40 years later, Dietz keeping father’s legacy alive

By Lisa Burnett Originally Published October 13, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated October 11, 2013 at 11:52 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Penny Dietz’s family has owned the Doug Wilkinson Realty Company Inc. for 40 years. The business’s namesake died two years ago, but Penny, Doug’s daughter, runs the business with her husband.

Penny Dietz grew up in the real estate business and is doing what she can to keep her father’s business going 40 years after he started it.

Her father, Doug Wilkinson, started Doug Wilkinson Realty Company Inc. on Oct. 1, 1973.

Dietz and her husband, Mike, took over the business in 2011 when her father died.

The two are now co-owners of the company, and Mike is the principal broker.

Though her father’s business has become a staple in Jacksonville, her parents didn’t always live in the city.

“[My dad] grew up in Sicily Island, La., and when I was born at Barksdale Air Force Base, he was transferred [to Jacksonville],” Dietz said.”It was just four hours from his home.”

As a teenager, Dietz started working for her father on Saturday mornings to earn gas money, and continued until she graduated from Jacksonville High School in 1975.

She later worked as a branch manager for Citizens Bank in Jacksonville until her parents surprised her one day during a typical lunch date that turned into one that wasn’t so typical.

“My mom and dad came and picked me up for lunch one day and offered me a job. I’ve been here ever since,” Dietz said.

Dietz, 56, has worked for Doug Wilkinson Realty Company Inc. since Jan. 23, 1983. She started as a manager of rentals at the company.

“We probably had about 125 of them,” Dietz said.

Before her father’s death on March 5, 2011, Dietz had worked for him for 28 years.

Her father had been in the real estate business for a few years before starting out on his own.

“He was in the military, and he retired in 1962,” Dietz said. “A friend mentioned to him about coming to work for him in real estate.”

Dietz said that in real estate,

income is commission-based and isn’t always steady.

“He went from a steady income with five children to commission-based, but he got into [real estate] and loved it,” she said of her father. “He loved the service work.”

After Dietz joined her father’s business, her husband, who worked for Arkansas Best Freight at the time, decided he wanted to try his hand at real estate as well.

“I tried to talk him out of it,” Dietz said.

“I’d basically grown up in real estate because my dad started when I was 6, but [Mike] insisted. We had no income coming in except for mine, but it’s worked out.”

She and Mike have been married for 36 years and work together each day.

“There are times I wish we could leave our work here and not take it with us when we go home, but that doesn’t happen very often,” she said. “I don’t know anything different. I’ve worked with my dad and my husband since I was 25 years old.”

She and Mike met at Jacksonville High School, and he told everyone he wanted to drive Dietz’s yellow Camaro.

“It wasn’t me; it was the car, I guess,” she said with a smile.

Though the two do have their difficult moments, Dietz said, she and her husband have a unique relationship.

“So far, it’s worked for us,” she said.

Having been married for 36 years and working together as well, the two know how each other operates in a work environment.

In the true sense of running a family business, Dietz still finds ways to connect with her father, even though he died two years ago.

“It’s really interesting to open a file, and there’s his signature or a note to me,” she said.

“He loved coming to work — even if he didn’t do anything, he’d come to work. As he got older, he would come in and say, ‘I can still answer questions.’”

Her father showed dedication to his business until the end.

“My dad was 89 [when he died],” she said. “For about a year before [that], he wasn’t coming in as much, and I think he was kind of prepping us for when he wasn’t going to be around here.”

His philosophies and the way he ran the business still live on.

“We haven’t changed anything — we just kept going after he died. Nothing stopped, and nothing changed,” she said.

Following the same protocols and staying in Jacksonville make Dietz excited to carry on her father’s work.

“Mike and I are both proud to follow in my dad’s footsteps and support our city,” she said.

Now that she’s a co-owner of the business, she’s her own boss and enjoys the work she does.

“I don’t have to punch a clock, and I don’t have to be told what to do,” Dietz said.

Though her job provides her with the income she needs to survive, Dietz said her staff is the reason she comes back to work each day. She spends most of her days in their Jacksonville office.

“I don’t see the people [we work for] so much as it is the people we work with — I really enjoy our agents we work with,” she said.

“We’re just a family — our employees and our agents.”

When she’s not at work, Dietz said, she enjoys golfing with her husband, reading and spending time with her family.

“I love keeping my grandbaby,” she said.

Dietz’s granddaughter, Larcy, is 14 months old. Though both of her daughters grew up in the real estate business like Dietz did, neither of them went into real estate.

On the 40th anniversary celebration of her father’s company, Dietz had plenty of positive reinforcement about how she is running the business without her father around.

“We had a lot of people say [my dad] would have been very pleased with how the company [is being run],” she said.

She doesn’t plan on quitting work anytime soon.

“We’ve got a company to run,” Dietz said. “We don’t have any plans of closing it up.”

Staff writer Lisa Burnett can be reached at (501)244-4307 or lburnett@arkansasonline.com.

Online News Editor Lisa Burnett can be reached at lburnett@arkansasonline.com.

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