Gus Nottberg passed away this week. He was a force of nature. He was brilliant, confident, driven, and committed to leaving his mark on the world with every project he undertook. He would also be the first to admit that the real brains behind the operation was his amazing wife, Jane. Together, Gus and Jane left an incredible legacy for future generations of U.S. Engineering team members.
Gus grew up with U.S. Engineering in Kansas City. He worked at the company from the time he was old enough to go to the office with his father on Saturday mornings. He was fascinated with how mechanical systems were designed, built and operated. From 1957 to 1964, he worked full time in Kansas City before moving to Colorado Springs, where he worked briefly for Brown Olds Corporation and Natkin.
In April of 1967, Gus called his father, Gus Sr., and asked if he could open an office for U.S. Engineering in Colorado. After Gus and my grandfather, Henry Nottberg, Jr., discussed the idea, they gave him the green light. Being a man of action, Gus flew back to Kansas City that day, took a taxi to the office, loaded a bunch of tools into a truck, and drove it to Colorado Springs. It took him all of 24 hours. The next day, he called back to Kansas City to say that he’d won a job at Fountain Valley Boys School. Of course, years later, Gus told me he’d won the job before calling his dad and asking about opening a Colorado office, but that isn’t surprising to anybody who knew Gus. A week later, he won an expansion of the Air Force Academy dining hall in the Springs.
When I joined U.S. Engineering in 2005, I started out in the Loveland office, which was a series of cobbled-together trailers on a plot of land that Gus and Jane leased back to U.S. Engineering at an incredibly reasonable rate. I had dinner with Gus and Jane once a week at The Black Steer so I could soak in the stories of years past. Gus would tell the story, and Jane would correct all the details—who actually said what… when and where it happened… the name of the engineer, etc. It’s the people who always interested me the most.
In 1968, Curt Dennis, long-time superintendent and project manager, suggested that U.S. Engineering should bid work in northern Colorado, so Gus bid on the mechanical contract for the Colorado State University football stadium. Curt immediately moved to Ft. Collins and rented a small office near the Charco Broiler on Highway 14 while Gus ran the company from his apartment in Colorado Springs. The paperwork was burying Gus, so he reached out to a friend from Brown Olds, Mr. Curt Hunter. It was an offer he couldn’t refuse, so Curt joined the team and stayed up in Ft. Collins as well.
By this time, U.S. Engineering was building a good reputation, so when Bob Tointon from Hensel Phelps approached Gus about bidding work on an enormous new Kodak plant in Windsor, Gus agreed. The only problem was that it was still 1969, and U.S. Engineering couldn’t bond a job that size. Hensel Phelps wanted our team on the job so badly that they agreed to bond our company and all our subcontractors.
Thanks to Gus, Kodak became our anchor customer in Northern Colorado for the next thirty years, filled with projects where generations of future team members and leaders learned about our company and the industry. Even today, almost sixty years later, when I look at the incredible portfolio of work we’ve performed along the entire front range of the Rocky Mountains, I see Gus Nottberg’s legacy.
Gus will be missed, but I’m certain that he’ll never be forgotten.
The Nottberg family will host a celebration of life on Friday, May 19. Click this link for more information or to show your support.