Remembering a real estate pioneer

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A businesswoman who became the first female co-owner of one of Bartholomew County’s largest real estate firms – just five years after joining the company – succumbed after a long battle with cancer.

Janice L. “Jan” Hexamer-Gardner, former co-owner of several companies affiliated with Breeden Inc. Realtors-Developers, died at 6:07 am on Wednesday at the Franciscan Hospice House in Indianapolis. She was 81.

“She was a stubborn competitor who wanted to contribute to a successful team,” said longtime business partner Mark Pratt. “But at the same time Jan’s ethics were at the highest level. People knew that they could trust her. “

One of her successors, the president and co-owner of Breeden Inc. Beth McNeely, described Hexamer-Gardner as “always the utmost in grace and professionalism at all times”.

“She paved the way (for other female realtors) in a number of ways,” said McNeely. “While she was a negotiator, Jan had this persuasive nature and the ability not to back down from what she believed. She always stood up for what was right and fair. “

Young Jan was born to a commercial electrical company and grew up in the Chicago area. She graduated from Maine East High School in Park Ridge, Illinois in 1958 and later studied business administration at Anderson University.

After moving to Columbus in 1969, Hexamer-Gardner began working for the late Virgil Scheidt at Athens Realty. She also became active with the Girl Scouts of America, various parent-teacher organizations, and served on the boards of First United Methodist Church and Asbury United Methodist Church.

In 1978 the young mother began working for Century 21 ME Smith Co., owned by former State Representative Milo Smith. In addition to being detail-oriented and dedicated to her clients, Smith recalled that his former employee also had a great sense of humor.

“When I hired her, her last name was Hexamer,” said Smith. “She knew that ‘hex’ was a curse, so she asked me to call her ‘Lucky Amer’.”

Two years later, in 1980, Hexamer-Gardner moved to Breeden, Inc., where she was named Graduate Realtors Institute in 1984.

During their first year with Breeden, the company sold 95 homes at an average price of $ 55,961 for total sales of $ 5.1 million. But in 2019 – Hexamer-Gardner’s last full year of business – their company sold 469 homes for an average sale price of $ 227,235, and had revenue of $ 129.2 million.

“When we started our career, she was the company’s senior sales representative,” said Pratt. “What brought them into the larger group were all of the things that they have personally made successful.”

Some of her qualities include a genuine desire to do the best for a client, a willingness to see both sides of a debate, and the ability to always compromise for the good of all involved, Pratt said.

It was only five years later before Hexamer-Gardner cracked the glass ceiling for women at the age of 45 by joining company founder Rex Breeden and others in an owner group. After being appointed Vice President of the company, Hexamer-Gardner was entrusted with the management of the residential division.

Perhaps no other businesswoman in Columbus understands the difficulties Hexamer-Gardner faced climbing the corporate ladder than Re / Max Real Estate co-owner and broker Jean Donica. After receiving her broker license, Donica was told that she would never succeed in selling real estate because she was raising a family.

“I know that Jan also had to fight the same battles,” said Donica.

But Hexamer-Gardner was passionate about real estate, and it wasn’t uncommon for her to work late into the night, McNeely said.

“Jan always told her customers, ‘I’m available 24/7’ – and she meant business,” said McNeely.

“I had to peddle twice as fast for a while to demonstrate my worth as an owner,” said Hexamer-Gardner in an interview in 2020. “That is a fact for all women.”

In 1998, Hexamer-Gardner and Pratt bought their remaining partners, with her running the apartment management and Pratt overseeing business and development. Together they owned Century 21 Breeden, Breeden Inc., Breeden Investment Group and other affiliates.

Even after Hexamer-Gardner’s health deteriorated, McNeely said she still considered her boss “indestructible”.

But her boss knew better. “Life is short – make the most of it,” said Hexamer-Gardner last year.

After being diagnosed in 2016, Hexamer-Gardner underwent surgery and chemotherapy and convalescence before going back to work in 2017, she said.

For more than two years, the cancer appeared to be in remission. She would retire as President of Century 21 Breeden Realtors in April 2020, while maintaining her role as co-owner until she sold her stake in McNeely and Tara Board.

A month after he stepped down as president, medical tests confirmed the cancer had returned. In her 2020 interview, Hexamer-Gardner revealed that the cancer has reached stage 4, which means that tumors have spread to other parts of the body.

In April 2020, Hexamer-Gardner was recognized with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Crossroads Association of Realtors, a professional trading organization serving over 400 real estate professionals throughout central southern Indiana.

And what were your personal qualities outside of work?

During her brief retirement, Hexamer-Gardner displayed the same insatiable urge to learn that he used while gardening and creating artwork in her Harrison Lakes home, McNeely said.

Pratt described Hexamer-Gardner as a good friend who can show positive traits in her social and professional life.

“She could understand the other side of a problem – even if it was different from her own beliefs,” said Pratt. “Jan was very strong in her faith, very giving and always wanted to help.”

But the two qualities of Hexamer-Gardner that Pratt and McNeely will always remember were her positivity and strength.

“She wanted people to know she was good – even if she was quietly suffering on the personal side,” said Pratt.

– The Republic writer and retired editor Tom Jekel contributed to this story.


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