CHARLEVOIX — As is the case with most high school graduates, when Luther Kurtz walked across the stage to accept his diploma in 1995, he had no idea what the future had in store — all he knew was that school wasn’t his thing, and he had the grades to prove it. But now, 20 years later, he’s made a name for himself in the community.
“When I was sitting at commencement ready to grab my high school diploma I had no idea what I was going to do or no idea what I could do,” Kurtz said. “I was not a great student. I was not headed off to some great university. I had a 2.5 GPA and an 18 on my ACT. I had a different path than most of my fellow graduates.”
In the last 20 years, Kurtz went from a technical school in Michigan where he became journeyman electrician, moved to California and attended community college before transferring to the University of California-San Diego, where he got his aerospace engineering degree at age 28.
While attending college, he connected with a skydiving company out of Hastings. From there he decided to open his own skydiving business, which begins the list of accomplishments that seem to stretch to the sky, where Kurtz is the most comfortable.
Kurtz, 37, is the owner of Skydive Harbor Springs — plus nine other locations including Charlevoix, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Miami, Fort Myers, Atlanta and Washington D.C. He holds a commercial pilot’s license and has completed more than 9,000 parachute jumps. He also holds a world record — with his sister, Angela Bishop — for most tandem jumps in 24 hours. He serves on Charlevoix City Council as a Ward 1 representative. He and his wife, Mary, own the Charlevoix Cinema III and he is a partner with friend Brian Noirot with a 22-unit apartment building — Hillcrest Club — as well as owner of the building that is leased to the owners of the East Park Tavern.
“I always knew if he could just find his niche, he would be amazing,” said friend Jan Boss.
Boss was a church youth director and Sunday school teacher when she met Kurtz, who was a fifth-grade student, when he moved to Charlevoix to live with his father, John. As a youth, Kurtz struggled to fit in and sometimes his actions would take him in the wrong direction, Boss said.
“I used to tell him he was his own worst enemy,” Boss said. “He had a lot of struggles through junior high and high school and hard time finding his passion.”
Though Boss never stopped believing that one day, Kurtz would get it right and he did, she said.
“I remember telling his parents he is going to great once he finds himself and he did,” Boss said. “He is an amazing man.”
Charlevoix High School Spanish teacher, Pete Scholten said, as a student and a member of the school ski team, Kurtz was one of those students who wasn’t afraid to talk to anybody.
“He always had a real ambitious and enthusiastic personality,” Scholten said.
Scholten said when his Spanish students took a trip to Spain Kurtz was eager to use his to use his Spanish and believes Kurtz’s enthusiasm is contagious and an attribute to his success.
“That kind of not afraid personality has done well with him in life,” Scholten said. “He was never afraid and not afraid to go for it. He was competitive ski racer and I enjoyed having him for two years in school and we have remained in touch over the years.
“We are friends today. It’s great to have him in Charlevoix,” Scholten added. “Him and Mary are big supporters of the ski team and a big supporter of the area soccer programs. It is wonderful that he shows the World Cup games at the cinema and this year he showed the women’s World Cup.”
Kurtz and Mary also volunteer serving at the twice-a-week free breakfast at the Community Reformed Church. Kurtz also is part of the Top of Michigan Trails Council and because he isn’t quite busy enough, Kurtz has spent the last five years attending Cooley Law School.
“It was a long process, but I completed my final exams in August,” Kurtz said. “I will have to complete a semester working with an attorney to finish my degree requirements, but at least the class work portion is done.”
Looking back to his high school graduation Kurtz never imagined his life to be what it is today.
“You just don’t know where life will take you,” Kurtz said.
Kurtz’s focus as a teenager in high school was less academic and more party, which was getting him nowhere, he said. When he was 21 he quit drinking after meeting some people who helped him realize you need to put in the work, do the next steps, and do not worry about the result.
“When you focus on the result, you spend too much energy trying to make that result happen,” Kurtz said. “Focus on the present and turn the result over to God. Don’t stress on what you can’t control. Let go and let God handle the uncontrollable. The only thing I have control over is my actions.”
Being committed to Charlevoix extends beyond skydiving and volunteering. One of the most difficult roles Kurtz has is his most recent position as a member of city council.
“It’s a tough job to be on city council because there are a lot of passionate people in Charlevoix,” Kurtz said. “You are trying to do what is best for Charlevoix, but sometimes people get so mad. Sometimes your friends get mad at you for doing something against their interest. I try to listen to all sides of the issue before making a decision. It really helps when you have all the information.”
Before a difficult vote or issue comes to the agenda, Kurtz is out talking to the people. He wants to make sure all of his constituents voices are heard even if he doesn’t agree.
“Even if I disagree with someone I try to reach out to that person and listen to what they have to say,” Kurtz said. “It’s important because they may bring up a point I may have never considered.”
Like any good leader, Kurtz does not count his success on his own. He owes much of it to the people he employees, the partnerships, family and faith. Without those relationships he believes his life would be chaotic.
“I don’t have it all together, just ask Mary,” Kurtz said laughing. “My faith helps tremendously. I do have a belief that things will be OK. I also run to clear my mind and relieve stress.”
When things seem tough and the road ahead changes things, you may have to modify your path to reach your goals, but don’t give up and always remember to “believe in yourself,” Kurtz said.