GREENFIELD — There’s a line from an old movie that says the measure of a person is not how much they love but how much they are loved by others.
Local Realtor Leon Wilson, 85, who died Dec. 29, was one of the leaders of a generation of honest, hardworking folks who helped weave the tight and sturdy fabric on which today’s growing and thriving Hancock County stands.
Wilson was not just loved. He was admired and respected, too, by family, friends, acquaintances and business associates.
“If there was anybody who was a gentleman, it was Leon Wilson,” said longtime friend Winston Hammons. “He never had anything bad to say about anybody. And if he gave you his word, that’s all you needed.”
Wilson was reserved, bordering on shy, according to his oldest son, Roy.
“When he would knock on doors he secretly hoped they weren’t home because he didn’t know what to say,” explained Roy. “At the same time, he won them over with friendliness. And he always put their interests first.”
And so this non-Type A personality became a terrific salesman who parlayed a part-time milking equipment sales career into a thriving real estate business, perhaps the most successful ever established here.
Wilson was born in Anderson but grew up on CR 400S in Blue River Township and graduated from Westland School.
In the early 1960s Wilson had a growing family to support and was in need of extra cash to supplement his farming income so he became a Surge Dairy equipment dealer.
His conversations with farmers revealed a glaring need: someone to market farm properties.
The fledgling real estate business was keyed primarily toward homes.
“At that time and for many years, there were more sellers than buyers (of farm property),” explained Roy Wilson. “Farms had to be marketed, had to be advertised to find buyers willing to buy. He realized farmers could use the help.”
And so Leon set up shop in his home on CR 100S that he was able to purchase because his in-laws were willing to co-sign. Wife Minnie was always at his side doing whatever was needed to help. There was no one else offering the service, and the business took off.
“In the beginning he did mostly farms, then from there began to sell homes,” Roy recalled. “He worked very hard as a kid and he worked very hard at the business. Growing up during that time, we really didn’t know when to expect him home. He was working when he could find farmers.”
There was a limit to Minnie’s patience in that regard, though.
“I remember he showed a house on Christmas Day. Mom was not very happy,” Roy recalled with a laugh. “He worked hard and tried to treat people by the golden rule.”
So did Minnie.
“They were a great team,” said Roy, which meant they could, and did, help people in need whenever they could.
“He used to, back before banking regulations got crazy, when he sold inexpensive homes to people without much money, he would pledge his commission to the down payment to help them buy it,” recalled Roy.
Leon’s kindness, honesty and altruism drew people and clients to him like bees to clover.
Sons Roy and Roger loved and admired him so much that after they had their Purdue diplomas in hand they returned home to join him in the business.
“He never asked us to join,” Roy said. “He never said, ‘I want you to come home and go to work.’ It’s what we decided to do. In my case, what I had seen as a kid of the business I liked. I wanted to work around he and my mother.”
In 1967, Wilson built a new, larger home next door to the older homestead so he could expand the business. In 1972, he moved the office to North State Street across from Hancock Memorial Hospital. At the time, this was the north side of Greenfield.
Eventually, Roy and Roger took over the business and joined Century 21.
Over the years, the Wilsons have through the Hancock County Foundation supported SHARES, a favorite of Minnie, who died in 2003, and Hancock Regional Hospital. They donated farm property to the hospital to help build the first intensive care unit, according to Roy.
In later years, Leon regretted never having a hobby, Roy said, so after retirement he funneled that zeal toward mowing 17 acres at the CR 100S homestead.
And he enjoyed coffee and the company of friends several times a week at McDonald’s. It was a couples event. The women sat on one side of the restaurant and the men on the other, according to friend Max Carlton.
“It’s a nice fellowship,” he chuckled.
Carlton had come to admire Leon through his friendship with his parents. Carlton was not at all surprised to find that Leon had a rock star-type of status at McDonald’s. People were always stopping to talk to him.
“He was always honest in business, and that’s the reason Leon got that stature in the community,” said Carlton. “He is the Mr. Realtor of this county.”
He recalled the time he wanted to build a house in a woods on a property owned by Wilson. Wilson told him the property flooded in spring and guided him toward a plot on higher ground.
“It’s just the way he was. He was always straightforward with folks and that’s why they like him. He was just a nice guy. Even (him) at 84 and me 65 I enjoyed his company. He’d get the biggest kick out of little kids, enjoyed how they are.
“I have nothing but high regard for Leon,” Carlton said. “He’s in a better place now.”