Living Kingston Magazine
Joan Lonergan: Family, Business, Advocacy
Joan Lonergan, Principal Broker/Owner and founder of Coldwell Banker Village Green Realty was featured in the October 2020 issue of Kingston Living Magazine.
By Vincent Nugent, Photo credit: SharpImagesPhotographic.com.
Joan Lonergan, founding partner, principal broker and owner of Coldwell Banker Village Green Realty, considers herself an eternal optimist. At the time she opened her business, after she had spent only one year in sales, IBM had just closed its doors in Kingston, laying off nearly 6,000 workers. Yet, despite the fact that the area's real estate market was drying up, Joan persisted, as she explained. " It could be said that I had more nerves than brains ... but I decided failure was not an option. My only laser-focused goal was that no other agent could give more personal attention than me"
In an episode of Leave Your Mark, a real estate podcast, Joan spoke of the guiding principles in her business and in her life. A successful businesswoman with six offices in three counties, she elaborated on the four mantras which guide her.
ALWAYS TELLS THE TRUTH
While this precept may seem obvious and simple, it's not. Joan believes in presenting accurate factual information instead of entertaining a client's pricing fantasy and saying what they want to hear. "We are all human and want to be liked, but I believe in telling the truth in a way people can hear it:' She emphasizes transparency and honesty with her agents and support staff, impressing upon them that honesty truly is the best policy.
ALWAYS DO WHAT YOU PROMISE
As a corollary to the mantra of telling the truth, Joan believes in being practical and realistic. "Don't promise what you can't deliver;' she stresses.
DON'T PRETEND YOU KNOW SOMETHING YOU DON'T
Claiming knowledge just to impress a client or dismiss a concern serves no one. Joan underscored the importance of being prepared but also the value of investigating. "It's perfectly okay not to know something, just say you'll find out. That's what builds trust."
KEEP YOUR MORAL AND ETHICAL COMPASS STRAIGHT
Joan reminds her agents and staff that their focus should be on the clients, not themselves; she used the image of walking in the shoes of their clients and seeing everything through their eyes. She elaborated, "What is it they would want to know? You have to take on their wants, their needs, their goals, their life, in a way"
Born in Brooklyn, the oldest of four with three younger brothers, Joan and her family moved to Bergen County, New Jersey when she was two years old. She attended St. Francis De Sales grammar school from kindergarten through seventh grade. Then, the family then moved to Kingston, where she attended J. Watson Bailey Middle School and graduated from John A. Coleman High School. Upon graduating from The College of New Rochelle with a Bachelors of Fine Arts in ceramics and painting, Joan married her college sweetheart, Jim, and the two of them spent a "whirlwind honeymoon hitchhiking through the British Isles for two months:' For the next I 0 years, she worked as a graphic designer in New York City, but she missed her life upstate. "We made it our mission to travel back up to Kingston every weekend. I did not enjoy city life and needed to have the country air and open space to recharge myself for the work week in Manhattan.
When Joan graduated from her all-women's college, she naively assumed that the workplace would be a realm of equality for both men and women; she soon learned otherwise. "I did know the way I was treated in the work environment is not the way I wanted to treat other people, men or women." Skipped over for raises and promotions that were arbitrarily given to male coworkers, she knew she needed to be a master of her own destiny, although she didn't know she would pursue real estate at the time. "Real estate grew out of an idea, but immediately I knew it was a passion and incorporated all my experiences into developing a business where that [inequity] didn't exist."
Inclusivity has been a driving force throughout her life. When her company was about three years old, Joan and her business partner at the time, who is gay, made the decision to support some gay publications in New York City, hoping to reach out to gay clientele. They were surprised by the backlash they received in Kingston. Joan explained, "In the major newspaper in town there was a full-page ad to boycott these companies because they are supporting homosexual rights, and our name was number one on the list." Ironically, their business grew because of the ad, and Joan is proud they stood their ground. "Every single person deserves to be treated exactly the same way when buying a home. I've always been political about my activism; I don't care if it's popular or not."
A self-described advocate for social justice, Joan's activism began at age 23, when she joined the National Organization for Women; she began the Ulster County chapter and is still a member. She has since marched on Washington, DC in support of LGBTQ and women's rights. Her advocacy has been focused locally as well, supporting Planned Parenthood and organizing symposiums on reproductive rights at Vassar College and SUNY New Paltz. "I have sat in the Ulster County District Attorney's office with assault victims who are too scared to press charges. I have had death threats and have been harassed for being outspoken and an unapologetic activist."
