From captain of the Houghton High School and Harvard University football teams to a captain of industry, Herman “Winks” Gundlach Jr. was a man of many passions. From 1946 until he retired in 1988, his Gundlach Construction company built many of the major structures in the Upper Peninsula. A humble man, Winks gave credit for many of his accomplishments to others. He revered the tradesmen of the area, and Winks stayed up late looking over his payroll, knowing that these names didn’t just represent employees, but local families.
Besides being a successful businessman, he was a prominent activist. Upon his death at age 91 in 2005, instructions were laid out about how to continue his legacy of giving back to the community he grew up in and worked in. Through the Herman Gundlach Fund, Winks continues to leave his mark on the community For Good. For Ever.
The last thing Winks would want to be called is “philanthropist” or even a generous guy. But like his father before him, Herman Gundlach, Sr., he just had to “give back.” Both father and son were known for their community service and generosity. In some cases, their service even mirrored each other, as both Gundlachs served as President of the Houghton Rotary Club and on the Board of Trustees for the Good Will Farm.
German Gundlach, Sr. grew up poor in Chicago, one of six kids supported by a German immigrant piano teacher. Foregoing college himself, Herman Senior, who had thirty years of success as a general contractor in the Upper Peninsula, put his brothers through Harvard. All was lost in the Crash of ’29; yet, as was always the plan, he next sent his only son, Winks, now a poor kid on football scholarships, to Worcester Academy and Harvard College.
The legacy of giving back continued during the Depression, where the Gundlach family made ten to fifteen cents an hour, but some people only made five cents a day. 2 Winks’s mother gave out what food she could from her kitchen door in West Houghton. Her father supported five kids as a miner. Gundlach Sr. would become instrumental in the organization of relief in Portage Township during the depression days and was President of this group. 1 He also was chairman of the annual drive of the Houghton County Chapter of the American Red Cross for several years.
As America prepared for World War II, Winks started as Quartermaster at Tyndall Field in Panama City. In the European Theater Major Gundlach joined the Army Corps of Engineers. At Houghton High School and ever after, Winks always had a leadership role, always looking out for and managing needs.
In a simple email (typed in all caps on one finger) to his daughters, Winks planned for the giving to continue after his death. He asked them to set up a foundation and shared the list of charities and organizations he had supported in the Upper Peninsula, especially, the Keweenaw. The Keweenaw Community Foundation Herman “Winks” Gundlach Fund donates to them annually during the Winter holidays.
Knowing that attention to needs must go with the flow, in that same email Winks noted that there would be new efforts and worthy causes (e.g., the Houghton Skatepark, 31 Backpacks, Joe Freed, Nailbenders, etc.), as well as priority needs in emergencies like the Father’s Day Flood and COVID-19. For several months the KCF Winks Fund has helped organizations providing food assistance and others on Giving Tuesday. Winks just had to support any individual or group who insisted on giving back, especially to “the least of our brothers & sisters.”
As important to Winks and his wife, Barbara Kettle Gundlach, was attention to the root causes of any challenges–whether housing, transportation, education, infrastructure, opportunity, or the local environment. Anything related to the why was just as essential as the how, when, and now.
- Herman Winks Gundlach Obituary Written by Julie Gundlach
- 05-25-90 Kathy Koski Class Project Senior Citizen Profile of Winks
Looking back, it is easy to see that Herman Gundlach Sr. passed on a passion for football to Winks.
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
While Herman Gundlach Sr. was not a college man, he paid for his four brothers to attend Harvard, so it was not a surprise when Herman Gundlach Jr., captain of the 1930 Houghton High School football team, went east from Houghton High to Massachusetts for one year at Worcester Acadamy preparatory school, before going to Cambridge in 1931.
The boarding school in the first half of the 20th century had a different perception than that of the second half, as elitist presumptions took hold. By spelling out ‘preparatory’ these private schools better defined themselves. Because of the limitations of many high school curriculums, many male students aiming for college needed further education, in Greek or Latin for example in the case of Harvard. Many students in prep school—like DeAngelis and Gundlach—were called ‘post grads,’ and if they were athletes they could inspire some resentments and jealousies. 2
Worcester Academy had produced four Harvard football captains before Gundlach, as well as three afterward, so maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that Winks would be chosen to lead the Crimson as Harvard’s Football Captain in 1934, a distinction not without its benefits.
He was 6 feet 2, 190 pounds, tall, dark, handsome, and he had a very good time. As Harvard captain, the invitations came. ‘Copley Plaza tea dances and all that,’ said Gundlach. 2
The Harvard Crimson and Yale Bulldog football programs have a long and well-established rivalry culminating every year with “The Game,” which concludes the season for both programs. First played in 1875, The Game has been played annually since 1897 outside of World Wars I and II. During his four years participating in the heated matchup, Gundlach would make his presence felt.
During the game between the freshmen teams of Harvard and Yale, at Cambridge on November 14, 1931, Jim DeAngelis limped to the sideline. Yale’s 165-pound guard was angry. ‘I thought I had a broken leg,’ he said. ‘It was Gundlach, the son of a gun. He missed his block, stuck his leg out, and really caught me. I was on crutches for two weeks. Nowadays you can’t do that. It’s against the rules.’ 2
Gundlach and DeAngelis would play opposite each other four years, banging one another play after play in three varsity Harvard-Yale games. Until the annual Yale alumni luncheon in 1985, 54 years and nine days after the whiplash block of 1931, they had never met bereft of helmets.
‘I’m sitting there with my wife and some fiends,’ DeAngelis said. ‘Some Harvard guys that I know came along to say hello and with them is Gundlach. So we started talking.’ They still are. 2
Formerly heated rivals, Gundlach and DeAngelis would form a lasting friendship.
November 22, 2003. Both men are in the Yale Bowl for the 140th renewal of the Harvard-Yale showdown, DeAngelis at age 93 and Gundlach at 90—best of friends, both erect, handsome, loquacious, funny, charming. No wheelchairs, no golf carts, no walkers no aides-de-camp. Yes, a couple of hearing aids. They will not watch the game together. DeAngelis takes his place as usual in Portal 16, Section A, opposite the southerly 45 yard line. Gundlach will be well place on the Harvard side—no one outranks a 90-year-old former Harvard captain. They’ll get together before the game—they always do. 2
In regards to DeAngelis, Gundlach said, “I think he was the best football player on those Yale teams all four years—rough, tough and loved it.”
Winks even had the opportunity to play against the Chicago Bears as part of an All-Star team in 1935 designed to answer the question of whether the pros were better than the college kids. The result of the game? A crowd of 77,850 and a final score of 5-0 Chicago.
One of the 43 chosen stars, guard Herman (Gunny) Gundlach of Harvard, told me years later that the All-Stars could have won the game if coaches had used the right players. 3
Of course, Gundlach wasn’t the only notable member of the 1935 team. Gerald Ford, a center from the University of Michigan and future President of the United States ended up doing pretty well for himself all things considered. 2
Gundlach later joined the Boston Redskins of the NFL in 1935, “mostly because of his regard for Eddie Casey, his Harvard head coach.” 2 His professional football career would be brief, however.
[Redskins owner George] Marshall undercut Casey by countermanding the coach’s orders while sitting on the Boston bench during games. The owner, claims Gundlach, ‘treated the players like dirt,’ and the former Harvard athlete soon quit. 2