By Jean Lotus
"You're seeing me during my calm years," said David King, the commercial real estate broker, as he sits forward on the edge of his chair.
King is the one-man commercial real estate powerhouse behind the DK signs appearing in storefronts all over west Cook County.
And in spite of his purported calm, King is filled with high-wired energy.
"I've rarely seen a more optimistic person in my whole life and career," said West Cook Municipal Conference Executive Director Rich Pelligrino. "I've never seen him characterize a challenge in an insurmountable way. He'll just set forth the problems that need to be solved and start analyzing and making solutions."
When it comes to real estate, King calls himself The Matchmaker. "I know a little bit about all kinds of different businesses," he said. "I want my tenants to be successful. If you're trying to rent in the wrong location for your business or for the neighboring businesses, I'm going to fight you."
"It doesn't help the community if your business fails in six months and I have to put another tenant in there."
Aside from commercial real estate, King is also a political junkie and has a long history working as eminence grise behind many local political campaigns, including Forest Park Mayor Anthony Calderone, Maywood Mayor Henderson Yarbrough and former state Rep. Karen Yarbrough.
But King has had a parallel volunteer career: serving on the board of the non-profit Triton College Foundation.
King will be honored on Nov. 14 by Triton College at the President's Reception as he retires after 14 years, including a dozen years as the president of the foundation. During his tenure on the 20-person board, the foundation has raised more than $3.5 million and awarded 1,200 scholarships.
"I'm just one person on a fantastic board of 20 people," King said.
"He has a busy life and he's been doing this for 14 years with no pay, no remuneration," said Pelligrino, who is vice president of the Triton College Foundation.
But King has a soft spot in his heart for Triton College. "Triton is a special place for me," he said. "It was the right place for the right time in my life."
King attended the college in the late 1970s, starting at age 21. He worked for several years after graduating from Oak Park and River Forest High School unloading trucks for UPS. One of three children raised by a single mother, he paid his own way through Triton, working full time. He went on to graduate from University of Illinois Chicago with a business degree.
"I was paying for it myself," King said. "I wanted to be there, and I made lifelong friends here."
And he has been "selling" Triton ever since, emphasizing its value.
"Tuition is around $3,000 a year, there are 30 kids in your class and you have a teacher instead of a T.A. It's an affordable place to go."
King points out that Triton offers an affordable path to college for minority and immigrant students, many of them from Eastern Europe who live in the northern part of the district.
Rivers Casino just donated $50,000 to update the culinary school dining room to resemble a fancy restaurant. The foundation has also donated $100,000 toward remodeling a storage space into a glass-enclosed culinary classroom.
The foundation partners with donors to sponsor approximately 40 scholarships. New scholarships in the past three years include the Kay Langston Scholarship for minority students (named in honor of an instructor), which includes help with mentoring. The Cohen Women Beginning Again Scholarship pays for books for women over age 50 who are returning to school to learn new skills. The President's Scholarship assists students with high grade point averages who don't qualify for federal financial aid but need help paying for school.
As foundation president, King also snagged representatives from the AT&T Foundation to help the school update its technology.
"I've watched him cultivate donors and cultivate new members to serve on the board of trustees. He's honest, he's passionate and he's tireless," said Pelligrino, who calls King "the relationship-builder-in-chief."
"I've learned so much about the community college mission from David," Pelligrino added. "I've come to understand the importance of the community college to the fabric of the community and success of life in the community.
"David did not forget where he came from," he added. "That sentiment is overly worn these days, but it's absolutely true regarding David King."
"I call David King my hardest-working friend," said Asst. State's Attorney Richard Nowell, who met King at Triton in 1978. "When he's trying to raise money, he's relentless. We all support Triton, and we all have very fond memories."
Forest Park Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Laurie Kokenes credits King with being a vital part of "the beginning of Madison Street's resurgence," with his work through the Main Street Redevelopment Association between 1995 and 2000.
"When Dave commits himself to something, it's never half-heartedly," said Kokenes. "Enthusiasm, hard work and loyalty are always evident, but you'll know if he disagrees with a plan."
Early in his political life, King helped with area state rep campaigns, including Ted Leverenz from Maywood, Elmwood Park's Angelo "Skip" Saviano and 9th Dist. Cook County Commissioner Peter Silvestri, said his sister, Debbie King.
"I think he blames me for getting him into politics," said Nowell. "He was always helping run Triton Student Senate campaigns.
"He likes to be behind the scenes," Nowell added. "He'd rather know the people in office than be those people."
According to his sister, King has, "always been a salesman. When he was in grade school, he convinced some neighbor kids to get up on the garage roof with him," she recalled. "When the mother of [one of the children] questioned how my mom would let David take kids on the roof, my mom said, 'I can't stop him. He's a born salesman.'"
Debbie King said her brother was, "really surprised to be honored" with the President's Award.
"He's very humbled and shocked at the number of folks who have said, 'I wouldn't miss this for the world.'"