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Editor's note: "Community Champions" is a new weekly feature in which area residents who are advocates for the community are profiled. To recommend someone for consideration, send an email with the subject line 'Community Champions' to news@columbustelegram.com. Please include contact information about the person and their background. Read previously published stories on columbustelegram.com.

While many of her peers often spent significant time talking about upcoming weekend plans and entertainment, then-University of Nebraska Omaha sophomore Renee Mueller had one thing on her mind: Buying property.

“I remember telling roommates I was going to purchase a property and they could pay me rent. They all thought it was pretty funny I wanted to buy a property and rent it out, They said, ‘we swear you’re crazy. How and why are you going to buy this?’” she said.

Mueller, who had grown up with a father who had investment properties and rentals all across the state, had an idea that most young people don’t and was determined to make it work. She wasn’t even 20 years old at the time. In fact, her father had to co-sign on her purchase, but the 19-year-old (the youngest one can be to purchase property legally in Nebraska) bought the Omaha site she coveted for $97,000 and rented it out.

“I made enough money. I doubled what the house payment was coming in in rent,” recalled Mueller, who had gone to all sorts of investment and property seminars with her dad growing up. “I knew I was hooked then.”

A Columbus native, Mueller had aspirations to leave her hometown forever and make a life in a big city. But ironically, she found out later Columbus was where she was meant to be. And though she has been quite successful in the real estate world, it’s her commitment to pushing Columbus forward that truly drives her day in, day out.

 FINDING HER WAY

Born-and-raised in Columbus, Mueller went through the school system and graduated from Columbus High School in the late 1990s. She said it was a good place to grow up, but like what many teens still say today, she said she felt it was missing something.

“It was a lot different than it is now. There wasn’t much to do other than play outside with the group of neighbors you had,” Mueller said. “Like everyone else my age, all we talked about was getting out of Columbus. So when I left for college, I swore I was never coming back. I wanted the big city atmosphere, I wanted more opportunity. I just didn’t see myself coming back to Columbus once I graduated and left.”

Mueller went to college for hotel management and marketing, but also worked for a hotel chain in the area. In the midst of her college tenure, the then-junior decided to take what she felt was a promotion in Illinois to run three hotel chains across multiple states. It ended up not being what she wanted, but it did help her in at least one way.

“It was triple the hours and barely enough money, so I realized that was not what I wanted to do. The week after I quit, I was back in Nebraska,” she said. “I knew what I wanted. I wanted to be in real estate.”

 HER CALLING

Mueller wasted no time when she got back to town. She returned to working full-time at a hotel in town that she had been employed at during her high school years, while also taking online courses through UNO and started to build her reputation.

A licensed realtor since 2000, Mueller has had plenty of success in different areas of real estate having earned distinctions as a Graduate of Realtor Institute (G.R.I.) and Certified Residential Specialist (C.R.S.), among other things. She was also named “Best Realtor” by readers of The Columbus Telegram in its Best of Columbus awards from 2014-2018 (2019’s Best of Columbus awards voting just got underway). Her highest achievement locally is just being able to be part of Columbus’s growth and encouraging others to do the same, “investing in this community has truly been worth the time and effort," she noted.

HOMETOWN HERO

Mueller has had quite the year. She transitioned to running her own real estate operation in 2018 and her office became affiliated with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices. It’s under the umbrella of Berkshire Hathaway, a multinational holding company run by chairman/CEO Warren Buffett. The company has added six additional team members this year with plans to continue expanding the operation.

She decided to construct the 13,000-square-foot Parkway Plaza, a building presently under construction at 4471 41st Ave., right off of Lost Creek Parkway. It will feature her Berkshire Hathaway office, several other businesses and be the home of Big Apple Bagels, which just recently had its sign installed outside the building in anticipation of its opening later this year. The building itself and Big Apple Bagels are partnerships between Mueller, her husband, Tyler, as well as businessman Jeff Thiele and his wife, Shirin.

