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Norman J. Rier, 1917-2011: Real estate broker early advocate of diversity

Norman J. Rier, a real estate broker and an owner of a leading real estate firm who for more than a half-century helped Toledoans find their piece of the American dream, died Saturday in Kingston Residence of Perrysburg, where he lived for five years. He was 93.

He had dementia and had developed pneumonia, his daughter, Suzanne Hahn, said.

Mr. Rier formerly lived on Grecourt Drive in what is now West Toledo, but which was part of the former Adams Township when he developed the land in the late 1950s as Wedgewood Valley Estates.

In 1998, he sold Arnold Realty Co. to Sulphur Springs Realty.

“We fathered this thing and carried it along for a long time. But life goes on,” Mr. Rier told The Blade.

He continued to work part time for several years.

“He was a real credit to the residential real estate industry,” said Michael Miller, president of Sulphur Springs. “He was a good, steady-eddie real estate professional that you wanted to deal with on a day-in, day-out basis.

“I was fortunate not only to purchase Arnold Realty from him, but afterward, we maintained a long friendship, which makes any real estate [deal] all the better, when you remain friends.”

Forging such friendships wasn’t just an aid in selling houses.

“That was the fulcrum of his success,” Mr. Miller said. “That, and he wore great bow ties.”

His daughter said: “That was his signature. He always wore a bow tie.”

If the hand-tied neckwear didn’t leave an impression, his shock of gray hair and blue eyes would.

“He sparkled,” his daughter said.

Mr. Rier was associated with Arnold Realty at its founding in 1940 by the late John K. Arnold. The men were classmates and fraternity brothers at the University of Toledo.

The firm’s first office was in the Spitzer Building downtown.

A house at Detroit Avenue and Bancroft Street was its first sale. Mr. Rier later became an owner, partner, and president.

In 1978, he acquired sole ownership from Mr. Arnold and relocated company headquarters from Monroe Street to a building on Talmadge Road. At one time, Arnold had offices in Oregon, Maumee, and Lambertville.

He was a former president and a former trustee of the Toledo Board of Realtors, which named him “broker of the year” in 1980. When the federal Fair Housing Act took effect in the 1960s, “he sort of stuck his neck out. He felt that the board of realtors ought to support this kind of thing, and they should stand in the forefront,” his daughter said.

Long before “diversity” was a business buzz word, he trained and hired women, people of color, and gays.

“He believed in everyone becoming the best they could be,” his daughter said.

He was instrumental in organizing the Toledo Board of Community Relations in the 1940s and later was a board member.

For Mr. Rier, home ownership was close to patriotic duty.

“He believed in the American dream of having a house,” his daughter said. “You should have a piece of America and make America strong.”

He did not let financing stand in the way of someone intent on ownership.

“If someone needed a house and couldn’t quite make a bank program, he would carry the loan himself,” said Ted Hahn, his son-in-law.

Mr. Rier also taught real estate courses at the University Toledo.

He was born July 23, 1917, to Margaret and Norbert Rier.

The family for a time lived with his maternal grandparents near Millbury. He was a 1935 graduate of St. John’s Jesuit High School, then in North Toledo.

He was in the Marine Corps Reserves before World War II and was in the Army during the war. He attended Officer Candidate School.

He became a supply officer, and he was charged with training field hospital staff how to set up and be fully stocked while in a combat. He was stationed in Biloxi, Miss., and Tacoma.

After the war, he was in the Air Force Reserves for decades and became a lieutenant colonel, his daughter said.

He was member of the Toledo Yacht Club and cruised the Maumee River even as a resident of Kingston. He and his wife, Phyllis, took his last boat, a 32-footer named Sea Gypsy, to northern Lake Huron and back several times.

“He was a fabulous pilot,” his son-in-law said. “He knew how to control that boat.

He and his wife married Dec. 31, 1941. She died March 1, 2009.

Surviving are his daughter, Suzanne Hahn, sister, Mary O’Shea Wight;, two grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 2-9 p.m. Tuesday in the Walker Funeral Home. Services will be at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday in Corpus Christi University Parish, where he was a member.

The family suggests tributes to St. John’s Jesuit High School, Corpus Christi, or Hospice of Northwest Ohio.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.

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