St. Louis construction innovator Fred S. Kummer, founder of HBE Corp., dead at 92

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Fred S. Kummer, a Missouri University of Science and Technology graduate who grew his one-man general-contracting business into the world’s largest design-build firm for health care and financial facilities, died Friday, April 30, 2021, in St. Louis. He was 92.

Starting in the basement of his home, Mr. Kummer opened a nursing home construction business in 1960. But he quickly realized that clients would benefit from an innovative approach that would integrate all phases of building – from planning and cost estimating to architectural, engineering and construction services. That insight enabled him to grow his Hospital Building Equipment Co., later called HBE Corp., into the world’s leading design-build firm for medical and financial facilities, with a construction portfolio of more than 1,100 health care facilities.

A New York native, Mr. Kummer moved to Missouri in the 1950s to attend college at the Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy (now known as 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 Success, Research and Economic Development. Their donation is the largest single gift ever to any public or private university in Missouri and one of the largest ever to any university in the United States.

Fred S. and June Kummer at their home in October 2020. Photo by Terry Barner/Missouri S&T

Mr. Kummer was known as a hands-on manager who was intimately involved in every detail of his business. His wife, a St. Louis native and architect, was his business partner, and he credited her for much of their company’s success.

Born 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. There, Mr. Kummer developed his business savvy in the hotel basement, where he and a high school classmate ran a printing press to create menus for restaurants in other neighborhood hotels.

A graduate of Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, Mr. Kummer was living with his mother in 1951 in Queens while taking courses at City College of New York and working as a plumber. Then he decided to transfer to the Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy – a decision he later described as “almost inexplicable.”

While in college, he worked for St. Louis-based William Ittner Architects, which had a project in Rolla. There he met June Baumer, an architect at the firm and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. Leaving college in 1952 to join the Army, he married June while still in the service and returned to Rolla in 1954 to complete his civil engineering degree. After graduation, he worked for Ittner, then Buckley Construction Co., before founding HBE.

In 1973, Mr. Kummer expanded into the hospitality business, launching Adam’s Mark Hotels & Resorts, a chain of upscale hotels that eventually grew to 25 properties in 13 states. In keeping with his innovative design-build approach, Mr. Kummer differentiated the Adam’s Mark properties from competitors by creating a distinctive reservation system and a loyalty program that provided cash rewards instead of the more common point systems of other companies. Mr. Kummer sold the Adam’s Mark properties in the mid-2000s.

Mr. Kummer also developed two upscale properties near Eagle, Colorado, Adam’s Rib Ranch and Adam’s Mountain Country Club. He sold both in 2015.

The Kummers supported several charitable causes in St. Louis, including Forest Park Forever, the Missouri Botanical Garden and the Lutheran Church. They also supported Mr. Kummer’s alma mater, Missouri S&T, over the years.

“We have lost a true champion for S&T and for higher education,” said Missouri S&T Chancellor Mo Dehghani. “No individual was more supportive of this institution, and no individual more passionate about advancing this university’s mission, than Fred Kummer.

“Even before his transformative gift last October, Fred’s contributions to S&T over the years have touched the lives of thousands of students,” Dehghani added. “His support for our student design teams, academic programs and buildings, scholarships, and alumni initiatives have touched many lives. And now, through the Kummer Institute initiatives, Fred’s influence continues. We send our sincere condolences to June and the entire Kummer family.”

Mr. Kummer was a past member of the Missouri S&T Board of Trustees and the University of Missouri Board of Curators. In 2011, Mr. Kummer was named to Missouri S&T’s Alumni of Influence inaugural class 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, and daughter Melanie Brewer and son-in-law David, as well as several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Funeral services were held May 6, 2021, at Village Lutheran Church, 9237 Clayton Road, Ladue, Missouri. At the family’s request, memorial donations may be given to 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 for the funds to stay in St. Louis.