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Path to appraisal service anything but 'routine'

Fred Nagel calls his job "routine," but the path to becoming a property appraiser had several strange twists. Photo by Doug Stohlberg

Hudson native Fred Nagel will be turning 90 this fall, but he's just now getting around to retiring from his longtime business in Hudson, Nagel Appraisal Services.

The firm will continue onward under the leadership of Nagel's daughter LuAnne Larson.

"I always enjoyed going out and exploring houses and property in the area," Nagel said. "In many ways it's a very routine business. I've worked mostly with banks and some individuals; we've always steered toward residential and vacant land. We've never gotten involved as much with commercial."

It may sound like a "routine" job, but Nagel's path to the appraisal business as anything but routine. Among others things, it included stints as an engineer in California with the Hughes Aircraft Co. and Ryan Aeronautical.

Nagel was born in 1922, the son of Mabel and Emil Nagel. He graduated from Hudson High School in 1940 and attended Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. After World War II began, he decided to join the Coast Guard in 1942 and served until 1946. In those days, however, the experience he obtained in the Coast Guard earned him the title of engineer.

He came back to Hudson in 1946 and worked for the old Central Lumber Company. He wasn't happy with his job, however, and left for California in 1949 to accept a position as engineer with the Hughes Aircraft Co., owned by the famous Howard Hughes.

"I never met Howard Hughes, but I did see him a couple of times," Nagel said.

Hughes is best known for his eccentric behavior and reclusive lifestyle in later life. But he was also a successful businessman, investor, aviator, engineer, film producer, director, and philanthropist. He was once considered the wealthiest person in the world.

Nagel's job at Hughes was engineering test equipment. The firm did not build a lot of items, but designed equipment for other firms. Among the items produced by the company before Nagel arrived was the famous Spruce Goose, the largest plane ever to fly. The aircraft was designed, constructed, and engineered by Howard Hughes and his staff. Also known as the Flying Boat, it is made entirely of wood.

"Interestingly enough, I was an electronic engineer and Hughes was not a big believer in electronics," Nagel said. "He believed in hydraulics. In fact, at one time he owned TWA (Trans World Airlines) and would not purchase Boeing's new planes because they used electronics, not hydraulics."

Before coming back to Hudson in 1965, Nagel also had a stint with Ryan Aeronautical where he worked on, among other things, guided missiles.

When he came back to Hudson, he teamed with local realtor Fred Kermott and worked in real estate for a time. He gravitated toward the appraisal side, however, and soon discovered that there was a bit of a conflict of interest in doing both the appraising and selling of property.

By the mid 1970s he was doing just the appraising work. His daughter joined him in the early 1980s.

Nagel has been, and still is, active in the community. He is currently on the board of directors at The Phipps Center for the Arts; he's also a past president of that group. His involvement with The Phipps Center goes back to the beginning when he was involved in the designing of the Center.

One of his passions is pipe organs and Nagel personally saw to it that The Phipps Center Theater had space for a pipe organ. He didn't stop there -- he personally put together a deal to get a donation of a pipe organ from KSTP and owner Stanley Hubbard.

Nagel is the current president of The Phipps Foundation Board and has been a member of that group since its inception.

"Stephen Phipps himself talked me into being part of the foundation board," Nagel said. "I'm the only board member left who had personal contact with Stephen (1878-1977)."

Nagel has also been involved with other organizations over the years, including a long-time membership with the Thursday Noon Rotary Club.

Nagel's trip to California also resulted in his meeting his wife Thelma. They have been married since 1955 and have three adult children: daughters LuAnne Larson of Hudson and Leslie Kiley of Roseville, Minn. and son Steven of Hudson.

The business has always been in Fred's home and that's where it will stay as daughter LuAnne takes over the reins. The company can be reached at (715) 386-9538.