The Highland Chamber of Commerce honored community business leaders during its annual awards night April 28.
Ralph Korte, founder of The Korte Company, received the Homer Poss Lifetime Achievement Award.
Ron Hunsche, owner of Ron Hunsche Excavating, was presented with the Business Person of the Year Award.
Maura Donnelly, CFO at Terra Properties and is also a member of the chamber board, received the Bill Pierce Chamber Member of the Year Award, and the Bob Hardy Citizen of the Year Award was given to Kevin Hemann, senior vice president at Highland Machine.
"I've been very proud to be in Highland," Korte said.
And Highland is proud to have had him. Korte is responsible for much of Highland as it stands today.
"Ralph is extremely proud of the fact that he played a major role in getting the Wall Street Journal to locate in Highland. Because of the Wall Street Journal, other major industries and manufacturers also decided to locate in Highland," said Howard Held, who presented Korte with his award. " Through his relationship with Joe Glik, who just recently passed away, he was able to convince Joe to donate land to the city for a park, now know as Glik Park, which also home to the Korte Rec Center, which Ralph was instrumental in getting the Center financed and built."
Korte also help start two of Highland's most beloved festivals — the Jaycees' annual Schweizerfest and St. Paul Church's Kirchenfest.
"Ralph is well known as a continual learner, always striving to know people and their ideas. But Ralph as always felt that it is important to give back to the community. He is a firm believer that whatever you give, it will come back to you 10-fold," Held said.
But Korte gave much of the credit to others for success he has found over the years.
"The Wall Street Journal is located in Highland, Illinois because of the Chamber of Commerce," Korte said, recalling how joining the chamber led to the ultimate deal that landed the company for the city.
Korte credited also Otto Jakel, who ran a tool and dye business in Highland, with giving him his start.
In 1959, Jakel was going to put an addition on his factory, and wanted to hire Korte, who had been building milking parlors, to do it.
"He took a chance on a 24-year-old, young farm boy and hired me to build that building, with all the other industry in town. It was shortly thereafter the business kept growing with every major manufacturer town," Korte said. "The next one was Artex, a 200-foot-long, clear-span building, and then every major manufacturer in town, because of Otto Jakel. Now, I've told his sons about that. But for Otto Jakel, I would not have launched into the commercial business."
But it was the partnership of his wife, Donna, that mattered most, Korte said.
"It was over there by that column, the third column,'" Korte said recalling how they met and motioning to part of the Lindendale Park Ballroom, where the chamber awards ceremony was bring held. "It was on a free wedding dance of Roger Schrage and Judy Zobrist, Sept. 28, 1958 — in that neighborhood."
A slow song started to play, and he asked Donna to dance.
"I danced with Donna, and I didn't step on her feet or anything," Korte.
When their dance ended, Korte went up to one of Donna's friends, Janet Oswald.
Oswald had wanted to know when Ralph's his brother, Larry, was coming home from Korea. Ever the businessman, Korte came up with a proposition.
"I said, 'I'll fix you up with Larry, you fix me up with her,'" Korte recalled telling Oswald. "Larry and Janet never had another date. Donna and I, three months later, we were engaged," Korte said.
They were married on Oct. 4, 1959.
"It's one of the best deals I've made in my life, marrying Donna. Next year will be 60 years," Korte said.
The Homer Poss Lifetime Achievement Award is only awarded when the selection committee feels there is a need to honor a special Highland contributor. This award is presented to an individual who has made a significant positive impact on the Highland community through their past achievements over a long period of time and who has enhanced the quality of life for Highland area residents.
Hunsche started his business in 1976 with the purchase of a high-lift dozer. He started doing land improvement work, but would soon move up to commercial building site preparation.
"One of the general contractors Ron worked for was Korte Construction. In 1981, Korte Construction owners Ralph and Larry Korte came to Hunsche with a business proposition: Would he be interested in taking over the road and bridge division," said George Jones, who presented Hunsche with his award. "With his affirmative answer, the purchased the division's equipment fleet, including a concrete pump that Korte had purchased in 1978."
Ron Hunsche Excavating now operates five concrete pump trucks and about 50 pieces of excavating equipment and covers a geographical area 100 miles around Highland.
"Highland has been a great community to us over the years in business, and we are very fortunate to have a community like this," Hunsche said.
The firm has won many awards over the years and helped build many major projects, including the new HSHS St. Joesph's Hospital in Highland, the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge over the Mississippi River, and did the concrete pumping on the St. Louis Arch renovations.
The Business Person of the Year Award is presented to a local business person who has shown outstanding performance and success in his/her industry and a “beyond the call of duty” dedication to Highland. In addition to holding a leadership role in his/her company, the honoree has actively participated in service organizations, governing boards, and other civic committees, promoting growth and development for all Highland businesses.
Hunsche and his company have also given a lot back to the community. The Highland Quarterback Club named its field Hunsche Field in his honor. The city also named the lake at near the Korte Recreation Center "Hunsche Harbor" to recognize all his many contributions to the city.
"Ron is the perfect example of the kind of person that helps make Highland such a great place to call home," Jones said.
Highland has had a long tradition of great builders and city leaders that have helped make the community prosper, Hunsche said.
"Everybody's helped the city grow," said Hunsche, who thanked his family for always being there for him.
"I'm going to dedicate this to my late wife," Hunsche said.
Janet Hunsche passed away on April 21, 2016. She was 63.
The Citizen of the Year is presented to someone who has supported and enhanced the image and civic progress of Highland. The person has contributed substantial time, financial support, and/or effort to the community and civic events, thereby leading to a higher standard of living in the Highland area.
Hemann has held many roles over the years in many different groups that have benefited the community. He served as a city councilmen from 1991-1995.
He served on the Highland Booster Club and co-chaired their golf tournament 1996-2003. He co-chaired the successful bond issues that renovated Highland High School and built Highland Middle School. Also, he was a member of the school district’s strategic planning process in 2004.
He has served the following organizations: Highland Business Education Alliance, Highland Knights of Columbus, St. Joseph’s Hospital, Highland Country Club, Highland Optimist Club, Highland Area Community Foundation, Highland Youth Baseball/Softball League, St. Paul Catholic Church and school, Highland Chamber of Commerce Board, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and the Highland Manufacturer’s Association, just to name some.
"This is just a small sampling of his giving back to our community. We are very lucky to have Kevin as a friend and a neighbors," said Ryan Goodwin, who presented Hemann with his award.
The Chamber Member of the Year is presented to a member of the Highland Chamber of Commerce who has exhibited extraordinary service to the organization, and who has made use of her business skills for the betterment of the entire community. The person has held chamber leadership positions; being a board member, active volunteer and has shown initiative and creativity in pursuing the goals of her business profession.
"Maura has been volunteering with the chamber since 2010, when she joined the Street Art Festival Committee," said Highland Chamber of Commerce president Tina Frank, who presented the award. "In 2013, she started serving as a Chamber Ambassador and joined the Chamber Board of Directors in 2017.
"Whenever a project comes up Maura is always the first to ask, What can I do to help?' She's up early to help paint squares for Street Art and is up late helping pick up after the fundraiser. Her positive attitude and spirit of teamwork are infectious. Maura can always be counted on to lend a helping hand."