By Amanda Kelly“My artistic and creative side says that part of what makes me happy is working on my own personal development, allowing for a journey of self-discovery to unfold without any perceived pressure of ‘greatness,’” Joan Lonergan says. “The other part of me, the more business-oriented side, finds great joy in helping to change someone’s life. I’m very much a give-back person.”
Lonergan grew up “wading through the streams and wandering the woods of the Catskill Mountains.” After earning her degree in fine arts and working successfully as a graphic designer in New York City, she returned to Woodstock in the late 80s. By 1990, she had acquired her real estate license and started her own business, Village Green Realty.
“I never took a business course in my life, but early on I wholly embraced the idea that the simplest way to do well is to put yourself in the place of a consumer and ask what do they want and how can I create an extraordinary experience for someone? I wasn’t thinking about starting a company back then. This whole process has been extremely organic.” She goes on, “If you had told me back then that I would be sitting where I am today, doing what I am doing, I wouldn’t have believed you.”
Lonergan joined Coldwell Banker in 2001. Her company has expanded to be the largest real estate agency in Ulster and Greene counties, N.Y. “It’s amazing what doing your best can accomplish.”
Planning for the Future Early On
“I think legacy starts with identifying that you’re not going to live forever,” she says. As a self-declared “planner” Lonergan knew by the time she turned 55 (she’s now 61) that she’d be either grooming someone to inherit her business or she would sell it altogether.
“It was important to me, in terms of my legacy, to have and orchestrate this plan. Most of my competitors don’t think ahead about who will lead their companies if something were to happen to them,” she explains. “I feel responsible for the people that work for me and I always thought that if I didn’t set it up so that this could continue with the same company culture, with someone that can move it forward, the business would fail. It is my goal to be fully confident that there is a total transition before I step away.”
Balancing a Creative Passion with Work-Life Reality
Lonergan opened her real estate offices to artists in Woodstock from the beginning; it was a way for her to maintain her commitment to the arts community, speak to her artistic training and also make a living. “I get a chance to offer more than just real estate to my community. My love of art has remained a constant throughout my life. All of our offices are galleries where I exhibit my own photography and the work of other local artists.”
Since 2010, Lonergan has served as a board member at Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild, which offers one of the oldest continuing artist-inresidence programs. “I would love to leave a legacy with this organization of developing a ceramics program that is great for the community and for artists. I love not only the medium, but also that I get to give something that will enhance the lives of a whole bunch of other people.”
As far as her personal projects, Lonergan currently spends one month of the year in San Miguel de Allende nestled in the central Mexican highlands. She rents a studio, immerses herself in the city’s vibrant artistic community and devotes time to her ceramic projects. In the future, once she’s certain her real estate company has transitioned into capable hands, Lonergan hopes to spend more time in Mexico.
“I have found that going away for a month gives me that concentrated time to do my work,” she says. “But I don’t think I have balanced that side of my life as well as I could have. When you have a business that you’re passionate about, the other things have a tendency to take a backseat, but you have to make the time for them one way or another. I think I’ll have to reinvent myself a bit when I retire, you know, because when I walk out of the door in Woodstock people know me as a real estate broker, and so going someplace new and reestablishing myself as an artist is what I see for the future.”
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Joan Lonergan is the Broker/Owner of Coldwell Banker Village Green Realty. Her company is the largest real estate agency in Ulster and Greene Counties, NY, with 100 agents and support staff. Lonergan has served on a number of local boards in her community, including Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild. She lives in Woodstock with her husband Jim.