RIP Lonnie Scruggs: Teacher, Author and Gentleman

I am so saddened to hear my friend and colleague Lonnie Scruggs died yesterday (April 15, 2013). I’ve been meaning to write him and tell him how cool it was to get his Kindle book in January, and that I bought a copy for my son. Kelly and I talked about taking a road trip to visit Lonnie and Joanne. But it didn’t turn out that way. What I can do now is take time to reflect on a life well lived.

What always comes to mind when I think of Lonnie… he closed almost every conversation we had saying, “Take time to make some memories!” It was said with that inimitable smile, and the twinkle in his eye was like an inside joke he knew you’d get.

Lonnie and Joanne always took lots of pictures. After events they would invariably send me a few pictures of us together. He was always happy to be among friends, and folks felt the same with him. The pictures were his way of sharing those memories, and he will always be part of mine.

We are fellow Virginians, but the tie goes deeper than that. A few people here may remember the story of how I came to be associated with CRE Online. Lonnie Scruggs was the hook that reeled me in.

Some background: I am the oldest son of a pioneer of the mobile home industry. My father founded a company that grew to include 45 manufactured housing sales centers in seven states, two manufacturing plants, over a dozen mobile home parks, a chain of RV dealerships, and a modular home building company. So I grew up in the business, and—this is key to the story— both of my grandfathers were named Lonnie (one was short for Alonzo).

By 1996 I was head of the development arm of the family business, which had morphed from a manufactured housing company to development and management of investment properties, including mobile home parks. I was just learning my way around a computer, and the web was in its infancy.

We had a mobile home park for sale, and I was looking for a way to use this new medium to help the process. Some of my first searches were for “mobile home park sales”, and “real estate”. And one of the links that popped up was “Deals on Wheels”, by Lonnie Scruggs, at a site called Creative Real Estate Online.

That rung several bells for me… a book about mobile homes, by a man named Lonnie, on a site about real estate investing. I started reading. The first few articles I read were by Lonnie, and he sounded like he had been living in my office for the last 15 years. He was writing about a business which very few outsiders knew anything about, and in a way that I knew he was in the business, not a wanna-be or huckster. I ordered the book, and I was hooked on the website. (Later on I got my dad a copy of DoW with Lonnie’s autograph.)

For the next two years I was a lurker on the CREO newsgroup. I loved that people in the business were giving real world advice to newbies, and sharing new techniques with each other. And if someone stepped over the line into BS, the rest of the group, especially the experts, blew them away. Finally I decided to get involved, and went to the second CREO convention in Dallas in the spring of 1999.

That’s where I first met Lonnie Scruggs, along with Terry Vaughan, JP Vaughan, Ed Garcia, and so many more who became friends and colleagues. From the start Lonnie was special. When I told him my story I could tell it struck him a bit different than the average convention attendee, but when I mentioned my Virginia roots and grandfather’s names he smiled and took notice of my accent, guessing I was from the mountains. He introduced me to Joanne, his wife, and we were friends from that day forward.

But credit Terry Vaughan for being the catalyst for what came next. Terry had this idea to combine Lonnie’s mobile home deals, Terry’s packages of mobile home notes, and my experience with mobile home parks into a three-day seminar that covered the mobile home business from end-to-end. Lonnie said he was game, JP Vaughan agreed to put the event together, and we held the first one in Charlotte in October 1999.

That was my introduction to teaching. I have often recounted that event as being one of the most intense learning experiences of my life. Lonnie and Terry were master teachers. I was a totally green rookie who thought he knew a lot, until it came time to get in front of the room and prove it. They were too kind to say I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Lonnie did his best to put me at ease. He could make the whole room feel like his back porch, but I was really nervous. Early on I got tongue-tied trying to explain the rate of return on a park deal. From the back of the room I heard Lonnie say those classic words, “That’s what I call, Good Enuf!” When I dropped my stack of overheads, he ambled from the back of the room and directed an impromptu Q&A session while I sorted through the mess on the projector stand. Lonnie saved the day for me, and anytime he was speaking I was listening. We did that seminar three more times, the last in 2004, which was recorded.

I was privileged to be on the program with Lonnie at other events. He was always the same, no matter where we were. It was a joy to see how easily he connected with people, and how they responded to his message of self-reliance, responsibility and initiative. His delivery vehicle was the “el cheapo” mobile home, but the true message was one of hope and optimism that anyone, anywhere, could do what he did, if you have the courage to take charge of your life.

To me, the strongest legacy a person can hope to leave is to have made a difference, and by that standard Lonnie is second to none.

I also have to mention that at almost every event Lonnie attended, Joanne was there. Their relationship is another source of inspiration, a supportive and caring partnership over many, many years. The first time my fiancée Kelly met them, Joanne took her under her wing and gave her pointers on how to navigate the events and help manage the demands. Kelly loved them both for making her feel so welcome and shares my sadness at Lonnie’s passing.

Thank you Lonnie and Joanne, for showing us the way to a better life by your own example. As we “make some memories”, your spirit is alive and well in the hearts of all who know you.

Our warmest regards and blessings to the family,

Ray and Kelly