Advice from her father carries Joanne Kersten Hudson through tough times

-Submitted photo
Joanne Kersten Hudson poses recently with her family. From left are her son, Forrest; herself; daughter, Amy; husband Steve; and dogs Bear and Buddy.

When she was growing up in Fort Dodge and things would go wrong, Joanne Kersten Hudson recalls the simple, direct advice of her father.

“He would always say — tough bounce, you just do the best you can at whatever you’re doing,'” she said in recalling the words of Dr. Herb Kersten, a surgeon who practiced for 50 years with his brothers John, an internist, and Paul, a psychiatrist, at the Kersten Clinic and their father, Dr. E.M. Kersten, a surgeon who founded the clinic. “He meant life isn’t always fair but you have to move on. Get past it. Don’t whine. He was a very compassionate person, but didn’t allow complaining or whining.

“My parents had huge influence on me. They imparted a strong work ethic. To treat everybody with respect. I think my parents were the best role models I ever had.”

Hudson has been a real estate agent in the Chicago area for 30 years and in January was featured on the cover of the North Shore Real Producers magazine — which noted that she’s among the top 1 percent of real estate brokers in the nation with career volume of $500 million and total sales volume in 2019 of more than $40 million. “The harder I work, the luckier I get,” she told the magazine. “Success, to me, is being good at what I do, adding value to the people and the world in which we all live together, while never sacrificing my standards.”

Two months after the article appeared, the coronavirus pandemic struck — and like everyone — her personal and professional life has been turned upside down.

“The city of Chicago and the town in which I live are in Cook County and year to date (as of last Wednesday) Cook County has 31,953 confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,347 deaths, most in the city. On April 24 there were 2,724 new cases reported in the last 24 hours in Cook County so we are not through this by any stretch. The town in which I live has a population of about 12,400 and we have over 100 confirmed cases. Chicago is continuing the stay at home order through the end of May so we will see this continue.”

Hudson said the most challenging time of her career came after the stock markets crashed in 2008.

“My husband Steve and I owned our own company, had salaries to pay for our employees and office and marketing expenses. 2008-2011 were our toughest years. Our entire financial system was in jeopardy and the vast majority of my clients were extremely concerned. Many people lost their jobs, mortgages were unpaid, and housing prices dropped. This crisis is different. Our financial systems and our economy, in general, are in good shape so the underlying issue is purely COVID-related and how it affects our economy. Many employers have laid off 30-50% of their work force and many who still have jobs have seen significant salary adjustments as this storm is weathered. We need to get everyone tested and, ultimately, a vaccine. This won’t be an instantaneous recovery but it will come.”

In both instances, she has paid heed to that advice from her father — accept the “tough bounce” and make the best of the situation.

“I am doing the vast majority of my showings,” she said, “especially the initial showings, virtually via short movies I have of me showing them through the property, FaceTime live with the potential clients or I wait in the car and they go through on their own with gloves, masks, and not touching anything. Some of my clients have pre-existing conditions so we do not go into their homes at all and some of those sellers actually walk them through via FaceTime.

“I am getting a large number of calls from people who live in the city who had planned to send their kids to camps this summer, etc., but all have been cancelled so they are calling about my listing with pools, large yards or those near Lake Michigan, to see if my clients would consider renting to them for the summer. I have re-worded most of my listing descriptions to include wording about green space, private offices at homes, staycations, lush yards, pools, near beach, and so on, to make sure my listings stay at the top of buyers’ internet searches.

“People still need to move for all of the traditional reasons — new jobs, up-sizing or down-sizing, divorce, deaths — so we are continuing to be busy. The last several closings I have had have been in separate cars outside the title companies — people use their own pens and use new gloves and masks before they handle any paperwork. Our governor has also instituted a new ordinance that we all need to wear masks when out in public and close proximity to other people so that will be in force for a while, too.”

