“You’re seeing me during my calm years,” said Forest Park resident commercial real estate broker David King, perching on the edge of his chair.
King is the one-man commercial real estate powerhouse behind the DK realty signs appearing in storefronts all over west Cook County.
And in spite of his purported calm, King is filled with high-wired energy.
When he’s enthusiastic – and he almost always is – King slurs his S’s as if chomping an invisible stogie.
“Timing is everything. It truly ish,” he often says.
For King, every day is worthy of a celebratory cigar.
“I’ve rarely seen a more optimistic person in my whole life and career,” said West Cook Municipal Conference Executive Director Rich Pelligrino. “I’ve never seen him characterize a challenge in an insurmountable way. He’ll just set forth the problems that need to be solved and start analyzing and making solutions.”
When it comes to real estate, King calls himself The Matchmaker. “I know a little bit about all kinds of different businesses,” he said. “I want my tenants to be successful. If you’re trying to rent in the wrong location for your business or for the neighboring businesses, I’m going to fight you.”
“It doesn’t help the community if your business fails in six months and I have to put another tenant in there.”
King works with municipalities to find the right tenants for city-owned parcels. DK Associates also finds Illinois commercial locations for national chains such as Weight Watchers, H&R Block and Edward Jones.
Aside from commercial real estate, King is also a political junkie and has a long history working as eminence grise behind many local political campaigns, including Forest Park Mayor Anthony Calderone, Maywood Mayor Henderson Yarbrough and former state Rep. Karen Yarbrough.
But for the past 14 years, King has had a parallel volunteer career: serving on the board of the non-profit Triton College Foundation.
King will be honored on Wednesday, Nov. 14 by Triton College at the President’s Reception as he retires after 14 years, including a dozen years as the president of the foundation. During his tenure on the 20-person board, the foundation has raised more than $3.5 million and awarded 1,200 scholarships. The foundation has $950,000 in assets.
“I’m just one person on a fantastic board of 20 people,” King said.
“He has a busy life and he’s been doing this for 14 years with no pay, no remuneration,” said Pelligrino, who is vice president of the Triton College Foundation.
But King has a soft spot in his heart for Triton College.
“Triton is a special place for me,” he said. “It was the right place for the right time in my life.”
Triton is the local community college for 25 feeder communities in the near-west suburbs, encompassing 63 square miles, from the Chicago border west to I-294, south to LaGrange Park and north to Rosemont. The district includes Forest Park, Oak Park and River Forest.
King attended the college in the late 1970s, starting at age 21. He worked for several years after graduating from Oak Park and River Forest High School unloading trucks for UPS. One of three children raised by a single mother, he paid his own way through Triton, while working full time. He went on to graduate from University of Illinois Chicago with a business degree.
“I was paying for it myself,” King said. “I wanted to be there, and I made lifelong friends.”
And he has been “selling” Triton ever since, emphasizing its value.
“Tuition is around $3,000 a year, there are 30 kids in your class and you have a teacher instead of a T.A. It’s an affordable place to go.”
Classes cost $89 per credit hour and most are transferrable to a four-year institution. Triton offers several four-year degrees, partnering with other colleges, such as a fire science B.A. with Southern Illinois University.
“We also have a great nursing school,” he said. King points out that Triton represents an affordable path to college for minority and immigrant students, many of them from Eastern Europe who live in the northern part of the district.
King is especially proud of the culinary/hospitality program, including a new “mixology” degree. According to Program Director Denise Smith-Gaborit, the program has a 98 percent placement rate. “Even in this bad economy, my phone rings off the wall [for recommendations],” Smith-Gaborit told Forest Park Review. “If you are good at what you do in this industry, you will always have a job.”
Rivers Casino just donated $50,000 to update the culinary school dining room to resemble a fancy restaurant. The foundation donated $100,000 toward remodeling a storage space into a glass-enclosed culinary classroom.
The foundation partners with donors to sponsor approximately 65 different scholarships. New scholarships in the past three years include the Kay Langston Scholarship for minority students (named in honor of an instructor), which includes help with mentoring. The Cohen Women Beginning Again Scholarship pays for books for women over age 50 who are returning to school to learn new skills. The President’s Scholarship assists students with high grade point averages who don’t qualify for federal financial aid but need help paying for school.
“If you don’t fit into one of the criteria and you have a need, we’ll help you,” King said.
As foundation president, King also snagged representatives from the AT&T Foundation to help the school update its technology.
“I’ve watched him cultivate donors and cultivate new members to serve on the board of trustees. He’s honest, he’s passionate and he’s tireless,” said Pelligrino, who calls King “the relationship-builder-in-chief.”
“I’ve learned so much about the community college mission from David,” Pelligrino added. “Working with him, I’ve come to understand the importance of the community college to the fabric of the community and success of life in the community.
“David did not forget where he came from,” he added. “That sentiment is overly worn these days, but it’s absolutely true regarding David King.”
“I call David King my hardest-working friend,” said Asst. State’s Attorney Richard Nowell, who met King at Triton in 1978. “There was a time when I didn’t think he slept. I don’t think he can slow down. Nobody has put as much enthusiasm into [the Triton Foundation] role as David. When he’s trying to raise money, he’s relentless. We all support Triton, and we all have very fond memories.”
King, who grew up in Oak Park, has lived in Forest Park for two decades and is also known for his loyalty to the town.
Forest Park Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Laurie Kokenes credits King with being a vital part of “the beginning of Madison Street’s resurgence,” with his work through the Main Street Redevelopment Association between 1995 and 2000.
“When Dave commits himself to something, it’s never half-heartedly,” said Kokenes. “Enthusiasm, hard work and loyalty are always evident, but you’ll know if he disagrees with a plan,” Kokenes said.
“If David believes that something is bad for Forest Park, he is never shy about saying so and fighting for what he feels is the right direction,” she added.
Early in his political life, King helped with area state rep campaigns, including former state Rep. Ted E. Leverenz from Maywood, Elmwood Park’s Angelo “Skip” Saviano and 9th Dist. Cook County Commissioner Peter Silvestri, said his sister, Debbie King.
“I think he blames me for getting him into politics,” said Nowell. “He was always helping run Triton Student Senate campaigns. In the 1970s, we had a student body of 21,000 students and a budget of $150,000. It was a taste of being a grownup.
“But he likes to be behind the scenes,” Nowell added. “He’d rather know the people in office than be those people.”
According to his sister, David has, “always been a salesman, ever since he was selling Borden Thin Mints for swimming classes at the YMCA as a kid.
“When he was in grade school, he convinced some neighbor kids to get up on the garage roof with him,” she recalled. “When the mother of [one of the children] questioned how my mom would let David take kids on the roof, my mom said, ‘I can’t stop him. He’s a born salesman.'”
Debbie King said her brother was, “really surprised to be honored” with the President’s Award, which he has handed out onstage at the banquet to other people for the past 12 years.
“He’s very humbled and shocked at the number of folks who have said, ‘I wouldn’t miss this for the world,'” she said.