In her bestselling book Grit; the center of KW’s June Book Club; author Angela Duckworth writes, “Enthusiasm is common, endurance is rare.” Continued endurance, brought on by a succession of unforeseen challenges, is even more rare. Yet, that has been the case for real estate leaders Dar and Ed Walden of the Dar Walden Team in Anchorage and the Madden Team in Fairbanks, Alaska. Together, the Waldens have built an empire, ascending to the No. 1 team in the state in 2017; a title they still hold today. Over their 20-year real estate career, Dar and Ed have had to endure their fair share of struggles and heartaches, but all pale in comparison to last year, when they lost their beloved son and core member of their team, Christopher.
“He struggled with drug addiction throughout his younger years,” shares Dar. “After moving back to Alaska years ago, he maintained his sobriety – offering him, his beautiful wife, Sasha, and his family an incredible career in real estate.”
On September 21, 2019, Christopher relapsed and the outcome was fatal.
“Our winds changed overnight and we had to adjust our sails very quickly,” she continues. “Besides being the light of our lives, Christopher was the top-producing agent of our two teams and market center. When he joined the business, his leadership skills started showing up and, before we realized it, he was teaching his team members to be better, to think bigger … all while still enjoying their life.”
Prior to Christopher’s passing, Dar and Ed were preparing for their son and Sasha to take their place. “All of our plans shattered – and so did we,” Dar recounts. With 50 team members and a 164-million-dollar business on their hands, they had to press on and endure.
“The months that followed were hard,” she shares. “Our team was devastated and we walked around in circles, nearly losing all of our focus. Every day someone was having a meltdown. Tasks that were once easy, became monumental.”
Despite the weight of the new reality, they continued to keep their eyes focused on their goal – “to build a bigger business so we can provide our family and team members with lives big enough that they can’t imagine working anywhere else,” says Dar.
This goal had always been present, but deepened in March, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It gave us better insight into what our purpose was and why we needed a reason to get out of bed and get dressed every day,” she shares. “We quickly realized after being in captivity for months that it was our work that fueled our fire and gave us purpose and passion.”
With their purpose in tow, the Waldens have been able to endure, which they define as ‘showing up and being present for their team every day.’
“With COVID complicating our lives and everyone working from home, we’ve had to keep our teams motivated, morale high, and activity levels up – which is no small task.”
It has called for increased amounts of empathy, understanding, and compassion.
“Compassion comes in many shapes and sizes, and for many people, it doesn’t come naturally. For Ed and I, it’s something we’ve been able to get better at with age and experience. We’ve learned to be more compassionate through our own adversities and the journey of our son. It’s so easy to judge others when you never know what’s going on in their world behind the scenes. We both try to treat others the way we would want to be treated, coming from curiosity instead of judgment.”
The way forward has also required deep humility and full faith for the Waldens.
“We’ve had to step back and take a deep breath and think through what our next plan might look like. And, as of now, we still don’t have those answers; however, I’m confident that with time, a plan will surface,” says Dar. “Christopher would always say, ‘Mom, I know God has a plan for me, but I’m just not sure what it is right now.’ I feel the same way … God has a plan for Ed and I and our team, and we will figure it out when the time is right. Right now we are all just trying to heal as a family and a team, trying to figure out what our new normal looks like.”
The healing process has started with the support of Walden’s market center and interactions with Christopher’s clients.
“So many clients reached out to us to share stories of what Christopher had done for them and the impact he had on their lives. It was from those stories that we came up with the Christopher Walden ‘Pay It Forward’ Cards as a way to keep his kind heart and giving spirit moving forward.”
To further honor their son, the couple – with the help of family, friends, and colleagues – are in the process of creating a residential facility called Christopher Walden House of Hope that will provide in-house addiction therapy.
“When Christopher was in the throes of addiction many years ago as a young adult, we had no viable options other than to send him out of state for treatment,” Dar explains. “The key to success with this disease is quick response time for treatment, long-term care, and an understanding that addiction is not a 30-day recovery (which is what most insurance companies allow for treatment). Having a local treatment facility will allow for clients to be surrounded by family support. And, finally – it must be affordable.”
The Waldens have estimated that the Christopher Walden House of Hope will cost between $1.5 million and $2 million to complete. As they raise funds, Dar and Ed, alongside the foundation’s board of directors, are creating models and systems for small, but personalized treatment facilities that can be duplicated in other locations and states.
In Duckworth’s book, she writes: “Passion for your work is a little bit of discovery, followed by a lot of development, and then a lifetime of deepening.” Fueled by an unconditional love for their son and others struggling with addiction, the Waldens are dedicated to a lifetime of work and discovery required to see their vision forward.
“Most people don’t think about the need for treatment facilities until it is their child or a family member dying from addiction and in desperate need of treatment. Ed and I say this from our hearts and personal experience as we have walked a long road in those shoes. We are determined (with both grit and passion) to take this very painful event in our lives and turn it into something positive. I know Christopher is looking down right now; beaming with pride that his legacy of kindness is being carried on in his honor.”