KEARNEY – There were plenty of smiles, cheers, hugs and laughs, even some tears were shed.
Dozens of people and leaders from the Kearney community, as well as Columbus, Omaha and Lincoln, packed the upstairs space of 5609 1st Ave. Building A on Feb. 22nd to celebrate two major business milestones. The expansion of kwELITE Real Estate and Aksarben Mortgage into Kearney, following in the footsteps of successful and established operations in Omaha and Columbus.
Longtime community member and real estate broker/owner Wendy Kreis said having so many people in attendance to help celebrate her office’s transition to kw and welcoming Aksarben was almost overwhelming.
“This night means everything to me,” Kreis said amongst the crowd moments after cutting the ceremonial ribbon to celebrate kw and Aksarben. “Having the energy from the kw team, from Columbus and Omaha, having my own realtors and our volunteers. There’s just so much emotion when I think of how far we’ve come and how far we’re going.”
Sally Bernard, who is the face of Aksarben Mortgage’s Kearney operation, was alongside Kreis and echoed her sentiment.
“I’m so incredibly blessed for the amount of people that showed up to support not only myself, but Wendy and her staff,” she said, noting she felt blessed to be part of the Aksarben Mortgage team. “Our community is something that we strive to serve every single day. And we can do this by the values and our core beliefs we lived by.”
Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Derek Rusher and Mayor Stanley Clouse offered some high praise for Kreis and Bernard, as well as kw and Aksarben, for their investments in the community.
The construction of Building A, just adjacent from the present kwELITE office, is still a few months away from being completed. But attendees got a feel for the vision kwELITE takes pride in – being a one-source tech-powered hub for every step of a real estate transaction.
“The goal of kwELITE was to provide the traditional broker with solutions that aren’t typically seen in the real estate industry … we wanted to give the consumer a one-stop solution to the entire real estate transaction,” said Jeff Cohn, the CEO of kwELITE and Elite Real Estate Systems. “And we wanted it to be packaged in one place that could be received both virtually and physically, that includes the mortgage, the title, the insurance – anything and everything from A to Z surrounding a real estate transaction – so the consumer can save time and money.”
The kwELITE Kearney team will be located upstairs in Building A, which will also be the home of Aksarben Mortgage when all is said and done.
Kreis spent much of the evening mingling with guests and reflecting on those who helped make it a reality, one of whom was kwELITE Columbus Broker/Owner Renee Mueller.
“It was just super awesome to meet up with Renee, hear her vision and how it lined up with my vision,” said Kreis, who is also president of the Kearney Public Schools Board of Education. “To see the energy that comes out of her and her belief in people, just cut into my heart and was what I wanted to do with my team.”
A few years ago, Mueller successfully transitioned her office to kwELITE and now has a one-stop shop of real estate services including kw and Aksarben at her Parkway Plaza complex in north Columbus, much like what Kreis is now establishing in Kearney.
“I firmly believe you attract what you are and this group of individuals is amazing,” Mueller said of the Kearney team. “I think they have the right mindset, they know what exactly it’s going to take to keep growing and expanding.”
Cohn praised Mueller and Kreis for believing in the vision for kw and helping the business grow in both markets.
“Seeing the launch of Kearney is a testament to the fact that Columbus is offering great value to their community, because if it was something that wasn’t succeeding, then of course people wouldn’t want to partner with that business entity,” Cohn said. “Wendy saw an opportunity that was different from the opportunity she currently had and that difference is what makes the experience with kwELITE better.”
Despite her happiness seeing so many people she knew on hand, Kreis couldn’t help but feel a little somber when thinking about one person who wasn’t there. The late Darlene Cepel, a beloved kwELITE Columbus realtor, passed away unexpectedly in 2021 after battling COVID.
Although not physically there, Cepel’s spirit was undoubtedly felt in the room. Kreis recalled how she met Cepel a couple years ago through a real estate training course they were both in. They had numerous conversations in the last couple years, whether on Zoom or in person – once Cepel brought an earnest deposit to her while she was visiting Columbus. Cepel was instrumental in getting Kreis to think about kwELITE, and above all, a dear friend.
So it was only fitting that Kreis showed off a painting of Cepel by a Nebraska artist that will proudly be on display in the office. Members of the Cepel family were among those in attendance to enjoy the festivities. The family and Mueller had previously gifted the painting to the Kearney team.
“It’s very interesting how our lives intertwined,” Kreis said of Cepel. “And to be able to know she was part of this and that she’s looking at us today, is pretty powerful.”
Cepel’s lasting impact was highlighted by the kw brass in the building.
“Darlene represented, in my opinion, sacrifice, hard work, a willingness to give to others and put herself after someone else. It’s hard to find a human being who embodies what we want to become, and I feel like a lot of people talk about Darlene because she was such a great representation of what kwELITE is trying to become or earn the right to be,” Cohn said. “It’s just an idea, but Darlene embodied that idea.”
Cepel was not only a successful real estate agent in Columbus, but a very close personal friend of Mueller. After recalling how Cepel was like the in-house mother of the kw Columbus team, Mueller said it was Cepel who had been encouraging her to talk with Kreis.
“If Dar were here, she’d say, ‘this is all because of me,’ and it’s true. Darlene was the connection, and it’s an amazing feeling,” Mueller said after the festivities concluded. “It gives me chills truly to see what has been created because of just sharing goals and thoughts. Knowing that Darlene has passed and she’s leaving a legacy every day, it means so much.
“Dar would be so proud. She is proud.”