Gail DaParma strives to beautify her hometown
by Margaret Anderson
Special to The Star
Jul 25, 2013 | 1890 views |  0 comments | 52 52 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Gail DaParma in one of the homes she has renovated. Photo: Anita Kilgore/The Jacksonville News
Gail DaParma in one of the homes she has renovated. Photo: Anita Kilgore/The Jacksonville News
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Growing up near Mount Pleasant, Iowa, in a little town of about 90 residents, almost in Missouri, was a learning experience for Gail DaParma. The area is a farming community with a large Mennonite and Amish influence. Her mother was a nurse, and her father was a carpenter and, in later years, a barber.

It was probably from her father that she learned the most about tools. He taught his daughter how to use a hammer when she was quite young. Her mother and grandparents, who were all skilled, hands on country types, taught her to refinish furniture, build, sew and many other great skills. These skills helped her to win many 4-H blue ribbons, both at the local and state levels. Her family took pride in knowing they had taught their children to all be self sufficient and capable to their benefit which, in turn, would benefit Jacksonville.

Gail and her husband, Mark, moved here seven years ago from northern Minnesota when Mark was hired as a computer science teacher at Jacksonville State University. Gail didn’t waste any time getting down to business to help beautify her new hometown.

She buys problem properties and renovates them before renting them out. She left the corporate world about 18 years ago to do this.

“I’m really committed to improving rental property here in Jacksonville,” she said. “And I’m trying to lead by example. I turn some of the worst houses into some of the nicest rentals in Jacksonville. When I was a kid, my parents remodeled houses. I love doing this because I can walk into a property that’s run down, quickly see what needs to be done and how much it’s going to cost. I just have a natural skill for it. It’s a type of big art project for me.”

What Gail doesn’t know how to do, she turns to research to figure it out. Gail does most of the work herself, including carpentry (thanks to her father), wiring, painting, flooring, ceilings and design, which is probably what she likes most.

“My tenants love their places,” she said. “People usually walk in the first time and say WOW! I’m at the point I seldom have to advertise my properties. I have a waiting list. I’ve had people calling me telling me they’re friends of the person moving out and they want to rent their house. When you have rentals you have a business. Your tenants, and often the parents of the tenants, are your customers. I do what it takes to keep my customers happy and referring me.”

Physically, she said, it’s hard work. “You’re going to get dirty, but there are a lot of rewards to it,” she said. “I can control the process and know it’s done right. I’m very fussy about the quality of work.”

Mark comes in handy when muscle is required. He’s also helpful in screening potential renters.

Gail approaches her position as a landlord as a business person.

She requires criminal and credit checks from the potential renter. If the renter is a student, she gets the parents involved, too. She discusses her rules with them and has them do a walk-through inspection. Her lease also includes a sign-off of the Jacksonville unruly ordinance as well so she knows they understand it.

“I’m a real advocate of having good quality rentals in Jacksonville,” she said. “My position is that if I can get property and turn it into something that will be an asset to the neighborhood, other people can too. If you are making money from a rental, I believe it is important to take steps to be a great neighbor. Curb appeal is important. That’s why I say there’s no excuse for rundown, unsightly stuff in town. That hurts our neighborhoods and our town. Urban blight brings many problems we just do not need.”

She said the effort is consuming.

“There’s a lot of stuff that goes on behind the walls, and I have to consider that, plus what it’s going to look like when it’s done,” she said. “Our goal is to have a house that is a real asset to the neighborhood. We want people to drive by and look at it and say, ‘Isn’t that pretty?’ Some houses I have bought were only fit for mice to live in, but we want our houses to have a lot of character and good curb appeal. If you’re a landlord that’s a business. And your tenant is your customer. The neighbors are your second customer. It’s my belief that you should do everything you can to give your customers the best product and the best service. In this case, the product is safe, pretty rental property. Something they can be proud to live in. I think if we, the landlords, would pool some of our ideas, we could come up with some things that would benefit the neighborhood, the renters and our businesses.

“For instance, one of the things I do routinely is I don’t allow parking on my lawn. A lot of neighbors find that very, unsightly and I agree. I have a designated parking area. I take care of the lawns. The tenants should not have to pay to live there and then have to mow, plus the neighbors are happy that the lawns are kept up. I think there are some simple things landlords can do that would help reduce some of the dissatisfactions that exist with landlords. Curb appeal is important.”

Gail is a member of a group of landlords that will start to gather at the end of the summer to exchange ideas. Anyone who would like to join the group can contact her at gdaparma@bellsouth.net

She doesn’t stop at providing neat rental property. She was instrumental in recruiting volunteers to renovate the Dr. Francis Museum and has put in a lot of elbow grease trying to make this landmark a more desirable and sound building.

“We have about 700 hours into it with volunteer labor so far,” she said. “We’ve put on a new roof, rewired, painted inside and out and put in new heating and cool.”

To find out more about this effort, Gail suggests going to www.facebook.com/DoctorFrancisMuseum

“We have tried to keep a visual journal of what we have found, what we have done and the fun people have had in volunteering,” she said. “There are lots of pictures for you to review.”

The DaParmas have a son and daughter-in-law, Aaron and Wendy, who live in St. Cloud, Fla., where Aaron is a Mercedes and BMW technician.

Gail’s primary hobby, when she’s not renovating houses, which takes up about 99 percent of her time, is dog training. She’s been doing that about four years. She spends a lot of time at Kingdom K-9 off Hwy. 431. She and Mark have two dogs, Wolf and Niera.

Contact Margaret at pollya922@gmail.com.
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Gail DaParma strives to beautify her hometown by Margaret Anderson
Special to The Star

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