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Joseph Duffel

1924 - 2017 Obituary Condolences Gallery
Joseph Duffel Obituary
Joseph Allen Duffel

February 2, 1924 - December 1, 2017

Joseph Allen Duffel, prominent Bay Area builder and real estate developer, passed away at his home on December 1st surrounded by family, after a courageous battle with cancer. Joe was the devoted husband of the late Jackie Weathers Duffel, beloved brother to five close siblings, dedicated uncle to fifteen nieces and nephews, and great uncle to thirteen. At the age of nearly 94, Joe's sharp intellect and irreverent sense of humor remained intact. Up until his final days of illness, he continued to work as the active CEO of Duffel Financial and Construction Company, which he founded in 1954 and which grew to become one of Northern California's most active real estate development and building firms. His love of family, reverence for education, strong work ethic and drive led him to many successes throughout his life.

Joe was born on February 2nd, 1924 (Groundhog Day), in Lakeview, Texas to Alma Heath and Wyman Hickman Duffel. His parents, both descendants of prominent southern families in Tennessee and Virginia, were of Scotch-Irish and French Huguenot heritage. Joe Duffel was a descendant of many notable pioneers and statesman in U.S. history among whom was Henry Clay Sr. (9th U.S. Secretary of State and 7th U.S. speaker of the House). His great-great aunt, Will Allen Dromgoole, was a noted author and poet. She wrote over 7,500 poems; 5,000 essays; and published thirteen books. She was renowned beyond the South. Her poem "The Bridge Builder" was often reprinted and remains quite popular. Joe was raised with his five siblings: Joy Haley, Bill Duffel, Novadeen Antoine, Kitty Dyer and Jan Christensen, in a loving home in which education and achievement were revered. Joe's close-knit, supportive family had a major impact on his life. The positive influence of his schoolteacher mother during the early years resulted in all six siblings graduating from UC Berkeley as well as thirteen grandchildren and numerous great grandchildren graduating from college - continuing a legacy of notable achievements dominated by education.

During high school and college, Joe received many accolades. He attended Waco High School where he was city manager in school government, sports editor of the school paper and a member of the tennis team. Upon graduating high school with honors, Joe was awarded a full scholarship to Baylor University where, at the age of 17, he attended as a student and worked as a special assistant to the sports information director. The following year, Joe transferred to Rice University where he was inducted into the Navy V12 program in 1943. His education continued at Harvard Business School's program for the Navy Supply Corps. This training led to a commission in the Navy as a supply officer in 1944. Following active duty in the Pacific area during World War II, he enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley where he was a member of the honorary business fraternity, Beta Gamma Sigma. He graduated with high academic honors. Joe continued to be a loyal supporter of his alma-mater. Many may remember the Duffel banner at Memorial Stadium during football games.

As a product of the depression era, Joe learned the meaning of hard work at an early age. He spent summers as a young boy picking cotton on his grandparent's farm – a job which, according to Joe, defined hard work and to this day remains a storied part of his family's lore. Another job that Joe took on was as a salesman of "real silk hosiery" during his college days when all nylon went to the war effort. This endeavor surely met several criteria for him, however, it was his employment after college in the mortgage and real estate investment department of the Prudential Insurance Company which would provide a significant training ground for him in learning both the finance and real estate businesses. Following a call to active duty in Korea, Joe was discharged from his military service in 1953. He returned to Prudential and subsequently formed a mortgage banking company in Orinda in 1954. The company evolved into the real estate and development firm, Duffel Financial and Construction Company.

Over the course of its sixty-three-year span under Joe's leadership, his company was responsible for creating notable, innovative projects including over 20,000 apartments and residential units in California and Nevada. In addition, the company developed several large hotels, including two Hiltons and two John Muir Inns, a regional brand. Duffel developed numerous office buildings, shopping centers, luxury homes, golf course developments, a large farming operation for prunes and walnuts in Yuba county as well as many other commercial and industrial developments throughout California and Nevada. A few notable Bay Area projects include Miramonte Gardens (Orinda), Creekside (Walnut Creek), Northwood (Concord), Hookston Square (Pleasant Hill), Stanwell Park (Concord), Danville Woods (Danville), Newpark Village (Newark), Adobe Creek (Petaluma). He also developed numerous apartments, offices, and medical buildings throughout Orinda, Lafayette, Concord, and Pleasant Hill. However, Joe felt his most notable project was the 322-acre mixed use development in Reno, Nevada, (Meadow Wood) which developed a four department store regional center, two convenience shopping centers, 1,500 apartments and condominiums, and four office buildings.

Politics always fascinated Joe, since he felt it was "an undiscovered opportunity to provide badly needed leadership to a society that often lacks direction." He ran for State Senator in 1966 against George Miller, Sr. That political involvement catapulted him into becoming the advance man for Ronald Reagan during his unsuccessful campaign for the presidency in 1968. During the campaign which Reagan lost by an eyelash to Nixon, Joe helped advance events in Columbus, Ohio, and Charlottesville, Virginia. He personally advanced Reagan to his appearances at the state delegations for most of the southern states. The responsibility, the events, and the history were truly exciting for Joe. He later served as a delegate to four Republican conventions and was appointed by Governor Deukmejian to the California Transportation Commission where he served for 12 years after being reappointed by Deukmejian and Pete Wilson. Joe was also proud to have served in many capacities in business, community and local political organizations. He served as president of the Orinda Rotary Club, president of the Bay Area Mortgage Association, president of the Homebuilders Association of Northern California (formerly known as the B.I.A., or Building Industry Association of which Joe was a founding member). He served on the board of directors for California Symphony, was a 40-year member of The Family, a San Francisco social and charitable club, and an active member of the Orinda Country Club for over 60 years. Joe and Jackie were longtime members of the Lafayette Orinda Presbyterian Church.

Joe met his late, beloved wife of 38 years, Jackie, at a garden party in Ross in 1967. They hosted many charity and personal events in their home "the Castle" in Orinda. They enjoyed golfing together, especially in Orinda and Pebble Beach, and skiing in the Tahoe area. Joe's other great love was thoroughbred horses. He was actively involved in the horse business for over 35 years and produced many winners at various important races. He had horse operations in California and Kentucky. Through his many community and business associations, Joe forged countless friendships. Known for his sarcasm and wit, Joe had a tough exterior but a heart of gold. Generosity and loyalty were some of his best traits. Joe did not believe in sugar-coating. Receiving a rare compliment from him was truly meaningful and worth a thousand words. Although Joe's great regret was not having children, he cherished his large, extended loving family of siblings, nieces, nephews, great nieces and nephews, and cousins. He enjoyed gathering the family at his home on many occasions, especially for the annual Christmas Eve party which would regularly include a formal seated dinner for over fifty guests.

We will miss you so much, Joe. Your memory will be cherished forever. Goodbye and Godspeed.

A viewing will be held at Hull's Chapel in Walnut Creek on Tuesday, December 19th from 4:00-7:00 p.m. A memorial service will be held at the Lafayette Orinda Presbyterian Church on Wednesday, December 20th at 1:00 p.m. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the California Symphony, 1475 North Broadway, Suite 420, Walnut Creek, CA 94596 or to the Lafayette Orinda Presbyterian Church, 49 Knox Drive, Lafayette, CA 94549 or .

Published in San Francisco Chronicle on Dec. 10, 2017
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