Joanne and her brother, Jim, are twins born in 1960 to Cece and Herb Kersten, joining their older brother, Ernie, and sister, Amy. All three of her siblings live in Fort Dodge — Amy Bruno is program director for the Fort Dodge Community Foundation, Ernie is an attorney in private practice and Jim is vice president of external affairs and government relations at Iowa Central Community College.

They have 15 first cousins who are the children of their dad’s brothers John, Paul and Don (who was a longtime Fort Dodge attorney) and sister Frances Anne Wolf. Two of the first cousins, Anne and Steve, live in Fort Dodge and Kathleen Roethler lives in Emmetsburg.

“All of us are amazingly close,” Hudson said. “We’ve been doing Zoom coffee hours with the girl cousins. Every Thanksgiving, as many of us as possible get back to Fort Dodge for Thanksgiving. For my kids, it’s a highlight holiday.”

Joanne and her husband, Steve, live in Winnetka, Illinois., and are the parents of two children — Forrest, 25, who works with them in real estate, and Amy, 22, who graduated from DePaul University in Chicago and is a tech recruiter for Concero in Chicago.

Among her favorite memories of growing up in Fort Dodge: detasseling corn and walking beans for summer jobs, working at Younkers, riding her bike with friends and to the high school to teach swimming lessons, parades down Central Avenue, driving along the Des Moines River, Easter Egg hunts at Oleson Park, Day Camp at Dolliver Memorial State Park, picnics in the evening on the family farm west of town, sledding at the farm and canoeing on the Des Moines River.

Through schooling at Feelhaver Elementary, North Junior High and Fort Dodge Senior High School, Hudson had a number of teachers who meant much to her career. She remains in touch with two of them — Ken Severson, who was yearbook adviser, and his wife Andrea, who taught geometry; they live at Friendship Haven. Another favorite teacher was Dennis Hewitt, who taught physics.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing at the University of Iowa in 1983 and moved to Chicago to start her career — at First Chicago (now JP Morgan Chase), where she met Steve. They were married at Corpus Christi Church in Fort Dodge in 1988.

After six years in banking, she decided to branch out on her own and Steve — who earlier had been involved with commercial real estate financing in Dallas — suggested she try real estate. She got her real estate license in 1990 and first worked for a small boutique firm in Chicago, Erdenberg Otten, and then the North Shore firm Bradbury, Romey & Egan until 2001 when she and Steve co-founded The Hudson Company in Winnetka, 20 miles north of Chicago on Lake Michigan.

It was May of 2001, four months before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “After 9/11, we did not get one contract in six months, either with a buyer or seller. But within the next 12 months, we reached our first-year goal.”

Their focus was primarily on the five communities that feed into the New Trier Township High School in Winnetka — single-family homes, condominiums and smaller multi-unit buildings. They had 25 brokers working for the company.

They sold their company in 2018 to Compass, a real estate technology company based in New York with offices in the top markets across the country. Joanne and her team at Compass, The Joanne Hudson Group (which includes her son, Forrest), serve the North Shore and city of Chicago, specializing in selling single-family homes, condos, co-ops and multi-unit residential buildings. Her husband Steve is a manager for several North Shore offices at Compass. They continue to work out of the same office in Winnetka where they worked for almost 18 years when they owned The Hudson Company.

Hudson said she is grateful “for how I was raised, getting to grow up when I did. Another thing I’m really thankful for, there was no social media to interrupt my childhood and high school years. That made everything more genuine.”

Hudson still recalls being part of a group of high school seniors who were caught by Fort Dodge police when, for their senior prank, they put animals (a goat, a pig, a duck and some chickens) in the courtyard of FDSH in the middle of the night.

“We had to go to the police station and call our parents,” she said. “My brother Jim and I tossed a coin to see who had to be the one to call our parents — they were not going to be happy. I lost and had to make the fateful call. My dad (who was strict but always reasonable with us and who had an unparalleled moral compass), thought it was funny. Whew!”


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