By Mary Hertz Scarbrough
It would be understandable for an employee who is retiring after a long career to reflect on the past.
But Frank Kurtenbach, who grew up in Dimock, is not overly interested in looking back on the past 34 years, which include 29 on the board of directors for Daktronics and 20 as a vice president of the Brookings-based corporation.
He likes looking forward. That includes a job offer of sorts from Carla Gatzke, vice president of human resources.
"When I walked out of the room after I resigned, Carla tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'You know, some of the people in personnel thought you'd help out with recruiting,' and I said, 'Wow, you really mean that?' " Kurtenbach said.
From the moment he joined the Daktronics sales force in 1979, Kurtenbach championed recruitment, placing particular emphasis on college students and interns. Daktronics' intern program -- for college students and recent graduates who work full-time in virtually all areas of the company -- dates to 1980. But the commitment to hire students and recent college graduates dates to Daktronics' founding in Brookings in 1968. SDSU professors and co-founders Aelred Kurtenbach and Duane Sander wanted to keep talented and innovative graduates in South Dakota.
Hiring was streamlined in the company's early days in ways it can't be today. In 1979, the year Frank Kurtenbach joined Daktronics, the company hit the 100-employee mark. Today, the number tops 2,600.
"I really liked it when I could hire and then send the new hires to personnel to take care of the paperwork," Kurtenbach said.
One of Kurtenbach's earliest hires was Jeff Robbins, now Daktronics' corporate purchasing manager. He joined the company in January 1980 as the company's first sales and service intern. Robbins described Kurtenbach as a mentor and a caring person.
"I am very thankful to Frank for hiring this farm kid from Bushnell, and giving me the opportunity to be part of the Daktronics success," Robbins said. "His guidance over the years gave me direction that influenced me on how to be a long-term employee and leader to others."
In addition to interns, Kurtenbach also recruited retired athletic directors to become part of Daktronics' sales force. He emanates enthusiasm on the topic of recruiting.
"That's really my four-lane highway. That's where I probably did the best things I ever did in the company. Recruiting is what I like to do, and get face-to-face with people," he said.
Kurtenbach will continue to make that face-to-face connection at college and high school career fairs, classrooms and anywhere he can tout the benefits of working at Daktronics to today's students. His goal is a strong student and intern pipeline that funnels into full-time employment.
Kurtenbach's passion for the student and intern programs flows from his pre-Daktronics career in education. Born and raised on a farm near Dimock, he attended South Dakota State University (then called South Dakota State College) on an athletic scholarship. A champion wrestler, he also developed a reputation as barber to the athletes in the Gym Dorm, the overflow dorm that was housed in the Barn for about 15 years after World War II.
Relationships made during his college years, such as with his wrestling coach and mentor Warren Williamson, helped pave the path to his future. Several years later, Williamson's quest for a better wrestling scoreboard led him to Al Kurtenbach, whom he had met through Frank. As a result, Daktronics created its breakthrough product, the matside wrestling scoreboard.
After a stint in the Army's 101st Airborne Division and Special Services, including jumping out of airplanes, Kurtenbach taught biology for 16 years and obtained a master's degree in physical education from SDSU. In addition, he coached wrestling at high schools in Iowa, South Dakota and at South Dakota State University. He is a member of the South Dakota Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame.
When his older brother, Al, asked him to join Daktronics, Kurtenbach didn't hesitate. He came aboard as the sales manager for the scoreboard division.
Kurtenbach is looking forward to writing the next chapters in his life. He and his wife, Jean, have two children, Jackie (husband Mike) and Steve, and two grandchildren, Reed and Phoebe. They anticipate traveling more in their RV and having more time to follow the SDSU Jackrabbits and Brookings Bobcats sports teams.
And, of course, he'll be recruiting.
"I'm excited about my next step. I'll be doing exactly what I want to be doing," he said.
A retirement reception for Frank Kurtenbach and Jim Morgan, president and CEO, will be held in conjunction with the annual shareholder meeting Aug. 21. The public is invited to an open house from 5 to 6:30 p.m.; a program to honor Kurtenbach and Morgan will begin at 6 p.m. The shareholder meeting follows at 7 p.m. All events are at 201 Daktronics Drive, Building 6, in Brookings.