Herman Gundlach Sr. was born in Chicago, IL on Feb. 24, 1877.1 After graduating from Lake View High School in Chicago, Gundlach served as an apprentice and draftsman in an architectural firm there. He was later employed as a journeyman and later a general superintendent by the Paul Mueller Construction Company of Chicago. During his association with Mr. Mueller, their firm constructed a number of important structures in the Chicago area for the famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.2
In the 1890s, the old Douglass House in Houghton was showing its age and the property was purchased by John C. Mann who financed a total rebuilding program for the hotel.3 In 1897, the Mueller Company sent Gundlach to Houghton as projects manager to build the new Douglass House and to work on other Copper Country structures.2
In 1898, Herman Gundlach, in partnership with Mueller, formed his own Michigan company. Mueller’s role in the partnership would end quickly, however, as he accepted a commission from Frank Lloyd Wright to supervise construction of the famous Imperial Hotel in Japan. Gundlach would choose to remain in the Copper Country. After several years in Tokyo, Mueller would ultimately return to Chicago.2
During the early years of Herman Gundlach, Inc., the company constructed many of the original Michigan Technological University buildings, the Leopold Building in Houghton, and a number of Jobs in southern Michigan and Cleveland, Ohio, including the Cleveland Athletic Club.2 He was an early pioneer in reinforced concrete construction and specialized in this form. He insisted on high-quality workmanship and performance in a scheduled and efficient manner. The great volume of construction completed annually by his firm in the years 1898 to 1945, including schools, hospitals, housing and industrial buildings throughout the entire Upper Peninsula and state of Michigan, testifies to the public confidence in his company’s work. 2
One of Herman Gundlach Sr.’s favorite projects was Northern Michigan University’s Kaye Hall.4 Built in 1915 and housing the gymnasium, auditorium, library, administrative offices, and several classrooms; Kaye Hall quickly became the symbol of Northern and a focal point for student life. It was built of native Marquette sandstone with distinctive reddish and cream markings and the turreted “castle gothic” structures formed the heart of the institution. The building was destroyed in 1972.5
Herman would end up marrying Elvira Alma Zenner in 1903. She was a devout member and ardent worker for the SS Peter and Paul Lutheran Church. She was also an active member of the Dorcas Society and the church’s Altar Guild. 6 Together, they had three daughters, Elvira, Henrietta, and Dorathea, and they welcomed a son, Herman Gundlach Jr., into the world on July 16, 1913. The relationship between Herman Gundlach Sr. and Jr. was described as almost brotherly as they often went hunting and fishing and played many sports together.7
Looking back, it is easy to see that Herman Gundlach Sr. passed on three major passions and pursuits to his son: construction, football, and philanthropy.
As a teen, Herman Gundlach Jr. began working with his father in his construction business when he took a job working on the Otter Lake School project. 7 In 1945, at the end of World War II, he would return from Europe to continue his father’s construction company.
Herman Gundlach Sr., enjoyed a good amount of success playing football. He played with the Chicago Bankers Professional team in 1894 with Yale All-American Pudge Heffunger. The Chicago team played one match in Ishpeming, at which time the invaders from Chicago defeated the famed Ishpeming Rough Riders by a score of 4-0.1 Upon relocating to the Copper Country, and shortly after the turn of the century, Gundlach played for the Portage Lake team managed by Sid Karger and captained by Calumet’s Mart Haas. The team, known as the Portage Lake, played most of the Upper Peninsula Elevens and won a heavy percentage of its matches.1
Herman Gundlach Jr. would also end up playing football, going on to captain the 1934 Harvard team, play with the 1935 College All Star team against the Chicago Bears, and play briefly for the Boston Redskins.
Both father and son were known for their community service and generosity. During the Depression, the Gundlach family made ten to fifteen cents an hour, but some people only made five cents a day. 7 Gundlach Sr. would become instrumental in the organization of relief in Portage Township during the depression days and was President of this group. 6 He also was chairman of the annual drive of the Houghton County Chapter of the American Red Cross for several years. Both Gundlachs served as President of the Houghton Rotary Club and on the Board of Trustees for the Good Will Farm.
Herman Gundlach Sr. passed away in Chicago on June 28, 1945 in the Presbyterian Hospital after an illness of two weeks.1 The following is an excerpt from his obituary:
“Hearts are heavy today for Mr. Gundlach Sr.’s passing has brought genuine sorrow to all who knew and loved him. He was a type of citizen it is so hard to lose and his death is a severe blow to the community and to the district. In all respects, he was an exemplar of the best ideals of citizenship. His irreproachable life, his many friendships, his sympathetic understanding, his genial companionship, and his earnest effort for the furtherance of any worthy cause provide a better eulogy than any friend, however deep his or her respect, could put into words.”6
It’s been over 70 years since Herman Gundlach Sr. passed away, but his legacy continues. It endured in his children and endures to this day in his grand and greatgrandchildren who are still making a positive impact in the Copper Country and the world. It is not with sadness we look back on the life of Herman Gundlach Sr., but with appreciation and awe, as the greatest foundation he ever built was that of a meaningful life.
- Tribute to Herman Gundlach Sr.
- Description and Brief History of Herman Gundlach Inc. General Contractors
- History of Houghton’s Douglass House
- Upper Peninsula Business Today “Gundlach Champion Celebrates 100 Years” by Cyndi Perkins
- Northern Michigan University Archives – Kaye Hall
- Herman Winks Gundlach Obituary Written by Julie Gundlach
- 05-25-90 Kathy Koski Class Project Senior Citizen Profile of Winks