Two civic powerhouses of the South Burlington community were honored by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce last week as the 2018 Citizens of the Year.
Dan and Leo O’Brien, founders of The O’Brien Brothers Agency, received the award at the annual Vermont Chamber of Commerce dinner held Dec. 6 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Burlington.
Over 200 people attended the dinner, which featured honors for several Chamber members around the state, including Paul Carroccio, Manchester Business Association/TPW Real Estate; Bill Colvin, Bennington County Regional Commission; Paul Gallo, Magic Brush Painting; Sean Kio, Burlington Telecom; Kelly Krayewsky, Revision; Courtney Lowe, Woodstock Inn & Resort; Rich McSheffrey, Two Loco Guys, Cornerstone Burger, Cornerstone; John Shannahan, Bennington Downtown Alliance; and Jeffrey Spring, Smugglers› Notch Resort.
But the highlight of the evening was the final honor, the Citizen of the Year Award, which began with a 10-minute video featuring many recognizable faces honoring Dan and Leo O’Brien, including Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), O’Brien Brothers CEO Evan Langfeldt, South Burlington Assistant City Manager Tom Hubbard, and retiring Vermont Housing Finance Agency Executive Director Sarah Carpenter.
“You know a good leader when you see them, and a good leader is someone who’s earned it,” Leahy said in the video. “Dan and Leo O’Brien both earned it. It was their integrity and their hard work, but mostly it was their ability and their intelligence to be able to be good leaders.”
The O’Briens are longtime active members of the Democratic Party, and count Leahy and his wife Marseille as close friends.
“When I ran for the senate, I would take their advice,” Leahy said of the brothers. “I knew it came from the heart, and it was honest.”
The Chamber Citizen of the Year Award comes as the O’Brien family of South Burlington celebrates 60 years in the business of developing commercial/industrial, residential, and housing. Noted for their commitment to affordable housing, the O’Brien Brother’s Agency originally launched in 1958 as a farming and livestock business.
The first development under O’Brien Brothers Agency was Forest Park in 1968, which consisted of 36 townhouses and the Timberlane Medical Complex in South Burlington.
In 1978, the brothers went on to build the first senior and family housing projects through the Housing and Urban Development Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program, which provides eligible families and individuals with rental assistance for affordable housing. Through the program, the brothers developed the 76-unit Country Park residences for the elderly, as well as Whitcomb Woods in Essex Junction and McKenzie House in Burlington. This generated over 200 units, which, at one point, made O’Brien Brothers Agency the largest non-governmental provider of subsidized housing in the state.
They also built The Foxcroft Townhouses, the Valley Ridge single-family home development, Stonington condos, and the Rye apartments, as well as the O’Brien Farm units. In the late 1990’s, the brothers broke out into the commercial and light industrial market with the addition of office buildings on Kimball Avenue and Williston Road as well as the Production Park industrial development.
Under current CEO Evan Langfeldt, the agency has been developing a master plan to develop nearly 40 acres with a maximum of 458 housing units, 45,000 square feet of office space, a park and other pedestrian amenities between Kennedy Drive, Kimball Avenue, and Old Farm Road —the very land on which many O’Brien family members grew up.
“It perfectly encapsulates their overall vision of providing quality housing,” Langfeldt said of the project. “O’Brien Brothers is not just a business, it’s a way of doing business.
Dan’s daughter Stephanie O’Brien also appeared in the dedication video at the Chamber dinner last week. She said her father and Leo always had in mind what home ownership meant to people.
“Both my father and my uncle felt that this was their only asset for many of these families, and that they should get the most out of that one and only asset,” she said.
Again and again, speakers including daughters Kerry O’Brien, Stephanie O’Brien, and others praised the brothers’ commitment and integrity. Dan’s daughter Katie O’Brien and Leo’s daughter Maureen O’Brien accepted the two matching and engraved bowls by Simon Pearce on their fathers’ behalf as the brothers watched from the family table near the stage in the Emerald Ballroom of the hotel.
“Integrity is about success in many ways,” said assistant city manager Tom Hubbard. “For them, I think it’s mostly about success in life, not just in the business end, and that’s what sets them apart from a lot of other leaders in the community. Thank you for your dedication. Thank you for your service. Thank you for all your efforts and for setting a great example for the rest of us over these many years.”