One recent weekday afternoon, Jerry Owens sat down at a table in a conference room at Dale Walters Real Estate in Silverdale, where he is a real estate agent; opened a plain file folder; and carefully removed and unfolded an edition of The Bremerton Sun so yellowed and time-worn, it had the fragile texture of a sun-dried leaf.
There was Owens — front-page and above the fold — at 27 years old, on his wedding day, surrounded by a group of kids, and standing alongside his new bride, Clara Ann Pointer. Wedding photos rarely make front-page news, but the marriage of Owens and Pointer on Feb. 19, 1960, was a special one.
Three years earlier, Owens, an Army pilot, had witnessed the death of his platoon leader, Capt. Paul Pointer, in an airplane crash. The tragic event left Clara (friends called her Claire) Pointer a widow with six young children. Owens left the Army in 1959 and, passing through Bremerton en route to his hometown of Reardan in Eastern Washington, he visited Claire to see how she was doing. As the newspaper article described it, his “concern for Clara and her children grew into love.”
It was a story very much worthy of front-page news: Claire wore a pink wedding dress as 8-year-old Paul, her oldest child, walked her down the aisle; the wedding was held 11 years from the day she had married Paul Pointer. Jerry and Claire added one more child — a daughter, Shilley, who was born in 1961 and named after the priest who married the couple — to their family. Jerry and Claire remained together for more than 50 years, until Claire died in 2011 at age 81.
Owens, now 86, is one of the oldest active real estate agents in the South Sound, and shows no signs of slowing.
“I call myself the survivor because I have been through so many ups and downs in real estate,” chuckled Owens, who looks about 15 years younger than his age, and has the full silver beard and husky build reminiscent of Ernest Hemingway or a department store Santa Claus. “I’ve done a little bit of everything, from short plats to long plats to finding lots for builders.”
He sold about a dozen properties last year, according to Owens, including a nearly-$1-million apartment building in Bremerton, to longtime customer and businessman Larry Schwoch.
“He’s helped me a lot,” explained Schwoch, who recalled first buying real estate from Owens before the 1980s. “I have bought a lot of properties through him. Jerry’s a nice guy. A nice family man. I always considered him pretty honest. And I’ll tell you, if you need a Realtor, you want to get an honest one.”
Owens recently recalled his experiences selling real estate for more than 45 years.
How have you managed to sell real estate for more than 45 years?
A: There’s been ups and downs. I didn’t always get sales.
My wife, Claire, kept us going at times. She took a job as a bookkeeper at Bowen Scarff Ford in Kent to keep things going. It was going to be a temporary part-time job. But when they saw her talent, they gave her a full-time job. She worked there 10 years, (commuting) to Kent because, a lot of times, we needed her income just to keep going.
Why? Was it the competition? Was it the economy?
A: Competition wasn’t as bad as the economy in terms of ups and downs. I could handle competition because I was good. I knew what I was doing. I prepared myself, always completed my jobs, and would get a lot of referrals.
What did you do before you sold real estate?
A: I was 18 years old and a sophomore at Gonzaga when I went to work for Felt & Tarrant, which built an adding machine called the Comptometer. It was in all the railroad stations, Safeways, Shell and Standard Oil stations. For four years, I serviced machines in Eastern Washington, Idaho, and Montana. That job kept me in Gonzaga. It took me five years, but I graduated in 1955.
I was an infantry officer trained as a platoon leader at Fort Benning when I got out of Gonzaga. I applied for Army aviation and was fortunate enough to get drawn to be one of the pilots. I was on an overseas assignment in Hawaii in 1956. Hawaii was not a state, so they called it an overseas assignment.
Do you know whether you are the oldest real estate agent in the area?
A: I don’t think there’s any doubt. Nobody would question it. Put that in the article, and let’s see if anyone challenges it. I’m licensed until September of next year, and I will be 87 next year. I have been licensed in real estate since 1971.
I used to go to real estate classes with the people from Port Ludlow, and there was a lady who was 90 years old and working. That was 20 years ago. I think I’m the oldest in Kitsap County. I know just about everybody, and there’s nobody my age.
I have a friend, Pat Kenney, I graduated from college with at Gonzaga. He started working at F. S. Barrett & Co. Realtors in Spokane around 1951 or 1952. I think he is now the oldest practicing real estate owner/broker in the state of Washington.
What’s the real estate environment like for you today?
A: Redfin and Zillow are competition, in some ways, when it comes to full commissions. Most people who are shopping for themselves go to Zillow.
There are so many real estate people. They are coming over from Seattle. At (one recent) open house, most everybody who came in was from Seattle or some other state. Some of them had their own real estate agents.
Have you thought about stepping away from real estate and retiring?
A: There’s a pine box they are going to put me in. That’s a good time to do it.