St. Louis construction innovator Fred S. Kummer, founder of HBE Corp., dead at 92
Fred S. Kummer, a Missouri University of Science and Technology graduate who grew his one-man general contractor business into the world’s largest design-build company for healthcare and financial institutions, died in St. Louis. He was 92 years old.
Starting from the basement of his house, Mr. Kummer opened a business building nursing homes in 1960. However, he quickly realized that customers would benefit from an innovative approach that integrates all phases of construction – from planning and cost estimation to architecture, engineering and construction services. This insight enabled him to develop his Hospital Building Equipment Co., later HBE Corp. named to become the world’s leading design-build company for medical and financial facilities with a construction portfolio of more than 1,100 healthcare facilities.
A native of New York, Kummer moved to Missouri in the 1950s to attend college at the Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy (now the Missouri University of Science and Technology) in Rolla. He graduated in 1955 with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. Just last year, he and his wife June Kummer donated $ 300 million to the university to establish the Kummer Institute for Student Achievement, Research, and Economic Development. Your donation is the largest single gift ever given to any public or private university in Missouri, and one of the largest ever given to a university in the United States.
Mr. Kummer was known as a practical manager who was closely involved in every detail of his business. His wife, a native of St. Louis, an architect, was his business partner, and he attributed much of the success of their company to her.
Born on April 23, 1929, Mr. Kummer, whose father worked as an engineer for a New York hotel company, grew up in one of the city’s hotels. It was there that Mr. Kummer developed his business acumen in the hotel basement, where he and a high school classmate ran a printing press to create menus for restaurants in other hotels in the neighborhood.
A graduate of Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, Mr. Kummer lived in Queens with his mother in 1951 while taking classes at New York City College and working as a plumber. Then he decided to move to the Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy – a decision he later described as “almost inexplicable”.
During his studies he worked for William Ittner Architects in St. Louis, who had a project in Rolla. There he met June Baumer, an architect for the company and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. He left college to join the Army in 1952, married June while still in the service, and returned to Rolla in 1954 to complete his civil engineering degree. After graduating, he worked for Ittner, then Buckley Construction Co., before founding HBE.
In 1973, Mr. Kummer expanded into the hospitality industry to form Adam’s Mark Hotels & Resorts, a chain of upscale hotels that eventually grew to 25 hotels in 13 states. Consistent with his innovative design-build approach, Mr. Kummer set Adam’s Mark properties apart from competitors by creating a distinctive reservation system and loyalty program that delivered cash rewards in place of other companies’ common point systems. Mr. Kummer sold the Adam’s Mark properties in the mid-2000s.
Mr. Kummer also developed two upscale properties near Eagle, Colorado, Adams Rib Ranch and Adams Mountain Country Club. He sold both in 2015.
The Kummers supported several St. Louis charities, including Forest Park Forever, the Missouri Botanical Garden, and Lutheran Church. They also supported Mr. Kummer’s alma mater, Missouri S&T, over the years.
“We have lost a true champion in S&T and higher education,” said Mo Dehghani, S&T Chancellor of Missouri. “No individual has supported this institution better and no individual has more passion for the further development of the mission of this university than Fred Kummer.
“Even before his transformative gift last October, Fred’s contributions to S&T have touched the lives of thousands of students over the years,” added Dehghani. “His support for our student design teams, academic programs and buildings, scholarships and alumni initiatives has touched many lives. And now, through the initiatives of the Kummer Institute, Fred’s influence continues. We extend our condolences to June and the entire Kummer family. “
Mr. Kummer was a former member of the Missouri S&T Board of Trustees and the University of Missouri Board of Curators. In 2011, Mr. Kummer was named to the inaugural class of Missouri S&T Alumni of Influence in recognition of his business success and philanthropic contributions.
He is survived by June M. Kummer (nee Baumer); Daughter Caroline Croswell and son-in-law Tom Croswell, son Fritz Kummer and daughter-in-law Tess as well as daughter Melanie Brewer and son-in-law David as well as several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The funeral services were held on May 6, 2021 at Village Lutheran Church, 9237 Clayton Road, Ladue, Missouri. At the family’s request, commemorative donations can be made to the Shriners Hospital for Children-St. Louis, MO, 4400 Clayton Ave., St. Louis, MO 63110 or online at: shrinershospitalsforchildren.org/st-louis. All donations must mention St. Louis in order for the money to stay in St. Louis.