JOE PUSATERI WAS ON THE HOME builder fast track.

A custom home builder, Pusateri was president of the Louisville, Ky., HBA by the time he was in his mid-30s. He was active on national committees for the NAHB, and he was expected to become president of the state HBA. He was even considering a future run for the NAHB presidency.

Then he learned more about his city.

In 1989, Pusateri joined Leadership Louisville, a year-long leadership development and civic education course. Each class spends one day per month learning about different aspects of the community.

That's when Pusateri realized how little most residents knew about home builders. “I thought, at the time, that I could do better for our industry and get out in the community and represent the HBA,” recalls Pusateri, president of Elite Homes, which builds several dozen custom homes each year. He pushed his aspirations of higher HBA offices aside and dove into a variety of activities centered on life in Louisville.

NEAR AND FAR: Joe Pusateri opted to volunteer for charities in Louisville, Ky., and abroad rather than run for HBA offices.
NEAR AND FAR: Joe Pusateri opted to volunteer for charities in Louisville, Ky., and abroad rather than run for HBA offices.

In a little more than a decade, Pusateri has involved himself in almost every aspect of the community, from the redevelopment of economically depressed neighborhoods to financial support for the arts. Along the way, he's involved many of his peers, garnering support for the area's charities they might not have otherwise received.

Learning To Lead Leadership Louisville sparked Pusateri's interest in community service. He joined several local boards of directors and became involved in the United Way. His participation in Bingham Fellows in 1993 stoked the fire.

Bingham Fellows participants, chosen from Leadership Louisville alumni, develop solutions for a particular issue facing the community. Christine Johnson, president of the Leadership Louisville Center, which runs both programs, says Pusateri was a natural choice. “I always use him as an example of what the Bingham Fellows program is about,” she says. “He's not one to sit around and study something to death. He's a doer.”

At the time, the country was still reeling from the aftermath of the Los Angeles riots. For that reason, the group chose to focus on redeveloping Smoketown, a troubled Louisville neighborhood with high unemployment and low hopes.

Pusateri recognized that he could bring his own professional expertise to the program by building Homearama, Louisville's annual parade of homes, in Smoketown. New homes hadn't been built in the area for more than 60 years.