A lifetime of living and charitable giving
By Carin R. Kirkegaard and Terri Wiebold; courtesy photos
Dave Liniger has had a storied life; a proclaimed adventurer in many respects, he has lived many lives. He works hard, he plays hard and he gives immeasurably. All this is done hand-in-hand with his wife Gail, his partner in both business and life. The couple co-founded RE/MAX, the Denver-based global real estate company.
Originally from Marion, Indiana, Dave briefly attended Indiana University before enlisting in the U.S. Air Force and serving four tours in Vietnam. “The service helped me mature and really taught me the value of discipline,” said Liniger. Once stateside, he was stationed in Phoenix where he started buying and flipping houses. Dave said he obtained his real estate license simply to avoid paying the commission on the sale of the homes he fixed up. While he was successful in his endeavors, he was not a fan of the desert.
Dreaming of cooler, greener landscapes, Dave and his then-wife and children headed to Colorado. He recalled, after an all-night haul on the road, coming up over Surrey Ridge, heading north to Denver. The sun was just rising, and all he felt was a sinking disappointment. He was in Colorado, and yet not in the mountains as he had envisioned. The family settled in Denver, but Dave continued to seek that ideal mountain home; one which he later discovered in The Village at Castle Pines.
Dave started RE/MAX in 1973. He set up his office in Denver and hired his first employee, an ambitious graduate from the University of Southern Illinois with a degree in marketing, Gail Main. That same year, Gail was promoted to vice president, and five years later she became the executive vice president and then president the following year. “Those first few years were tough on everyone,” said Dave. “Long hours and extensive traveling … every senior executive at the company was divorced.”
According to Dave, Gail held down the fort and ran the company, and he went out and expanded it. Together, the two – who were married 11 years later – changed the norms of the industry. They created a company based on a franchise model that maximized the potentials of individual agents. Thus, RE/MAX – an abbreviation for “real estate maximums” was born. Agents retained 100% of their commissions, had a voice in decision making and shared the costs of operations. In 2013, RE/MAX Holdings, Inc. went public and began trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
“A big part of being a successful business leader is building others to become leaders – in business and society,” said Adam Contos, CEO of RE/MAX Holdings, Inc. “That’s what Dave did for me. From the time we met many years ago, he has been my mentor and my friend.” As for Gail, Contos said, “She cares about people very deeply; one of the most kind people you will ever meet. I have been all over the world with Dave and Gail, and they treat people with respect and love – no matter who you are. Their level of humanity and philanthropy is remarkable.”
Contos, a resident in The Village at Castle Pines, said he agrees with Dave that the neighborhood they both call home is “God’s country.”
The Linigers could live anywhere in the world – and they have seen much of it – but they choose to call the beautiful wooded landscape atop The Village at Castle Pines their home. “I finally found the mountain living I wanted right here,” said Dave. The Linigers first moved to The Village in 1986, the sixth home built in the vast gated community.
Neighbors John and Selly Sieber (owners of the first home built in The Village) have been friends with the Linigers for more than 40 years and have a lifetime of personal experiences that speak to the couple’s warmth, generosity and bravery. “Of all the qualities that we could share about Dave and Gail, courage would be the one word that describes what we admire most,” stated Selly – although their spirit of generosity did not go unnoticed. “Over the years, John and I have been privileged to be part of the countless times Dave and Gail have opened up their home to numerous worthwhile charities. With a schedule that would render 20-year-old people exhausted, they have rallied at the end of a full and taxing day to open up their home for these events.”
While building their business, the Linigers managed to pack in plenty of adventures. From racing on the NASCAR circuit, breeding Arabian horses, flying planes and big-game hunting, one could argue there are not many dull moments for the couple.
In 1998, Dave attempted to set a world record and fly a balloon the 22,800 miles around the globe at an altitude of 130,000 feet without stopping. “It was the greatest adventure and the greatest disappointment of my life,” said Dave, when recounting how the final launch attempt had to be scrubbed due to “unprecedented” weather in Australia.
Gail commented that her greatest adventures have always been with Dave. She described a big-game hunt in Africa where the group they were hunting with had come upon a baby elephant caught in a local hunter’s snare. After covering the elephant’s head, they were able to free his leg so he could return to his herd. Seeing the animal suffer had a profound impact on the couple, later influencing their philanthropic enterprise.
