FAIRHOPE – When Fran Druse began working at the Baldwin County Home Builders Association, the organization’s office consisted of a rented room with a broken chair.
“That’s that the association had then and if I leaned back in my chair I feel into the wall,” she said laughing.
Now, after more than 32 years as executive vice president, Druse will officially retire in November from an association that she has watched grow to a group with more than 800 members, its own custom-built office building and a national reputation.
“I feel very blessed to have been here all this time. To me it’s an exciting career and I wouldn’t trade it for any career that I could have had. I’ve met a lot of people,” she said. “I’ve made a lot of friends and probably the majority of my friends are members of the homebuilders association. Because that’s who I spend my time with.”
The association has endured hard times, when recessions cut finances to the point that staff could not be paid. “We got through the hard times,” she said. “You always do one way or the other.”
Dealing with difficulties, however, has always been part of the job.
“I liked the challenges and it was always a challenge,” Druse said. “Whether you were ready for it or not. There were a lot of challenges in the industry, which trickled down to my position. I think the challenges keep you pumped up and I’m one of these who gets excited about something and then I’m like the cheerleader, rah, rah, wanting it to succeed.”
One challenge was a decision by members to build a home for a Daphne veteran who had been injured by while on duty in the Middle East.
“They literally raised the funds, we raised the funds in a year’s time to build that young man a four-bedroom brick home,” Druse said. “He was able to move into this home mortgage free. All of our members just jumped in. They were out there working raising funds.”
She said that while some people criticize home builders and developers, her members are working to help the public and community.
“To me it’s an exciting industry to be a part of,” Druse said. “When you hear someone complain about ‘these developers, they’re taking up all of our land. They’re bringing all this traffic, more and more houses. It’s not like our developers and builders just say ‘I don’t have anything else to do, I think I’ll go out there and put in a subdivision and build a dozen houses just to look at them.’ Our industry and our builders are providing one of the most important things there is in a person’s life – safety, a home—a home where they feel safe that they love and that’s the biggest investment that they’ll make in their life.”
Chris Farlow, BCHBA president, said Druse has been a guiding force for the group for more than three decades.
“Fran was paramount to the success of this association,” he said. “We would not be where we are were it not for Fran. She started out with nothing and helped build all the different events that we have. The network is something that is priceless. Her networking with the community, with state leaders, with national leaders. We would not be who we are today. We’re highly regarded from the National Homebuilders Association because of the work that staff has done and because of Fran.”
Druse was recognized for her efforts in 2016 when she won the Sheldon Hale Career Achievement Award. The award is the highest recognition granted by the National Home Builders Association to a member. “That was the crowning achievement to be recognized by my peers,” she said. “I was indeed proud of that.”
Druse said she is leaving the association in good hands. In addition to the members, staff member Marsha Jordan will be taking over as executive vice president.
“This is my right hand lady,” Druse said pointing to Jordan. “She’s been with me 23 years. I tell people this is my work daughter. She’s going to be stepping up to the plate.”