When William Kurtz was a child, his family told him that he could do anything he wanted in life. Luckily for the University of Denver and the entire community, Kurtz wanted to help people and the institutions that serve them.
Kurtz recently was honored at Founders Day as the 2006 recipient of the Evans Award — the highest honor bestowed by the DU Alumni Association. The award recognizes excellence in professional achievement, community service and friendship to the University. Kurtz has spent his life in dedication to all three.
Kurtz grew up in Grand Junction, Colo. He attended Yale University and even flew one of the Air Force’s first fighter jets in World War II. But he really made his mark when he and his wife, Alma, returned to Colorado.
By 1956, Kurtz was running the family business, Independent Lumber Co., which eventually merged with another firm. As his professional life thrived, Kurtz dedicated more time to his community.
Over the next several decades, Kurtz volunteered for corporate, civic and community organizations, including Craig Hospital, the Colorado State Chamber of Commerce, the United Fund of Mesa County, the Mountain States Lumber Dealers Association and the University of Denver.
Kurtz served on the DU Board of Trustees from 1979–88 and later chaired the Board of Governors. It wasn’t his first experience with the University. Kurtz’s mother, Edna Biggs Kurtz, attended the school in 1912. Kurtz himself had taken a professional refresher course in the 1940s, and his wife earned her master’s degree at DU in 1965. Two of Kurtz’s three sons—Charles and Peter—earned DU degrees as well.
Kurtz is most proud of his efforts as a board member to save the Colorado Women’s College, which lives on through DU’s Women’s College.
“That school would have been history,” Kurtz says. “The Women’s College is important to the education of women at the University of Denver.”
In 2001, Kurtz honored his mother by establishing the Edna Biggs Kurtz Chair in Botany at DU.
“Bill contacts me at least twice a year to discuss my academic activities and future research plans,” says David Christophel, the first professor to hold the Kurtz chair. “I am very proud to have the name of his family in my title because he is such a wonderful, genuinely kind man.”
In 1993, the University presented Kurtz with an honorary doctor of humane letters degree. Although he is proud of that recognition, Kurtz says he is a DU friend because he values his association with the superb faculty and administration.
“I really do belong to the DU family,” he says. “It’s part of who I am.”