By Ron Leir
Fred Kuhrt died doing what he loved best – giving of himself to others.
His former employer, the Kearny Board of Education, is honoring the automotive technology instructor’s selflessness by establishing the Fred Kuhrt Scholarship Fund to benefit students interested in advancing in the technical field.
Kuhrt, a 34-year teacher at Kearny High School who had planned to retire this summer, was in his classroom on Jan. 9 when he suddenly collapsed and died. He was 58.
A scholarship fundraiser has been scheduled for April 26, from 6 to 11 p.m., at the Irish American Association, 95 Kearny Ave., featuring live entertainment, raffles and 50/50s, beer, wine and food. A $50 donation is requested. Tickets are available from family members, the bartenders at Snug Harbor or Bob Walenski at Kearny High.
A 1973 Kearny High alum who played football and ran track, Kuhrt always loved tinkering with anything on wheels, his wife Debbie said. He worked for L.J. Kennedy Trucking Co. on Schuyler Ave. and an automotive garage on Dukes St. before enrolling at the-then Kean College in Union to get a degree in industrial technology.
Loved ones, colleagues and friends remember Kuhrt as a renaissance man of sorts.
Aside from his passion for vehicular maintenance which he passed on to his enthralled students, many of whom went on to careers in the automotive industry, Kuhrt’s enthusiasm for sports and the outdoors was also contagious among his young apprentices.
At KHS, he coached freshman football, helped run the rifle team and chaperoned the German Club on several field trips.
A devoted camper – he frequented the Great Divide in the foothills of rural Sussex County – Kuhrt was big into fishing and hunting, deploying bow and arrow and muzzle-loader shotgun, Debbie recalled. He was president of the Oswego Fishing Club of Kearny and Saxton Falls Rod & Gun Club in Warren County.
Walenski, head custodian at KHS and a longtime pal, said his wife Susan was a sharpshooter with Kuhrt’s rifle team. “He came to my wedding and I went to his son’s [wedding]. We used to go shopping together for tools at Harbor Freight in North Bergen. He was more family than friend.”
Former colleague Bill Gaydos, KHS science chairman, said: “Fred could fix anything. And he had great rapport with his students. Often, he would stay and work with them on a class project ‘till 4 or 4:30 [p.m.].”
And he was the family photographer, documenting travel and other adventures, Debbie said.
Yet, as much as he enjoyed being active and interacting with nature, he also made time for books. “He was a history fanatic and he was an expert on big battles in military history,” Debbie said.
But above all else, it was clearly Kuhrt’s attachment to the motor pool that consumed many of his waking hours. He was a member of the Wanderers Car Club of Sussex County and the MG Car Club of North Jersey and he won many trophies in car shows he entered.
“He saved a 1969 MG classic which he restored and which he brought into his automotive class and took the car down to its frame and rebuilt all the engine parts,” Debbie recalled. “He gave the students a broad spectrum of knowledge.”
“The last project he was working on before he died was restoring a BSA (Birmingham Small Arms) motorcycle from the ‘60s for an international festival [this month],” said Debbie. “In fact, it’s still sitting in Kearny High School.”
In late February, Debbie noted, the KHS PTA presented the school library with an automotive book in memory of Kuhrt and several students “spoke about how [their former teacher] inspired and guided them towards continuing their desire to pursue the automotive craft. Each student expressed how they want the school to continue the program for future students.”
One former student, Joseph Ferreira, who now runs New Body Collision on Columbia Ave., credited Kuhrt with being an active mentor in encouraging him to pursue an automotive repair business. “He was a real great guy – he was the one who got me into cars,” Ferreira said.
“When I was going to Kearny High, I lived around the block from New Body and when I was in my freshman year, I worked there part-time,” Ferreira said. “Mr. Kuhrt used to stop by and check up on me to see how I was doing.”
“There’s probably another 50 if not more – including people working for the town now – that Mr. Kuhrt inspired to like this trade,” Ferreira added.