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Who Was James A. Graaskamp?

Posted By David Walsh, Greystar, Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Real Estate Badgers first hear the name James A. Graaskamp during the introductory real estate course in Madison. They learn that “The Chief”, as he was fondly called, helped to grow the Wisconsin real estate program to national recognition. Many alumni had the good fortune of learning directly from Jim Graaskamp during his time teaching at UW. However, those who joined UW’s reputable real estate program following Jim’s death in 1988 may know little of the legendary professor and mentor who inspired countless real estate students to excellence.


James Arnold Graaskamp was born in the summer of 1933 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to a family of German and Dutch origin. He grew up enjoying football, fishing, and spending summers up north. Fishing would be one of James’ primary passions throughout the entirety of his life.


In high school, the 6’6” Jim was a standout on the football team. His hard work was rewarded with a football scholarship to Harvard. At age 17, Jim was paralyzed from the shoulders down by polio and the course of his life was changed. However, he described the disability as a “materials handling problem,” and refused to succumb to self-pity. To that point, Jim later told his partner Jean Davis that the pain in his father’s eyes, that he knew Jim would never walk again, motivated him to work hard and become successful. In this pursuit, Jim went on to receive a BA in English with a concentration in creative writing from Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. He received an MBA degree in Finance, specializing in security analysis, from Marquette University. Finally, he received a dual PhD in Risk Management and Urban Land Economics from the University of Wisconsin.


The Chief taught at Marquette prior to joining the UW-Madison faculty in 1964. By 1968, Jim was the chairman of the Real Estate Department, and held that position until his untimely death in 1988. During his time teaching in Madison, Jim challenged students to apply their educational topics to real world projects. He taught a demanding curriculum and utilized examples from his own real estate consulting company, Landmark Research, to bolster understanding. In the fall of 1976, Jim founded the Wisconsin Real Estate Alumni Association (WREAA) alongside Don Evans (MS ’64), a member of the first masters class to graduate under Jim’s instruction (the “Magnificent Seven”), and Jim Curtis (MS ’76). The Chief was very involved in the well-being of his students, developing strong relationships and mentoring many. He dedicated his time and efforts to assisting his students in job placement and pursuit of career goals.


Jim continued to pursue his passions despite his paralysis. His travels included fishing in Alaska and scuba diving in Hawaii. Jim hired students to be live-in aides during his time at UW, and frequently took these students on his trips with him, whether to present at other institutions or deep-sea fish. These students had a unique perspective on the life, ingenuity, and attitude of James Graaskamp.


Jim died in Madison on April 22, 1988. His contributions to the real estate industry and the University of Wisconsin continue to be remembered. His publications, including A Guide to Feasibility Analysis and a treatise on portfolio management theory for real properties, remain highly regarded and referenced by professionals. In addition to founding Landmark Research, Inc., he served as a member of the Real Estate Advisory Board of Salomon Brothers, and received numerous awards for his expertise in feasibility analysis and appraisal. The University of Wisconsin Center for Real Estate was officially named the James A. Graaskamp Center for Real Estate in 2007 with the generous support of nearly 600 alumni and friends who raised approximately 11 million dollars to honor the memory of their extraordinary teacher, mentor and friend.


The 30th Anniversary Special Edition of Graaskamp on Real Estate, considered one of the best real estate analysis and development books ever written, is now available. It has been edited by Stephen P. Jarchow, who has generously agreed to donate 30% of the proceeds from the book sales to the Graaskamp Center for Real Estate. The book is a collection of class notes, unpublished materials, and academic treatises from The Chief’s time at UW. To learn more and purchase the book, please visit www.graaskamponrealestate.com.


"Real estate should be taught as a process of dynamic interactions rather than functional or historical facts. The result should be a real estate entrepreneur with the creativity of Leonardo DaVinci, the sensitivity of the natural world of John Muir, and the political humanity with cash management for profit skills of James Rouse. Of course, the graduate student should be something more!"  - James A. Graaskamp

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