Kemper Freeman: His Life and Family

The Eastside is basically where I’ve lived almost all my life. Bellevue didn’t even become a city until 1953…so if anything was to be done, it was simply neighbors getting together to make the Eastside a better place. ” — Kemper

Kemper Freeman is a third-generation resident of Bellevue, Washington. He is principal owner and hands-on leader of Kemper Development Company, which has played an important role in Bellevue’s growth from the early days of the strawberry fields lining downtown to the economic force the city is today.

In all, Kemper has developed a total of four million square feet of Washington State real estate and manages the Bellevue Collection, comprised of the well-known Bellevue Square, Bellevue Place, and Lincoln Square. The Puget Sound Business Journal says “it would be hard to overstate Freeman’s impact on the Eastside.”

Yet despite his business successes, Kemper says he would rather be operating a tractor than sitting in a board meeting. His first taste of hard work came as a nine-year-old living in Bellevue. He earned 50 cents an hour running a tractor on a dairy farm located at the site of today’s Marymoor Park.

It was there [the farm] that I learned everything you need to do whatever you want to do is at hand. It’s right there in front of you, just look for it.” — Kemper

Kemper worked farms with his own tractor for the next two decades while also taking on the role of manager for local radio station KFKF.

A young Kemper Freeman rides a tractor on the farm.

A young Kemper on the farm

Best known as a businessman, Kemper is also a community builder and strong supporter of transportation policies he believes will benefit the City of Bellevue and the Seattle region. His involvement comes from a long family line of community advocacy. His grandfather, Miller Freeman, pushed for improved Seattle area transportation as early as 1910 through the creation of the Fishermen’s Terminal. He also advocated strongly for the first bridge constructed to connect Seattle to Bellevue. Kemper Freeman, Sr., Kemper’s father, was the leader in creating the first school district and hospital in Bellevue. In 1972, Kemper went to work for those in Bellevue by serving two terms in the Washington State House of Representatives.

Though he went on to build one of the nation’s most successful shopping centers – Bellevue Square – Kemper today focuses an estimated 30 percent of his awake time not on his own buildings, but on community building. In addition to his support for expanding health and education opportunities and the arts, he is a strong promoter of smart, cost-effective transportation growth between Seattle and Bellevue.

His focus on building Bellevue is perhaps best exemplified by the Bellevue Collection, transformed by Kemper from a once sleepy part of town into a vibrant mixed-use shopping and entertainment center that has brought the best to the Eastside. Kemper’s insistence on the creation of more than 10,000 free parking spaces for the Bellevue Collection has helped ensure its access to all of the Seattle region.

Kemper is a past Chairman of the International Council of Shopping Centers and the association’s Government Relations Committee, and has served as a Trustee since 1987. He serves as a Board Member of Overlake Medical Center and the Tateuchi Center. Kemper is also an avid Rotarian, having never missed a monthly meeting somewhere in the country.

Family Life

Kemper Freeman attributes his life successes to the guiding set of values passed down from previous generations of Freemans and to the strength he receives daily from his wife Betty and daughters Suzy and Amy. Married for more than 45 years, Kemper and Betty have raised their daughters to value a strong work ethic and commitment to family.

Kemper and Betty on How They Met:

Kemper Freeman and his wife Betty at Fashion Week at The Bellevue Collection

Kemper and Betty at Fashion Week at The Bellevue Collection

“Once I got back to town from a post college Europe trip for the summer, I called Betty Austin and invited her to go skiing,” Kemper recalls.

“He assumed that because I was from Colorado, I knew how to ski — I didn’t,” saiys Betty. “But I skied the whole day and wound up in the hospital with a sprained ankle.”

The couple soon discovered that “we had the same likes and dislikes. Our ethics are the same,” says Kemper. “She’s stubborn. She’ll hold on to her point. We are both pretty good at that. There were times when I would pick her up and we would get into a discussion about where we would go for dinner. When we wouldn’t agree, it would get to a point where we thought maybe we shouldn’t continue the date.”

Betty and Kemper were married on December 8,1965, at the First Congregational Church in Bellevue.

Kemper and Betty on Raising a Family:

It was soon time for Kemper and Betty to start a family. In 1968, Suzy was born, followed four years later by Amy.

“When we were first married, we struggled like everyone else,” Betty recalled. “Kemper was making $300 a month, and it took us more than a year to pay the hospital bills for Suzy.”

Both daughters, like their father, were exposed to the business at an early age. Suzy joined the business in 1991 and Amy joined Suzy in leasing in 1993. Suzy later met Howard McQuaid, the company’s controller at the time. They married and have two children, Howard Kemper and Sperry McQuaid. Amy married Kevin Schreck, a top sales associate in the exploding mobile phone industry who later joined the Kemper Development team as a vice president of leasing. He was joined by Howard, who made the move from finance to leasing. Amy and Kevin have three children, Margo, Mason and Grant Schreck.

Suzy and Amy, now Vice Chairs in Kemper Development Company, share ownership in the The Bellevue Collection properties – Bellevue Square, Lincoln Square, and Bellevue Place.

“From the beginning, Betty and I told the girls that it would be a mistake to assume that the trust is worth anything, because in this business things can change,” Kemper says. “We’ve told them not to set their life thinking that the trust is there and that they’re all done. We have always wanted them to prepare their lives however they want—to be glad that they finished school and became employable.”

Kemper believes the common thread among all the generations of Freemans “is that we are driven by the market, not by other external ideas. We try to get real estate to respond to the needs of the market.”

"Generations" by Robert SpectorContent on the biography of Kemper Freeman and the Freeman Family history in Bellevue can be found in the book “Generations” by Robert Spector