By Roger Yohem –
Legendary Builder Had a ‘Servant’s Heart’
For a man who had friends in very high places, Pete Herder was very well grounded.
He was a youth chaplain at the Los Angeles County Juvenile Hall during college. He coached high school and college wrestling and football for several years. Then back in his hometown of Denver, he dirtied his boots as a third-generation builder before moving to Tucson in the 1960s.
All the while, he was a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy. It was his calling in life to counsel, guide and mentor. He called it his “servant’s heart” to encourage people to be successful.
In August, Herder, owner of the Herder Companies, died at age 89. The business icon built more than 5,000 homes locally and The Herder Building on Speedway Boulevard. His developments included St. Philip’s Plaza, Butterfield Business Park, Ventana Canyon Golf Villas and Riverbend. Overall, he built 20,000 homes in Arizona, Colorado and California.
His community service was restless and broad. It included three terms as Southern Arizona Home Builders Association president, Tucson Chamber of Commerce chairman, National Association of Home Builders president, director of President Ronald Reagan’s Commission on Housing and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He was a founding member of the Arizona Commerce Authority.
“Pete was pro-business and pro-Tucson. He volunteered his time, expertise and dollars to the betterment of our community and the homebuilding industry,” said Steve Canatsey, a fellow SAHBA and NAHB life director. “He was a great negotiator. He knew his land and building projects had to be a good deal for everyone. All parties involved had to benefit.”
Herder had a passion for politics and his impact reached far beyond Arizona. While chairman of the Tucson Chamber in 1979-80, the organization spun off its tourism and convention activities to focus on public policy and government affairs. Public funding was no longer accepted.
“That’s where Pete gave his expertise. He was the guy who led the transition into a business advocacy group. The chamber became prominent at all levels of government – from city hall to the state legislature,” said Jack Camper, the chamber’s president and CEO from 1978 to 2011. “If government funded the chamber, how could we tell government what to do?”
Herder served NAHB for decades and became an influential player in Washington, D.C. He worked with several U.S. presidents on housing issues. Rev. Dick Halverson, chaplain of the U.S. Senate, took Herder around to meet all 100 senators. Herder helped establish construction management programs in 24 universities. He became close to the late Arizona Sen. John McCain.
Reagan was his favorite president because of his character. Reagan looked him straight in the eye when they first met, Herder once recalled, and “never looked over my shoulder to see who else was in the room.”
Speaking of character, Herder was known for his humor. During his late-SAHBA years, I was a staffer who came to rely on his insight and advice. We often lunched with Canatsey and other directors. Herder watched his diet, yet always ordered three french fries on the side – and made us promise not to tell his wife. With a dozen builders, we attended a Bible-study lunch group. As its senior member, he was sensitive about his age. Accordingly, his young peers often asked what it was like to see Moses appear with the Ten Commandments. He never denied being there.
Three prominent construction trade associations awarded Herder status as a legend in the industry. In ceremonies in Arizona and Washington, D.C., the groups honored his building achievements and celebrated his lifelong gift of paying it forward. In addition, the Tucson City Council recognized his contributions to the community in 2005 with Peter D. Herder Day.
In a sometimes hard and cold world, Herder’s servant’s heart kept him connected with people in need. For decades, he called more than 100 people each year – not just for birthdays – but to check in on friends who were struggling in business, with health issues or from the loss a spouse. He thought they could use a lift from an old acquaintance and he walked with them through their misery.
“One of the things I admired most about Pete was his willingness to help others,” Canatsey said. “If he had something to share or a way to help someone, he did not wait to be asked. He offered.”