Curt Horstmann won’t sit still

As a kid, Curt Horstmann was never a big fan of school — or libraries.

“I just didn’t like books.”

The irony isn’t lost on him, a member of The Korte Company’s Diversified Operations Group and the man in charge of an ongoing renovation of the Louis Latzer Memorial Public Library in Highland.

As a kid, Curt could never sit still — a trait he still hasn’t outgrown. And while he visited the library here and there during childhood, what he does there now is much more fitting of a man who prefers working with his hands.

Starting in the early 2000’s, he led the historical library’s remodel piece by piece, restoring it to its 1920s charm with some 21st-century upgrades.

So far, outdoor work has consisted of cleaning and sealing masonry, some tuckpointing, new windows, and a roof replacement. Inside, main floor drab ancient carpets and dirty ceiling tiles were replaced, modern LED lighting installed, and the library also pitched in by adding a new coat of white paint for a fresh, crisp look.

There’s still more work to be done, of course. But Curt’s eager to do it because he’s got a front-row seat to a local institution whose infrastructure and programming keep up with the needs of its community. And that deep sense of community stems from his own roots, both as a Highland local and a kid who grew up in the construction industry.

“I pretty much watched and observed everything. My dad and brothers were carpenters, my one brother did a little electrical, my other brother did some plumbing. I was watching all that and realized: I can do that, and I like to do it.”

Four casually people sitting around a table at a party, smiling.

From one family company to another

“For me, school was a challenge. I did not like sitting and that’s what you do in school. I couldn’t wait for the day to be over, to get out and ride my bike or run or go to the neighbors or build something. I’d rather be working with my hands, which is still the case.”

Blame it on his parents — especially his dad, Vince, who owned Highland Ready Mix and supplied concrete for many of Ralph Korte’s early jobs. He also ran the residential construction company where Curt’s brother-in-law and brothers, including Dale and Gary Horstmann, worked.

After graduating from Highland High in 1978, he never looked back.

“Unless you call working with my dad, brothers and cousin, and all that ‘trade school,’ I learned most from who I worked with. And I’m still learning from the people I work with.”

At first, Curt just loved the physicality of construction, but he quickly grew to appreciate the satisfaction of seeing his own work in every finished project, too. And when things got a little slow at Horstmann Construction, Curt picked up work from Highland locals Sunny Emig and Louis Renko — two men who made a deep impression on him as an impressionable young builder.

“They’re both retired now, but it was a big part of my life to work for them. I learned a lot from those people about quality, and I still look up to them.”

Back then, he was still working in residential construction, building nicer and nicer homes. But his work caught the attention of other builders in the community, including The Korte Company’s David Lammers, who led the Special Services crew.

“He said, ‘Hey, we’re looking. If you’re interested, just let me know.’ And that was the end. I immediately came.”

Curt was 33 at the time. Thirty years later, he’s still here.

Five smiling construction workers.

“Korte’s not just punch a clock, you’re going to work”

Curt was actually one of the last in his family to join The Korte Company. His dad had dissolved Horstmann Construction years ago, and he and his siblings were happy to be a part of another family company. Curt still finds time to do small projects for some of the Horstmann clients from back in the day.

“Great family business. I mean it’s all about family, the way Ralph built this company. Pretty incredible.”

From day one, Curt knew he was working for a company that cared about its employees as much as his dad had cared about his brothers. One of Curt’s early supervisors was Tom Korte, a man who never hesitated to check in on Curt and offer advice. But he wasn’t the only person at the company who shaped Curt’s career.

“There’s many, there’s many. I don’t even know if I could start a list. I appreciate that Korte’s not just punch a clock, you’re going to work. It’s, ‘You’re going to do what you like to do, and we care enough to get you home.’”

Curt's daughter as a child, a blonde girl wearing a pink metallic dress, riding a bicycle outfitted with a running unicorn cutout.

As a result, Curt’s had a hand in significant Korte projects over the years, including the 1989 Poor Clare Monastery in Belleville and the St. Paul Catholic Church in Highland. He was tasked with planning and building a baptismal font in the center of the church, and he’s proud of that achievement.

