Real estate was something of a third career for Hegner, who started as a school teacher and later was a partner at Higgins, Hegner and Genovese, a successful commercial graphic design studio in downtown Chicago. There he worked with major accounts such as Quaker Oats, Chicago Cubs and Whitman Publishing.
Together, he and his wife Betty began their real estate business in 1972, and less than 20 years later he began to focus on the Hegner tree farm and his painting. In the interim, he helped reshape the residential real estate industry in northern Illinois.
After deciding to give up commuting to his downtown Chicago business from their farm in Harvard, Ill., Dick and Betty decided to open their own real estate office, Hegner Real Estate. Five years later, they heard Dave Liniger, the co-founder of RE/MAX, make a presentation about his real estate franchise concept that allowed brokers to retain 100 percent of the commissions they earned. About 60 brokers attended the presentation, but only the Hegners and one other individual chose to affiliate with RE/MAX at that time.
The Hegners had been looking for a new business model that would help them grow their young firm. They thought RE/MAX offered the right approach.
“First, we bought a RE/MAX franchise for McHenry and Boone counties, which may have been the first RE/MAX franchise in Illinois,” said Betty. “Everybody thought we’d never make it, but we believed in the concept, and Dick was great at spreading the word and getting others excited about RE/MAX. When we transitioned to RE/MAX, about half the agents in our office left, but we were able to replace them and just kept growing.”
Soon their focus shifted from their own brokerage to selling RE/MAX franchises to other brokers. At Dick’s urging, the Hegners kept expanding their franchise area until it included 24 counties across northern Illinois including the city of Chicago.
Thanks largely to Dick’s persuasive talents, and Betty’s management skills, theirs was the first RE/MAX regional organization to have 1,000 sales agents.
“Dick and I grew up in the real estate business because our fathers were in it, mine in Billings, Mont., and Dick’s here in the Chicago area,” said Betty. “Both of us, but especially Dick, understood the challenges agents faced economically. We thought RE/MAX was an ideal system for top agents because it fully rewards their productivity and lets them control their own business.”
The Hegners sold their northern Illinois RE/MAX network in 2001 to Tom and Brian Reagan of Colorado. Brian was formerly a key executive at RE/MAX International and Tom, a former managing director at J.P. Morgan Chase.
“Selling our business wasn’t difficult for Dick,” Betty recalled. “The fact that we were dealing with such excellent buyers in Tom and Brian Reagan, who had a great blend of real estate and financial expertise, gave us confidence that the organization we built would be well looked after. It has been.”
According to Brian Reagan, the Hegners’ legacy is still visible today in the people they brought to RE/MAX.
“Dick and Betty attracted an exceptional group to the RE/MAX banner,” said Reagan. “As a result, we’ve had a remarkable level of stability and outstanding professional performance across our network. That allowed us to focus on providing the digital tools that are so essential today, like the introduction of our new RE/MAX Northern Illinois Real Estate app that works on both Apple and Android phones. We have a great appreciation for what the Hegners’ accomplished.”
Dick Hegner was born in Chicago on April 26, 1921, of Czech immigrant parents. His family later moved to Fox River Grove, Ill., where Hegner developed an abiding love for the outdoors. He enjoyed hunting and fishing with his friends and frequently playing pranks with his buddies. He completed high school in Crystal Lake, then joined the Army Air Corps during World War II. His marksmanship earned him the job of turret gunner on a P-61 Black Widow, a night fighter that targeted enemy bombers. Dick was also an avid land steward. Along with his family members and two of his boyhood friends from Fox River Grove, Ray Kuntz and Jim Kolar, Hegner planted more than 400,000 trees at Halo Hill Farm in Harvard, turning farm land into forest.
Hegner died on Feb. 5 in his home surrounded by his family. He was 92 years old. He is survived by his wife, Betty, and his two children, John and Chehalis.
“We at RE/MAX Northern Illinois are deeply saddened by Dick’s passing. He will be greatly missed by the entire extended RE/MAX family. The Hegners made real estate history when they co-founded the RE/MAX Northern Illinois Region and made it one of the top regions in the RE/MAX system. Their accomplishments and legacy will never be forgotten,” added Reagan.
RE/MAX has been the leader in the northern Illinois real estate market since 1989. The northern Illinois region was purchased from the Hegners by the Reagans of Roaring Fork Capital Partners, Inc., in 2001. Under the Reagans’ ownership, RE/MAX Northern Illinois has introduced numerous technological innovations and products that have helped its network of agents achieve maximum productivity and efficiency. Many of these cutting edge initiatives have set the standard in the RE/MAX system and the industry. The RE/MAX Northern Illinois Real Estate app and website, www.illinoisproperty.com, provide comprehensive information about residential and commercial property for sale in the region while giving each RE/MAX agent and office the ability to personally brand and share the information with the public.
The RE/MAX Northern Illinois network, with headquarters in Elgin, Ill., consists of 2,000 sales associates and 100 individually owned and operated RE/MAX offices that provide a full range of residential and commercial brokerage services. The northern Illinois network is part of RE/MAX, LLC, a global real estate organization with 90,000+ sales associates in 90+ nations.