But Joan's community involvement runs deep, having held positions on many local boards; her resume of volunteer work covers an incredibly wide range of topics from business to environmental advocacy to education to arts and cultural groups. Some of the organizations for which she has volunteered and served include Ulster County Board of Realtors, RUPCO, Woodstock Youth Theater, The Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild, The National Museum of African American History and Culture, The Woodstock Land Conservancy, Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley, Ulster County Italian American Federation, Art Society of Kingston, Woodstock Center for Photography, Woodstock Artists Association.
Joan attributes her chutzpah to her grandparents, all Italian immigrants. In particular, she cites her paternal grandmother, Flora, as her role model. Illiterate but fiercely independent, Flora was a very astute businesswoman, buying commercial, residential, and multi-family real estate. Flora was also determined to put her children through college.
Like her grandmother, Joan balances work and family. She acknowledged the inherent challenges of real estate sales and the pressures that business can put on a family. "My husband and children had to live with constant interruptions in our family life because of my business. My children say that they had to share their childhood with my company, that it was their other sibling:' Married for 44 years, Joan and Jim are parents of four, grandparents of 10, and great-grandparents of I. Joan stated, "All I can say is I'm happier than I have ever been; Jim is my best friend and we are a great team, having more fun each year:' She also feels blessed with her extended family of nieces and nephews; and since her own father's death sLx years ago, her mother has become a bigger part of her life.
A second-generation Italian woman who married an Irish man, Joan has a family that seems to be a cross section of America; members are Catholic, Jewish, Asian, Hispanic, black, white, gay, straight. She went on to describe what family really means to her. "(It's] the love that flows through my family ... that is what keeps us together; it's not religion, race, or sexual orientation, culture, or economic status."
The holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Years is treasured in the Lonergan family. On the day after Thanksgiving, for more ilian 40 years, Joan and Jim have taken their children and grandchildren to a farm to cut down their Christmas tree. Following a hayride, they enjoy cider and hot chocolate around the farm's fire pit; then they head back to Kingston for a pizza lunch and a decorating party. "Another tradition;• Joan said, "is my husband makes gingerbread houses from scratch, and we have one per family. We have tons of candy and edible glue, and we decorate the houses."
Christmas Eve begins with a trip to Woodstock to see Santa and then back to the house for a traditional Italian seven-fish feast, described by Joan as "a veritable food extravaganza" with a big antipasto and her mother's Italian cheesecake. "Toward the end of the evening, my sister-in-law brings out the 8-inch solid peppermint pig in a felt bag and a small hammer. From the oldest to the youngest, we say what we are grateful for in the past year or we announce what we accomplished or what we plan to do in the coming year."
Joan and Jim love world travel, having visited 43 countries, preferring bicycle touring when they are in different lands. "We have taken organized bike vacations in Cambodia, Vietnam, Italy, Ireland, Morocco, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Hawaii:' They have also traveled to Bali, Chili and even went on a safari to Tanzania and then Zanzibar. The short wish list of destinations includes New Zealand, India, and Scotland.
The Lonergans own a small house in a Mexican neighborhood of San Miguel de Allende, where they visited in February 2020 and resided much longer than they had anticipated. "When COV ID hit, we were in Mexico and decided to extend our stay until June because ... it was much safer than being in New York:' While in Mexico, Joan and Jim started studying Spanish, took bike rides and long walks, watched Net fl ix, cooked a lot, and continued a social life with a small group of friends.
While in Mexico or in Ulster County, Joan works in her ceramics studio nearly every day, enjoying the meditative quality of working with clay. "Pottery is my gift of personal expression that I can use, give away, or sell. I started throwing pots in 1970 when I was in high school and I still love it:' Joan is also an avid photographer, once traveling to Mongolia for a workshop with the NYC International Center for Photography. Most of her photographs are from her travels, but she enjoys taking her camera with her when she is out and about. She spoke about the great personal satisfaction she receives from her art. "Ceramics is how I feel the world, and photography is how I see it."
As with other aspects of her life, Joan Lonergan uses her art for something greater than herself. Last December, to celebrate her 65th birthday, she threw a big party, inviting with everyone she cared about. In her typical altruistic style, she put her pottery and photographs on display for purchase, pledging to give all the proceeds to three organizations that represent her passions. "I raised about $7,000 and gave the money to Planned Parenthood (women's reproductive rights), RUPCO (affordable housing), and the Woodstock Byrdclitfe Guild (ceramics studio program)."
Although she has no definite plans for retiring, Joan recently took on a partner in her business. She felt it just made sense since she looks forward to spending more time with her family and traveling.
Reprinted with permission of Vincent Nugent, Maureen Gates and Living Kingston Magazine.
Article Copyright 2020 Vincent Nugent
Copyright Living Kingston Magazine October 2020
Amy Wallace - Marketing