“I was very happy with how that font turned out at St. Paul Church. That was a challenge I’ve never done before and turned out rather well.”

Working for The Korte Company also expanded his horizons. He’s worked everywhere from Kansas City to Rhode Island and even Hawaii. In Oahu, he helped build the Kaneohe Bay Temporary Lodging Facility. That was an especially memorable job for Curt because it gave him a real-life chance to experience history in person instead of trying to tease it out of a textbook at school.

“Me and a good friend, we made a trip over to see the submarine and the actual war zone. That pretty much set my mind like, ‘Oh my goodness.’ See, I need visuals — I don’t get that out of books.”

Four middle-aged men standing in a row with their mother second from right (?).

The next chapter

Maybe that’s what makes Curt’s work on the Latzer Library so poignant. Books never did it for him. But fixing up the building that protects them for the rest of the community? That’s the biggest triumph of his career.

The 1929 Latzer Library has seen many renovation efforts over the years, including one in the 1970s by The Korte Company. But to pull off the most recent $150,000 makeover, Curt works in lockstep with Library Director Angela Kim.

“Her and I get along well because I don’t like seeing old buildings go to waste and nobody maintains it like she does. If you dig out photos from before we started and then go visit the building, you will be amazed. And these were all Angela’s ideas. We have not designed anything through Korte on the remodels. She did a heck of a job. Incredible.”

No detail was too small for this project. From restoring the plaster ceiling to upcycling antique doors into computer stations to salvaging a local stained-glass window, these little touches keep the library’s history alive — and that means everything to both Curt and Angela.

“It’s gorgeous. Everything I do that Angela wants done, I’m proud of.”

The attention to detail, the pursuit of building something beautiful, they characterize Curt’s favorite style of work. His drive to do the physical is what has always made him such a great fit for The Korte Company over the years. As a hands-on guy, he’s the first to jump up and tackle the work head-on. But it makes rest difficult.

I could never sit still. Even when I’m not feeling well, I still cannot take off work and just crash on the couch.”

Well, if there’s a Packers game on – or his son Shaun is racing, he might park himself on the couch for a few hours. But his restlessness makes the inevitable next phase of life a little hard to imagine.

“I am not a sitter, so I cannot totally retire. Retirement: that’s not in my vocabulary.”

But semi-retirement? That’s sounding better and better. And While Curt was always happy to travel for The Korte Company in the early years of his career, his enthusiasm for those road warrior days has waned.

Portrait of young, smiling Curt Horstmann posing next to his strawberry blonde wife.

“When we did work in Hawaii, everybody wanted to jump on it. I did, too. But what you don’t think about at that time is you’ve got family at home. I missed a lot of things with my children and my wife, playing with them and teaching them. I was not there for that. And it’s tough, but you got to do what you got to do. You got to make a living, you got to pay the bills. I don’t know, I won’t say it’s not a smart thing to do, but it was rough and sometimes you don’t realize it until it’s too late.”

Luckily for Curt, it’s not too late. And his wife has been a patient woman since day one.

“She kept her eye on me at school and pretty much never let go. And I think we dated maybe for eight years until she gave those eyes a little stare and said, ‘Hey. We need to do something here.’

So they did. They got married in 1985 and stayed married, raising two kids and welcoming the next generation of grandchildren. Someday, Curt hopes to share his own hobbies and passions, like dirt racing, hunting and fishing, with his growing family — especially his grandkids.

Curt Horsemann's grandson in a dirt track racing box car.

“It’s really hard for me to go fishing because I’ve got to work. That mindset I need to change somehow to be able to do the things I want.”

It’s hard to imagine someone who enjoys staying busy as much as Curt slowing down enough to enjoy a gentle retirement of spending time with grandkids, fishing and hunting. He’d like to get back into construction, maybe. And based on the success of his partnership with Angela at the Latzer Library, it’s possible he’ll always feel called to tinker there.

“They got a good thing going,” he said. “This is my baby right now and I love it.

Older man happily bottle feeding a dark-haired baby.

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