Some things don’t change. When John R. Wood, founder of the well-known Southwest Florida real estate firm, moved to Naples about 55 years ago, there were 2,500 people living in town.
Also in 1957, the Naples Beach Hotel was considered North Naples.
Things that didn’t change: John Wood’s Southern country accent. His guiding principles. The love of his life.
Monday morning, Wood sat in his central real estate office on U.S. 41 as a new Realtor walked by.
“Nice to meet you Mr. Wood,” the Realtor said.
“You too. But I’m not Mr. Wood. That was my dad,” he said smiling, his Arkansas roots revealed in his pronunciations.
When asked about how he kept his accent, Wood said, “Arkansas is the only state in the union that is in the Bible. You didn’t know that, did you? Noah looked at the ark ‘n saw.”
Today, Wood will receive the Hodges Humanitarian of the Year Award at the Naples Beach Hotel.
Wood is quick with jokes and puns. When it comes to business, he gave credit to his only child, Philip Wood, who took over most of John R. Wood Realtors in 1995. The firm grew to include 10 offices and 350 sales associates.
“He’s done better than I have with the firm,” he said of his son.
When family members renew their individual brokerage licenses, they compare results. John’s wife Wanda usually gets the highest grade, he said.
Wood also attributes his business success to his father.
“My father gave us two tidbits of advice. The worst four-letter word you ever heard is debt. The second, if you have to sell newspapers on the street corner, be your own boss,” Wood said.
“I think with the Humanitarian Award, they asked if I was human and if I was humane,” he said.
Wood, who married Wanda about 60 years ago, is regularly involved in his church, First United Methodist Church on Third Street South, one of the first churches in Naples. He’s continued to attend since the church air conditioning consisted of waving paper fans.
Wood came a far way from having only $4,000, a station wagon and a 2-year old child in tow, as was the case when he first arrived in Naples. At that time, he decided he didn’t enjoy being an attorney working with his father in-law in Arkansas.
Wood followed some signs that seemed to come from above leading him to Naples. He followed his father’s advice to check out Florida real estate. He was enamored with the then-fishing village lifestyle of Naples.
Wood lives in Pine Ridge Estates, where he bought five one-acre lots in 1969 when everyone else thought that was much too far away to commute. Now, it’s full of gardens and every fruit tree he and Wanda could want as they both enjoy gardening. Growing food is part of being from a small country place, he said.
One of Wood’s best buddies in life is Earl Hodges, the namesake of Hodges University. However, it wasn’t just Hodges who recognized Wood’s community contributions. The previous 17 Humanitarian Award winners were invited to a luncheon where they chewed over who was most deserving this year. Previous winners made the nomination and selection.
“It was the quickest decision yet when it came to John Wood. There was no debate. It took less than 10 minutes and the decision was unanimous. These are the folks who know about giving back to the community. These are his peers,” said Phil Memoli, vice president of Hodges University advancement.
Wood is most dedicated to St. Matthew’s House and Junior Deputies, among several other community organizations. He was a troopmaster for Boy Scout’s Troop 165, camping on a friend’s Keewaydin lot with them.
He doesn’t like to discuss his philanthropy; it’s not the point of his generosity.
Wood will share an anecdote or two though, such as the one about another buddy who gets a kick out of being a voluntary community officer for the Collier County Sheriff’s Office. He’s now able to tote a gun, Wood said.
“He’s got all the money in the world,” Wood said, puffing out his chest, hand on an imaginary hip holster, mocking and playful.
Wood was president of the National Board of Realtors, made good friends with U.S. presidents, enjoying back and forth playful quips with Ronald Reagan — both notorious jokesters among people who know them well.
“Through the years, they’ve seen Collier County grow by enormous scales and they’re still down home people with small town values,” Memoli said of the Wood family.
“Everything they do, they do it with the intention to only do things you’re going to be proud of, be honest with people, be squeaky clean and be squeaky clean in business.”