Ruger Kerstiens always planned on returning to Jasper.
On the surface, the reasons Ruger wants to live here are easy. Cost of living, excellent schools, community pride, plenty of activities, growing opportunities, his family and its business.
But it’s also driving by his grandfather Jerome’s farm with the fall sunrise covering the hills in that soft Indiana light or waving at friends and neighbors on a walk through the neighborhood where he lives or settling into church on Sunday where the associate pastor that just officiated his wedding is leading the service, and he knows he’ll talk to friends in the lobby before leaving for dinner and fun with the rest of his family.
“When I am asked why I moved back, the short answer is the people and the opportunities here that made me who I am today,” Ruger said. “I want that for my children too.”
Ruger graduated from Jasper High School and attended the Kelley School of Business at IUPUI. After completing a bachelor’s in business management, he worked with Kort Builders, Inc. for about a year and a half.
Ruger met the owner, Bob Kort, during what he described as a speed-dating-style networking event. Kort was impressed with Ruger and his knowledge of real estate and construction — Ruger has been walking around construction sites with his grandfather, uncle, and father since he began taking his first steps. “So he called me, and he asked me to work with him,” Ruger said.
Ruger was clear with Kort though, he could only work with him for about two years, and then he was heading home. “He (Kort) said he could go for two years,” Ruger explained. “He took me in and taught me a lot even though he knew I would be leaving.”
Kort remains a friend and mentor.
When Ruger returned to Jasper in 2018, he stepped into a role as a partner at Premier Property Management Kerstiens Realty with plans to grow.
The company recently finished developing senior apartments in Ferdinand. Ruger has two developments in the early stages in Jasper, University Heights next to VUJ, and the Jasper Redevelopment Commission just approved his proposal for Library Square. People are already moving into Chestnut Gardens, a development of duplexes for 55 and older in Huntingburg on Chestnut Street that is approaching completion.
These big projects have put the 25-year-old in front of local city councils and commissions presenting big ideas. But, he’s happy to be part of building homes that support new families in the area—an essential cog in supporting the continued growth of the local industry and economy.
“I love construction,” Ruger said, adding that he hasn’t considered any other career paths other than developing real estate.
He also came back with intentions to get involved in the community. Unsure of how to do so, Ruger reached out to Nancy Eckerle at the Jasper Chamber, became a member, and was subsequently asked to serve on the board. He is now the vice president of the board of directors.
That connection cleared a path for involvement in several other endeavors and groups.
He joined the board of Heart of Jasper, the new nonprofit formed to reinvigorate the Main Street America program. Since forming, Heart of Jasper has been able to act as a catalyst for programs to develop and improve downtown Jasper. They developed the facade grant program that is fueling several building beautification projects right now. And they have collaborated with other businesses and groups to create several new events highlighting the downtown.
And Dubois Strong invited Ruger to serve on a committee attempting to tackle workforce attraction in Dubois County.
He and a few of his friends have also recently launched the Young Professional Network of Southern Indiana. Their goal is to bring a group of young professionals — 25 to 40 years old — from various industries with different skill sets together to network and learn from each other. It isn’t necessarily aiming at entrepreneurs but anyone seeking to grow relationships and new skills.
Ruger is busy.
“Whenever I do things, I really like to do it. I don’t want to be some passively involved member,” Ruger said. “I didn’t know I was going to get involved in these things. I just talked to some people I knew and found where I fit best.”
Being newly married — he just returned from his honeymoon early Monday morning — and young, he has the time and energy to invest in volunteering in the community and growing the business.
That work ethic and dedication have led to some recognition. The Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM) recently named Ruger to its list of 30 Under 30. IREM’s 30 Under 30 honors the next generation of real estate management leaders by highlighting 30 professionals who have already made a significant impact on the industry and in their communities.
“I’m probably one of the few small-town Midwestern guys to get it,” he said. “It’s very humbling and, to be honest, I am surprised. A lot of the other professionals that receive the award are from large cities and working for huge firms and have very impressive resumes.”
Ruger seems to be an easy choice with the dedication and energy he is funneling into Dubois County.
It all comes down to that short answer, though. “I just think it is a great place,” he reiterated about his reasons for coming back home.
In making plans, Ruger maintains a five-year horizon. Over the next five years, he plans on doing anything he can to help the community grow, create more opportunities, and get his friends to move back.
He plans on building.
“I want Jasper to be a great place. I want it to be a great place for my kids and for my family. I don’t want to leave,” Ruger said. “I want to be here and make it the best community that we can.”
In addition to all that he does out in the community, Ruger is also the strength coach for the Jasper wrestling team. The three-time wrestling semistate finalist who just bench pressed a new personal record of 405 pounds meets the wrestlers three days a week from 5:00 to 6:15 a.m. before going into work. “I learned from B (Greater Jasper’s assistant superintendent of support services and transportation Glenn Buechlein),” he said about strenth-training. “And I’m passing it on to the younger kids.
He and his new wife, Ellie, live in Jasper.