Big Apple offers a variety of bagels, muffins and other pastries, as well as specialty drinks, including coffee and smoothies. The Midwest-based company has franchises all over the region and bills itself as offering “always made-from-scratch, premium baked goods ... Bagels, Muffins & More,” on its website. Bringing it to town plays perfectly into what Mueller calls her mission to help grow Columbus.

“My personality is such that if I see something I don’t like, I’m going to try to make a change rather than just complain about it ,” Mueller said. “I wasn’t thrilled to come back to Columbus at first, but when I made that decision, I knew I just had to make a difference … my goal is to keep growing Columbus and make it the best possible place for the next generation.”

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Become a Member

Business is only a part of that effort. Mueller has been and continues to be highly involved with numerous local nonprofits and initiatives, including the Columbus Area Future Fund and the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, as well as Habitat for Humanity, the Columbus Board of Realtors, Sammy’s Superheroes and her children’s school. She’ll also be a co-chairperson for this year’s Taste of Columbus fundraiser.

“Columbus is a great place and there is so much opportunity out there. Growing up, you think, ‘it’s boring, there’s nothing to do.’ You just dream of something different,” she said of being a native. “But it’s really just the opposite. There is a ton of opportunity here you don’t even realize.”

Mueller is an individual Columbus residents are fortunate to have around, according to those who know her well. Darlene Cepel has known Mueller for more than a decade and said her friend is the definition of what it means to be a truly good individual.

“She’s a very generous, community-oriented person – she’s a hard worker. Nothing has ever been given to her,” said Cepel, who is also an agent at Mueller’s Brookshire office. “She just likes to give back to the community … I enjoy watching her and admire her courage as she forges ahead with new investments and projects that add to the community.”

Erin Nahorny met Mueller back in the early 2000s when the latter got involved with Sammy’s Superheroes Foundation, which aims to raise awareness and fund life-saving research for all types of childhood cancer. Nahorny and her husband helped launch the nonprofit after their son was diagnosed with cancer.

“She was always a person we could call on. She was always involved in everything,” recalled Nahorny, who just last year joined Mueller’s Berkshire team. “I just don’t know how she does all the things she does but she is just one of those people you know you can always rely on with any need. Renne has just been a constant support … From a business standpoint, I’m excited where we’re going. I just think Renee is being an innovator right now in our field”

HOME SWEET HOME

In some ways, Mueller still can’t believe Columbus is home. But, she stressed, she can’t imagine being anyplace else.

“Some of my friends who even knew me back then laugh about it because not only did I come back, but I married a farmer … We have chickens and goats. I’m completely farm, and that was not in the plans, so it’s pretty comical,” she said, with a laugh. “But I feel like I am exactly where I am supposed to be. I couldn’t rave more about Columbus.”

She enjoys spending time with her family, which includes her husband, Tyler, who is part of his family’s farm operation that includes Mueller Sod Farm. She also enjoys hanging out with her two children, Cora and Maverick.

“They’re great kids,” she said.

Sleep is about the only thing she finds challenging to make time for, but Mueller said pushing herself in hopes to make Columbus better is all worth it.

“The last year-and-a-half has been a little more daunting, but this is truly my passion,” she said. “So if I didn’t love it, I don’t think I could sustain it.”

As for her very first rental property she purchased as a college student in Omaha, she still thinks about it despite no longer owning it.

“I sold it for $209,000 four years ago,” she said.

What drives her these days is Columbus. Among her many things, she makes time to give community tours to newcomers and potential employers to town.

“It must come across to folks that I’m passionate about Columbus,” she said. “It’s something I get called on to do a lot, and I love it. I love seeing folks who are my age, moving back because for the longest time it seemed pretty stagnant but it’s really starting to become a great destination and we are seeing more folks excited about the possibility of calling Columbus home."

Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at matt.lindberg@lee.net.

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