Although Parkway Plaza is a high-tech real estate hub, what continues to power and influence operations is the late Darlene Cepel.
There’s the bench outfront with her name on it for people to sit and take in the fresh air just like Dar liked to do, her pictures that adorn walls in the office and the naming of the upstairs conference room in her honor. Although Dar passed away unexpectedly on Sept. 11, 2021, her loving heart, natural wit and charisma, as well as her infectious laugh, are still revered by those who knew her.
Dar was a great wife, a mom, a friend, a hard worker, and proof that you could turn your dreams into reality at any age. In her 50s, Dar decided to go for and successfully achieved her real estate license. As she would often famously say around the office, “(She’s) kind of a big deal.”
“KwELITE meant to her the opportunity to pursue her dream of becoming a Realtor after years of working in the industry and learning the ropes behind the scenes. It was fulfilling to her being there for the beginning and sharing the struggles with Renee, her longtime coworker and friend,” said Tom Cepel, her husband of 34 years.
“She kicked (getting her real estate license) around for several years. She was curious, she had the social skills, the savvy, and Lord knows she was willing to work. But, never being the scholarly-type, she worried about the exam. We encouraged her, helped her study and she passed on the first try. We were never more proud, and she was too.”
Mueller still remembers getting that phone call from Dar telling her she was officially a licensed Realtor.
“I could practically hear her smiling through the phone and she told me that she couldn’t wait to come up with a team name for us,” Mueller said, noting Dar joked about them being “Thelma and Louise” because of their tightly-knit friendship.
It wasn’t real estate that initially connected Dar and Mueller, though. The two met several times through mutual connections and unusual circumstances.
Back in 2005, Dar was working with Mueller’s sister-in-law and would occasionally drive her back to Wayne because she had a hard time seeing at night. They crossed paths again around 2006 when Dar was helping look for a girl who played on one of her daughters’ soccer teams. That girl was Mueller’s foster daughter.
“She was always helping others,” Mueller said.
In 2009, Dar joined the same real estate office as Mueller to fill in for an admin on a temporary basis. But, she never left. Instead, she became one of Mueller’s closest confidants professionally and personally, as well as the official team “dorm mom,” as Realtors and staff called her. Although, her husband noted, she preferred “team sister.”
“Dar was the office mom, even though she would say she was the office ‘sister.’ She was the glue that kept everyone connected on a level most wouldn’t understand,” kwELITE Realtor Shae Spitz recalled.
“The impact she had on me, and honestly anyone who encountered Dar, was memorable. She was a woman you’d never forget, and all for good reasons.”
Said Mueller: “She was definitely the liaison between myself and the rest of the team. She had, after all, been by my side for so many years that she did everything just like I did, handled every situation with care and was completely devoted to helping everyone.”
Dar’s family — husband, Tom; son, Jay; daughters Shayna Cepel and Lindsay (Kenny) Rosno — often come by the kwELITE office and have had an active hand in Parkway Plaza events from time to time. Cepel said his late wife loved the atmosphere and culture at kwELITE and throughout the building, so it’s like being around extended family. The tributes in the building to his wife mean a great deal to the family, he said.
“She truly loved her job, her clients and the people she worked with. I never saw her happier and more full of confidence than in these last three or so years, as a successful agent. You could see the happiness in her smile, hear it in her voice, see it in the way she carried herself,” Cepel said, noting Dar would be extremely proud of the company’s growth and expansion into markets such as Kearney and Elkhorn.
“She surprised herself more than anyone else, I think. The rest of us knew she was going to be a big deal. She was already a big deal to us before she ever closed her first transaction, and long before that.”
The Cepel family, Mueller and the kwELITE team recently gathered at Dar’s resting place to honor their late loved one and share fun stories, as there are a lot of them. From the company’s continued expansions over the last year and work on a new development in the area, to continued real estate transactions and growth, Mueller believes Dar’s spirit continues to inspire and motivate the kwELITE team.
“FOR DAR” is not just a saying for Mueller. It’s a constant reminder of a dear friend who left a lasting impression on her, her team and the business as a whole.
“I think she would be proud of how much more growth we have had through the last year and how strong we have all been together. She is ever-present,” Mueller said.
“What keeps me going even though she’s gone is knowing she loved all of us so much and we definitely loved her back. She bled kwELITE and I can still hear her telling anyone who would listen, ‘you should come and work with us, it’s not even really work. We just have fun!’”