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Naples real estate pioneer, entrepreneur dies at 92

The real estate brokerage John Wood founded is now one of the biggest in the region.

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Being born in the Great Depression in rural Arkansas didn’t damper John Wood’s penchant for some mischievous fun. 

Like the time in the mid-1930s, when he went on quick joyride with his older brother Jim and their cousin Thomas. The trio, all around five-years-old, created quite a plan: One of the boys worked the accelerator while crouching on the floor. The two others manned the steering wheel. John’s father saw the scene play out from the porch, watching them coast down the hill in front of the home — a jaunt ending in a minor crash.

Wood went on to live a life of many more adventures, most notably founding what’s now one of the largest residential real estate brokerages in Southwest Florida. That firm, Naples-based John R. Wood Properties, posted $3.65 billion in sales volume in 2020, up almost $1 billion over 2019. It has 19 offices throughout Lee and Collier counties. 

Wood died Aug. 5. He was 92.

“He was small in size, five-feet-seven, but he was one of the most respected people in town,” says Phil Wood, the only child of John and Wanda Wood. “I’ve been receiving lots of calls, e-mails and cards, and many people are sharing how much they loved my dad.”

Wood is the second Naples-focused real estate pioneer to have died in recent weeks. Downing-Frye Realty co-founder Earl Frye, also 92, died July 10.

Like Frye, when Wood moved to Naples, in the late 1950s, most real estate buyers were investing in large acreage plots, then flipping after a year or two. So land deals were the primary revenue driver when Wood launched his own firm in 1958. He also sold homes in some of Naples’ first communities, including Aqualane Shores, Port Royal, Coquina Sands and the Moorings. And there were a few commercial land deals, such as lots on U.S. 41, which went for $50,000.

Ethics were paramount to Wood’s business model and life, says Phil Wood. With some less-than-scrupulous developers around Florida at the time, Wood adopted a slogan of “Walk on it before you Buy,” so acreage buyers knew they weren’t buying swampland. The firm had a number of four-wheel drive Jeeps to show agents sites, and that slogan was plastered on the sides of the vehicles. “He was known for the stands he took on ethics,” says Wood.

One example: In the early 1980s, the younger Wood, relatively new to the business, was selling a condo in Naples. Phil Wood says he noticed something off about the contract and showed it to his dad. The elder Wood realized the buyer was trying to trick the bank into thinking he had 100% financing, so he didn’t have to put money down. “This is bologna,” Wood recalls his dad said.

John Wood called the parties together. The deal was off. “He told the buyer he wasn’t going to call the police — this time. But if he tried this again the first call would be to the police. That buyer was shaking in his boots.”

Another big lesson Wood learned from his dad was a front-and-center carryover from John Wood’s childhood. “He always encouraged people to avoid debt if at all possible,” Wood says. “That was a big thing.”

John Wood, born in Star City, Arkansas, near El Dorado, was frugal and resourceful as a kid. His father owned a fishing lure manufacturing company and a jukebox company, both in El Dorado. The two Wood brothers soon sold model airplanes in their dad’s store.

Wood joined the U.S. Navy shortly after World War II, where he served on an aircraft carrier. After the Navy, he attended Henderson State College in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, where he met and married Wanda. To save money for graduate school, the coupled worked at the local drive-in: Wanda at the ticket booth and John in the concession stand. Wood went on to law school, and he practiced for a few years with his father-in-law before, the obituary states, “John decided law was not his calling.”

The young couple followed some friends and moved to St. Petersburg. They checked out Naples, loved it and soon moved there. Seeing the growth potential, they opened their own firm, with humble beginnings. To help offset the $200 monthly rent, for example, the couple — co-work landlords long before it was cool — rented desks to an insurance salesman and a bug guy.

As the business grew, Wood became more active in the real estate profession. He was president of the Naples Board of Realtors for two years; chairman of the Florida Real Estate Commission; president of the Florida Association of Realtors in 1971; and president of the National Association of Realtors in 1981. A Junior Achievement Hall of Fame Laureate and Hodges Humanitarian Award winner, other groups and organizations Wood was involved with include the United Way, the Chamber of Commerce, Boy Scouts, Junior Deputies and St. Matthew’s House.

Wood’s hobbies included fishing, and later in life, tennis. And growing the company alongside Phil Wood was a big thrill. “We had some disagreements along the way, but overall it was a blast,” Wood says. “It was a great privilege to work with him.”




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