Zaske earns rare emeritus status - Life is more than realty

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Doug Zaske was just named a Realtor Emeritus through the National Association of Realtors on the last year that a real estate agent will be able to qualify for the recognition through service to a local board.

Zaske, owner of Heartland Real Estate in Pine River, earned the honor as a result of his 40 years as a real estate agent, with much of that time serving the local Greater Lakes Association of Realtors as a chairperson of a committee, an arbitrator and mediator, liaison and in other capacities. Earning this increasingly rare recognition wasn't exactly a walk in the park.

"This year nationwide, they said I was one of 862 people that applied for the award out of 1,305,719 agents," Zaske said. "Of those 862, 216 were denied. On a national level there are about 640 people who reached that plateau. In Minnesota, I'm one of 23 awarded the status out of 19,130 members. In the Greater Lakes Association I'm one of three of the 633 current members (this year) and one of 14 that actually received the award (overall)."

Zaske started his work as a real estate agent in Brainerd in 1977 straight out of college. A graduate from Brainerd High School, he had grown up alongside Jim Ruttger, which gave him a leg-up in finding his first position as a Realtor with the Century 21 Ruttger and Ruttger office. He quickly moved from there to Kurilla Real Estate in Nisswa where he learned the ropes.

"Gary Kurilla was the driving force that taught me how to properly evaluate property, how to be thorough in measuring things up," Zaske said. "The right things to do, how to treat people and his mentoring program was probably one of the best in his time. I haven't seen anything like it since."

Zaske only continued to mature as a real estate agent when he bought into Mike Orth's Gilchrist Realty office in Pine River in 1979.

"Mike Orth was the same cut of cloth," Zaske said. "He proceeded to do real estate the right way, and I learned a lot from him."

Working out of an office in Pine River, Zaske integrated himself. He moved to town and eventually opened his own office in the old Artisan's Corner building in 1990. In 1992, he moved to a building that Bill Day originally used as a blacksmith shop. That's the building where he now runs Heartland Real Estate. In his career, Zaske said he has been involved in over 3,300 real estate transactions. Zaske credits his co-workers and staff with his success in the field of real estate, and recent events have made him count his blessings for living to see this honor.

"I've been fortunate to get this far," Zaske said. "Two years ago I had a heart attack with triple bypass surgery. Last year I had another surgery for a different issue and more this year. It's who you surround yourself with that makes you look good. In that regard I've been very fortunate. I've always had really good people."

Zaske immersed himself in the local community through donations to local charity, cooperation with community programs and time in city government. He served on the Pine River City Council from 1982 to 1994, the final three years serving as mayor. Though he is most familiar to people as a Realtor, his connection to property sales along with friends and family eventually led him to being a seller of antiques, furniture and whole households worth of goods.

He and his friend Charlie Didier sell antiques out of the Pine River DMV building, and other goods are sold from a large building behind the Heartland offices. Together, Zaske said he has purchased or bartered for 52 households in the last four years.

Through household sales, auctions and other sources, Zaske has also become a collector of sporting goods. It all likely began with hunting trips with Ruttger and then Orth. On his first trip with Orth, Zaske said he was startled with the sound of a flock of bluebill ducks as they landed on the pond in front of them. The sound was like a jet, he said. He's been fascinated with the outdoors ever since.

"I would have to tip my hat to Mike (Orth)," Zaske said. "He got me hooked on duck hunting, and that's where the interest in the historic value of decoys started for me."

Zaske's first collectible was a wooden duck decoy. He bought a chest of drawers from his grandmother and traded it to a neighbor near Ponto Lake to get the decoy.

"You start out with one," Zaske said. "The first one I purchased locally was from a gentleman who lived at Wood Glen. He was over 90 years old and it belonged to his father, who was a part of the Minnesota Decoy Club. It was his pride and joy."

He now owns more than 100 duck decoys and 150 spearing decoys (including a Chautauqua carved decoy from 1900) and original water color paintings from such artists as Les Kouba. His office houses 14 full-size duck boats (many hanging in the rafters), including the only boat ever made by Russ Merritt, manufacturer of collectible snowshoes, who outfitted Will Steger's journey to the North Pole. Of local interest is a hide stretcher once owned by John Rohr, whose name is stamped on it.

"That came from when John Stranne started Heartland Auctions in 1991," Zaske said. "Herman Peterson was a local trapper on the eastern side of town. Herman's estate had an auction. That was sold in the auction. Vic Rinke purchased it at the auction and gave it to me about four years ago. He knew it would be interesting to the Rohr family. Tom Rohr was my brother-in-law. He passed away about two weeks after I got this. At some point I'm giving it to one of his boys."

His collection comes from many places. Some items come from estate auctions. He trades antiques with local shops for others, but many of them come from contemporary artists and collectors' shows.

"Primarily I've been going to sporting good collectible shows with Charlie for 26 years," Zaske said. "I've been collecting probably just over 30 years. It's predominantly hunting related items."

Zaske offers tours of his office to show the portion of the collection he houses there. He has stories for virtually every piece of memorabilia there.