Days before his death, Howard Kortmeyer invited 20 friends and colleagues over to his home for a fish fry. Using his signature recipe, Kortmeyer fried heaping helpings of delicious fresh fish, cracked a few jokes, happily reminisced over fond memories and expressed heartfelt thanks.
“He knew time was short – he had been to the doctor and told me he ‘drew the short straw,’” said Bruce Frank, a longtime friend and one of the honored guests at Kortmeyer’s farewell fish fry. “He wanted to say ‘thank you.’ That’s what the fish fry was for… We are going to miss him greatly.”
Kortmeyer, 86, of Andover, died of bone cancer April 22, just four short days after the fish fry.
Frying up some fish for friends seemed a fitting final affair for Kortmeyer, the incorporating founder of the non-profit Coon Rapids Community Scholarship Association (CRCSA) and longtime counselor at Coon Rapids High School.
Fishing and hunting were two of Kortmeyer’s favorite pastimes, and in fact, he used to hold fish fries to kick off each year’s CRCSA scholarship drive.
“He had a wonderful recipe for fried fish and he’d hold a fish fry to kick off the scholarship drive every year,” said Frank.
Of course, he fried fish for family on countless occasions, too, but after family, education held top priority in Kortmeyer’s life.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in science, math and physical education from Huron College in South Dakota, a master’s degree in educational psychology and physical education from South Dakota State College in Brookings and he did additional coursework at the University of Minnesota.
He taught in South Dakota, spent five years teaching and coaching in Glenwood, then was at Centennial High School from 1959-1964.
Finally, he arrived at Coon Rapids High School, opening the school in 1964 and working as a guidance counselor there until his retirement in 1987.
Principal Jim Rainbow served with Kortmeyer at Coon Rapids for 16 years (1971-1987) and remembers him fondly.
“Howard was a wonderful, wonderful human being,” Rainbow said. “He was a big, rugged guy with a heart of gold. He loved Coon Rapids and he was very, very dedicated to the kids, always wanted the best for them.”
When Coon Rapids High School opened up, Kortmeyer knew he wanted to establish a scholarship association for graduating students, and so he did.
“He wanted to give them every opportunity he could to see that they were successful later in life. When he started (CRCSA) there was nothing, zero, nada – and he worked tirelessly to get it established,” said Frank, also a longtime CRCSA member, former president and now its volunteer executive director.
Rainbow recalled how Kortmeyer “threw his heart into the scholarship association.”
“He was just totally committed to students, gave them all he had… he was just solid as a rock in every respect,” Rainbow said.
Grandson Adam Dehnicke recalls his grandfather’s “passion for kids.”
“He loved kids and he loved the educational setting. He would do anything he could – no matter what it took – to help kids get to college,” said Adam.
As a child of the Great Depression and one of 10 children, Kortmeyer was only able to go to college because of scholarships.
Frank described his friend’s resulting passion to help others go to college.
“Growing up in the Depression, opportunities were few and far between and he knew that by doing this (establishing the CRCSA) he was helping to give kids an opportunity that he never would have had if it weren’t for the scholarships he got,” Frank said.
Kortmeyer continued his CRCSA fund-raising activities through this past February when he fried up some fish during the annual fish fry fund-raiser.
He seemed tireless in his efforts to help kids get to school. “His (Kortmeyer’s) leadership has allowed our students to receive more scholarships than any other school in the district and I would put our association up against any in the nation,” said Kelley Scott, assistant principal for activities at CRHS,
In fact, since incorporating as a non-profit organization in 1964, the CRCSA has awarded a total of $2,960,730 to 4,829 students.
“It’s always been a labor of love for Howard. And it continues to be for us,” said Frank.
According to Adam Dehnicke, a special scholarship will be given in memory of Kortmeyer at Coon Rapids High School’s Senior Recognition Night May 29.
In addition to his work raising money for scholarships, Kortmeyer was also a longtime active member of the Coon Rapids Kiwanis Club.
Kortmeyer’s legacy and his passion for education continues not only in scholarship funds, but in the lives of his family as well.
His daughter and son-in-law, Sue and Dan Dehnicke, were both educators before retiring. Sue taught at St. Francis, Coon Rapids and Anoka high schools during her career; Dan taught and served as activities director at Coon Rapids High School, then served as principal and activities director at Andover High School.
Grandson Adam teaches at Andover, Adam’s wife Brooke is also a teacher and his brother Drew’s wife Katie also teaches.
As friends, family and colleagues tell it, Kortmeyer lived a good, long life until the end – and overcame several near-death experiences along the way.
“In the early ‘80s he was judging shot and discus at a track meet at Coon Rapids and got hit in the head by a discus. He had a concussion and he had headaches every day of his life since then, but it didn’t slow him down,” Frank said.
Not only that, Kortmeyer was severely injured after falling off a roof. Then there was a bad car accident.
And then there was the cancer.
“He was one of the toughest people I’ve ever known in my life,” Frank said. “He said he felt he had nine lives. Well, I’ll tell you, he lived every one of them very well.”
Kortmeyer was preceded in death by his wife, Gloria, and nine siblings. He is survived by his daughter and son-in-law, Sue and Dan Dehnicke; grandsons Adam (Brooke) Dehnicke and Drew (Katie) Dehnicke; and great-grandchildren Hudson and Reese, and Luke and Ali.
Funeral service for Kortmeyer took place April 27 at Zion Lutheran Church, Anoka.
Memorials can be sent to the Coon Rapids Community Scholarship Association, P.0. Box 48144, Coon Rapids, MN 55448.
Sue Austreng is at [email protected]