Complementing their big lives, the Linigers have even bigger hearts. Both are graduates from Craig Hospital, a world-renowned rehabilitation hospital specializing in neurorehabilitation and research. In 1983, a mere week before the couple was to be married, Gail was involved in a plane crash and suffered a traumatic brain injury that permanently disabled her left side. She was in a coma and subsequently spent five months recovering at Craig. In 2012, Dave contracted a staph infection that landed him in a coma and left him a quadriplegic. Both were told by doctors that they may never walk again, and both overcame the odds. Having received first-hand experience from the rehabilitation done at Craig, the Linigers are now premier philanthropists for the hospital and support the hard work and miracles that the doctors, nurses and staff help their patients perform daily. In 2015, the bridge that connects Craig Hospital’s east and west buildings was formally dedicated and renamed the “Liniger Bridge to Independence.”
Last year, Craig, in recognition for all that the Linigers have done and continue to do for the organization, nominated the couple for the Lifetime Achievement Award at the National Philanthropy Day in Colorado. Mary Feller, former executive director for the Craig Hospital Foundation, said that what the Linigers have done for Craig and the hospital’s staff goes above and beyond. “They are a couple who is dedicated to Colorado and who have done so much for the community through their philanthropic giving,” she continued.
In 1993, Dave took up golf. Gail, not to be left behind, did too. “I wasn’t going to become a golf widow,” she proclaimed. The couple had purchased a piece of land nearby for their internationally-renowned horse enterprise, but instead of establishing a ranch on the property, decided to build a golf course.
“There have been many rumors over the years about why I built that golf course,” said Dave in jest, “none of which were true.” In 1996, Dave met with his friend Jim Engh (award-winning master golf course designer), and together they designed and built Sanctuary golf course – for Gail. Dave took Engh, a six pack of beer and a bucket of balls up to the ridge where Sanctuary sits today, and together they hit balls and imagined what they could build.
“The rugged terrain up there didn’t make it easy,” said Engh, “but Dave and I talked a lot about it; he wanted to ensure Gail could play it.” Engh took careful consideration to not only create a course that would be fun for Gail and her signature one-arm golf swing, but to also maximize the topography and natural beauty of the land, which is bordered on all sides by Daniels Park. “One of the most inspirational things I’ve ever seen in the game of golf is playing with Gail,” Engh said. “I remember one time she hit a 112 using one arm – purely out of determination and joy for the game. It was humbling to me,” he recalled.
Dave said that building the course was a great accomplishment and admitted that, in some respects, for him, it was more fun to build than to play. Dave and Gail are the only members of the private course. Although Gail doesn’t hit the greens as often as she would like, she still cherishes her hole-in-one that she made golfing at Sanctuary.
In the philanthropic spirit, the Linigers make Sanctuary available for a limited number of charity events every year. The couple hand selects the participating organizations from hundreds of applicants. “It’s hard work choosing,” said Gail. “There are so many wonderful organizations, and we learned early on how difficult the selection process would be.” In addition to carving out three military days each year where only combat veterans from all branches of the military can play, the couple typically selects from organizations benefiting the arts, children and healthcare. The charities raise substantial funds at Sanctuary tournaments; events have generated more than $110 million in contributions since the course opened in 1997.
Both preservationists, the Linigers co-founded The Wildlife Experience in 2002. As avid wildlife conservationists, they envisioned the museum as an educational opportunity to alert others of the need to be stalwart stewards of the land. Located in Parker, the cultural and educational center is home to an extensive collection of wildlife art and taxidermy, including pieces from the Linigers’ personal collection. In 2014, the couple donated the museum to the University of Colorado. Now, in addition to the museum, there are classrooms and labs offering degrees, graduate certificates and credit-bearing courses.
Dave’s passion for the military and law enforcement runs deep. He purchased the CNN Warrior One Hummer (seen on the TV show Overhaulin’) and used it to tour the country and raise money for The Fisher House, a charity and foundation that builds homes for military and veteran families to stay free of charge while a loved one is in the hospital.
Currently, the Linigers are partnering with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO) to build out the Liniger Emergency Vehicle Operations Center. It opened in 2017 to provide emergency responders a place to hone their driving skills under challenging road conditions; a cause close to his heart, as Dave has been a DCSO reserve for 20 years.
Nearly a half century later and with countless adventures and stories to tell, Dave and Gail playfully laugh and say that although Dave is the published author in the house, whoever is left at the end of their greatest adventure together will have the luxury of writing the book and telling the untold stories.