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From flying presidents to creating 15-minute cities, a marine veteran gives back to home

As a partner and one of the founders of the Aspire Development Group, John helps run the real estate development company that specializes in developing walkable urban communities in high-growth areas.

Photo courtesy John Ballenger via Tara Patty Photography
Photo courtesy John Ballenger via Tara Patty Photography

Opinions expressed by Digital Journal contributors are their own.

For five and a half years, John Ballenger’s job was to fly a helicopter with the most important people in the world as his passengers. That’s what Marine One pilots do — they fly the President of the United States where they need to go. In 2022, after 20 years of military service, John Ballenger decided it was time to transition into civilian life and take up new challenges.

When he retired from the service, John Ballenger didn’t stop serving. One of the two professions he took on was coaching, a line of work in which he uses his professional and personal experiences to help people through tough times with periods of low confidence and needing help to tackle their limiting beliefs.

His other line of work — real estate — is different. Getting started wasn’t easy, and it took John Ballenger a while to get the imposter syndrome under control. But he took to it as he did with anything else in life. He practiced the perseverance and tenacity he preaches, which got him through 20 years in the Marines and made it work.

He also found a way for it to serve others.

“I was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma. My dad ran the airport there for a number of years. So I have a lot of history in that town,” he explains. “I wanted to make Tulsa better than it was when I was there, so we picked Tulsa for our development as a way of giving back.”

As a partner and one of the founders of the Aspire Development Group, John helps run the real estate development company that specializes in developing walkable urban communities in high-growth areas. Much of what he and his colleagues plan to build in Tulsa aligns with the 15-minute city planning philosophy, which aims to develop cities so that all the vital services are accessible via a 15-minute walk or a bike ride.

Photo courtesy John Ballenger

The potential new development boasts a grocery store, gym, and restaurants all within walking distance.

“There is a social community aspect of it all planned into it where people can gather and spend their days,” he says.

The apartments will also be available at different pricing points to allow the mixing of people from all walks of life. “Not just the typical 40-year-old white guys,” John Ballenger explains. “It just brings everybody together, and we feel like that makes a community worth living in.”

Photo courtesy Selser Schaefer Architects

As someone who’s lived through his formative years surrounded by people who were just like him, John Ballenger would be the first to say that living without diversity has plenty of detriments. With his views broadened by the time he spent in the Marine Corps and all the people he met there, he thinks the people back home might benefit from what Aspire’s development offers.

“People should be raising their kids and seeing diversity and everything else out there,” he says. “And the idea of a 70-year-old man sitting on a bench and a younger couple or a group of college-age friends running into him and hearing his story and all that he experienced in life. Whether that’s contrived or not, I just like that.”

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Written By

Jon Stojan is a professional writer based in Wisconsin. He guides editorial teams consisting of writers across the US to help them become more skilled and diverse writers. In his free time he enjoys spending time with his wife and children.

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