourselves with great people,” he said.

Although some might find it difficult to work with their parents, Dan said it works well for him and his family.

“We communicate very well. We have healthy debates,” he said. “We have fun but we also have some very serious discussions.”

Bob said he appreciates the opportunity to work each day with his son and his wife, just as he appreciated the years he worked with his parents.

Linda agreed. “It’s not hard to work together,” she said. “It would be hard not to.”

Right now, Ardis, Bob and Linda say they enjoy looking back over the company’s history. “It all started so humbly,” Ardis said. “The progress is unimaginable that I have had the privilege of seeing.”

She said the key to the company’s success is simple: “We’ve been fair and honest. As long as what you do is right, you can’t lose.”

Linda echoes that sentiment: “What we do each day is really what we ought to be doing anyhow.” Helping people set down roots in a community where their own roots lie deep is a privilege, the DeHoffs agree.

“People don’t just find a home,” Linda said. “They find a history, a memory. That’s really what we do.”

Where to buy

The Repository
Select Rite Aid Stores
Spee-D Foods
Buehler's Fresh Foods
Fishers Foods, including 44th Street NW, Tuscarawas St. W, Fulton Drive, Lincoln Way E. and Cleveland Ave. NW locations
Aultman Hospital Gift Shop
Mercy Medical Center Gift Shop
Gervasi Vineyard Marketplace
Carpe Diem Coffee Shop, downtown Canton and Belden Village Mall locations
News Depot
Avenue Arts Marketplace
Yum Yum Tree Alliance
Grapes in a Glass