RACINE — If you’ve ever found yourself puzzling over a home repair project, there’s a good chance you eventually ended up seeking assistance in aisles of your local hardware store.
And if you in live in Racine, chances are that store was Kortendick Ace Hardware.
On Friday, Racine lost the founder of the popular hardware store, Russell Kortendick Sr. He was 98.
A World War II veteran, Kortendick started the business in 1951, opening shop at 1518 State St.
The store moved to 3301 Douglas Ave. in 1959, before settling at its current location, 3806 Douglas Ave., in 1969.
Russ Kortendick Jr., 72, who took over the business in 1985 after his father’s retirement, remembers his dad as a “down-to-earth guy,” a man emblematic of the “greatest generation.”
“He had a good work ethic. There is no doubt about it. That is what he enjoyed doing — taking care of people and running the hardware business,” Kortendick Jr. said.
From watching his father, the younger Kortendick learned a lot about running a successful business.
“It doesn’t come automatic. You have to work at it. There are ups and downs and you have to be flexible to handle them,” Kortendick Jr. said. “He was not afraid to try to new things, and did. Not everything worked, but most things did and it’s been, what, 66 years? At one time there were 20-some hardware stores in the city, and we are down to three now.”
Although he wasn’t involved in the day-to-day operations of the business after his retirement, Russ Sr. would often visit the store, especially during the last two years of his life when he was making his home at St. Monica’s Senior Living.
“He did a lot of saw-sharpening — he took that up as a hobby in his later years — and he would come in and sharpen some knives and saws,” Russ Jr. said. “We would take him on tours of the store, and would see the new items. He enjoyed that.”
During those tours, the elder Kortendick would often run into longtime customers and employees, and he always enjoyed chatting with them, his son said.
But Russ Sr. also knew how to have fun, spending the bulk of his golden years at a retirement community in Florida where he fished, golfed, played cards, and danced — a lot, his son said.
He also took up organ-playing lessons.
“He worked hard and he played hard. He loved to dance — the little the rascal,” Russ Jr. said. “I am convinced that if he didn’t go someplace where he could play cards and dance like he liked to, he wouldn’t have lasted as long as he did.”
On Sunday, Kortendick Ace Hardware, which has routinely been voted Best Neighborhood Hardware store in The Journal Times’ Best of Racine County balloting, was abuzz with activity.
Taking a break from her cash-register duties, Chris Koschnitzke said she just remembers how energetic Russ Sr. was.
“He always had energy. He was always nice to everyone came in. Customers were always coming in and asking about him,” she said.
Todd Mayer, the store’s assistant manager, who had just finished helping a customer pick out a garden hose, said he’ll always remember the elder Kortendick as just a nice man.
“He always took interest in what we were doing,” Mayer said.
A visitation for Russell Kortendick Sr. is slated to take place from 9 to 10:45 a.m. on Friday, April 28, at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 2201 Northwestern Ave. Mass will follow at 11 a.m.