The Man Who Changed the Face of Manchester Township
A look at Miroslav Kokes
Who would want to buy a house in the middle of nowhere?
This was the question posed to Miroslav Kokes when he embarked on the project to build retirement homes for senior citizens, which he named Crestwood Village.
Kokes arrived in America in 1949 as a penniless immigrant from Czechoslovakia after being driven out by the Communists. He first settled in Queens, N.Y. where he worked as a ditch-digger and waiter, according to a 2001 New York Times article that documented Kokes' early beginnings in Manchester.
The article, entitled "In Person: From Chicken Coops to a Fortune," talked about how Kokes purchased a house with no down payment because it had been badly damaged by termites, but he and his father repaired the house and sold it at a profit of $5,000.
With the money, Kokes purchased 10 acres in Howell. In 1952, he began a chicken farm on the property. According to the article, it was the first seed for what would define Manchester's standing as a home for seniors that wasn't Florida.
Before leaving Europe, Kokes had discovered a book entitled, "The Egg and I" which was a guide to chicken farming. After reading this book, he was motivated to be a chicken farmer. Kokes had been trained as an architect and engineer, so he started to build his own chicken coops, according to the March 11, 2001 article, which was written by D. Caren Chester of The New York Times.
Kokes used plastic panels to let in the sun in winter and keep the coops cool in summer, the article said. The process allowed for less wood to be used, making them cheaper to build.
Soon Kokes was building coops for other farmers. Unfortunately, the price of eggs fell drastically in the late 1950s and chicken farming became unprofitable causing Kokes to find a different source of income, the article said.
In 1962, Kokes attended a seminar at Rutgers where the speaker said that the elderly population in New Jersey was about to explode within the next few decades and that affordable housing would be greatly needed. With this premise in mind, Kokes went into partnership with Irving Zimmerman who owned 150 acres of land in Manchester, according to The Times.
Zimmerman donated the land and Kokes put up $20,000 and $10,000 from the bank, and Crestwood Village was born.
People laughed at him for building houses in the middle of nowhere, as only 26 people lived in the Whiting area at that time. Subsequently, as The Times noted, Kokes had the last laugh.
He counted on the fact that elderly people wanted affordable housing with low property taxes, and the idea mushroomed over the next 20 years. More than 17,000 houses, apartments, mobile homes, 60 miles of roads, 2 service stations, 4 shopping centers, an assisted living complex and 2 medical centers were constructed, according to the article.
Today Crestwood Village is comprised of 7 villages and a mobile home park with a population of 8,000 plus residents.
The man who was laughed at for building houses in the middle of nowhere was a true visionary. The man who came to this country as a penniless immigrant died a multi-millionaire in 2008.
His company still flourishes and continues to construct senior housing under the direction of Jan Kokes, Kokes' eldest son.