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After Dennis Delap's death, real estate firm regroups 

  • A framed photograph of Founder Dennis Delap is displayed, Wednesday, at the Delap Real Estate office in Northampton. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    A framed photograph of Founder Dennis Delap is displayed, Wednesday, at the Delap Real Estate office in Northampton.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Delap Real Estate workers Andrea Kwapien, left, Nancy Merritt, Meghan McCormick, Steve Jasinski, Carol Smith, Carla Ness, Ellen Bartos, John Poirier and Holly Young pose, Wednesday, in one of the company offices.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Delap Real Estate workers Andrea Kwapien, left, Nancy Merritt, Meghan McCormick, Steve Jasinski, Carol Smith, Carla Ness, Ellen Bartos, John Poirier and Holly Young pose, Wednesday, in one of the company offices.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • A framed photograph of Founder Dennis Delap is displayed, Wednesday, at the Delap Real Estate office in Northampton. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    A framed photograph of Founder Dennis Delap is displayed, Wednesday, at the Delap Real Estate office in Northampton.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • A framed photograph of Founder Dennis Delap is displayed, Wednesday, at the Delap Real Estate office in Northampton. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Delap Real Estate workers Andrea Kwapien, left, Nancy Merritt, Meghan McCormick, Steve Jasinski, Carol Smith, Carla Ness, Ellen Bartos, John Poirier and Holly Young pose, Wednesday, in one of the company offices.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • A framed photograph of Founder Dennis Delap is displayed, Wednesday, at the Delap Real Estate office in Northampton. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

For most employees, the most they can expect their boss to give them is a pat on the back when they do well, or constructive criticism when something needs improvement.

The late Dennis Delap, a longtime area real estate broker, gave his employees the company.

When Delap, owner and operator of Delap Real Estate, died last October after a brief illness, it stunned and shocked friends and colleagues. Delap, 65, succumbed in mid-October to a viral infection after returning from a vacation with his wife, Paula Olson, in France.

The staff at his Northampton and Amherst offices were stunned again a day or two after his death when they learned that in his will, he had left the company to the staff as equal partners in the business. The final details are being worked out with the estate, according to staff.

Delap’s long-time personal assistant and friend, Ellen Bartos, said in hindsight, she wonders why she was surprised at all.

Bartos said she thought to herself, “That is so Dennis. Here’s another thing that I have so much gratitude to him for.”

Bartos, broker Steve Jasinski and realtor Holly Young said that type of selflessness and collaborative spirit was typical of the man who created the agency in 2005.

The news came while most of the staff had gathered in the office for an impromptu memorial for Delap. The attorney handling Delap’s estate informed the office and read them the relevant paragraph in his will, letting them know the staff would all now be partners in the business.

Even while he was alive, Bartos said, Delap wanted everyone in the office to have a say in how the company was being run.

“He wanted everyone to have a vote,” she said.

“He ran the business very transparently,” said Young. “He encouraged everyone to have input.”

“We’re carrying on that philosophy,” Jasinski said.

Jasinski said he believes Delap’s act is atypical of most businesses and can’t think of another that was handed over to its workers in such a manner.

“We’re in rarefied air,” he said.

When Delap died, it happened so fast there was no talk of perhaps closing the offices down or everyone going their separate ways, Jasinski said.

“It hasn’t been very long — we still feel the sting of that moment,” said Jasinski. “Life goes by so fast, like a bullet train.”

Instead of considering shutting down, there was new resolve to keep the business running in the manner Delap had.

“It operates today as it did in the weeks before Dennis’ death,” Jasinski said.

Jasinski said he feels Delap’s decision to turn the business over to the employees as a show of confidence in the staff he hand-picked himself.

In many respects, the office looks and functions just as it did when Delap was alive. It still operates under his name from its quarters on North King Street and another office in Amherst. There are photos of Delap on the lobby walls and in several staff offices, reproductions of some of his oil paintings are displayed and his presence is still felt.

“His spirit is still here,” said Bartos.

Jasinski said it is daunting to have the responsibility to not only keep the business running, but to do so in the manner that lives up to the legacy Delap left.

“Dennis was a philosopher. He had a demeanor and philosophy about life and how to treat people; to not expect anything from them, but to give to them instead,” he said. “We’re carrying on that philosophy.”

Young, who said she keeps Delap’s picture on the dashboard of her car, said everyone has stepped up to keep the business functioning smoothly.

“It’s not one person, but a cast of characters taking the reins,” she said. “We have to share the steering.”

Young said everyone on board has risen to the occasion, “It’s amazing to see the skills everyone has.”

Those interviewed said Delap had always fostered a spirit of camaraderie and cooperation among the staff.

“That’s the way Dennis was — cheerleading for our work and our success,” said Young. “He really cared deeply for us.”

Jasinski recalled that when his wife was ill, Delap checked in with him frequently at work to see how she was recovering.

“He was always looking to be helpful and useful to people, whether it was a client or another agent,” Bartos said.

In a business that can be competitive and stressful, Jasinski said his late colleague always seemed to be able to slow down and truly interact with and get to know the staff and the clients.

“It was about the people, not about the deal,” said Jasinski.

Young said, “If there’s a silver lining, it’s that I’ve become more interested in the people I work with — We’re all the ‘Dennises’ now.”

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@gazettenet.com.

Comments
Legacy Comments3

I worked with Dennis as a client on many sales and purchases. This article rings true. I learned patience from his patience, to stay calm from his calm demeanor. He was an incredible artist and thinker. He respected all of his people; agents from all over town, sellers, buyers. He was smart, thoughtful, reliable, responsive. We are all blessed by his friendship.

If only there was a way to communicate Dennis's cooperative and transparent management style to young business people. Unfortunately, the 'kill or be killed' philosophy reigns supreme, still, in the American workplace, in spite of the overwhelming evidence that productivity improves in the kind of workplace Dennise created.

Wow... you know you've lived right when something like this is written about you when you've passed. I hope he knew what people thought of him when he was alive.

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