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Don Kortz, Rose Community Foundation founder, dies at 81

The real estate business was going gangbusters for Don Kortz in 1995 when he stepped away from his firm to create a nonprofit community foundation, not knowing how it would turn out but confident he could make it work.

Today, Rose Community Foundation manages $322 million in assets, distributing money throughout the Denver area to make a difference by awarding grants to various nonprofit organizations. And it started with Kortz.

“It took a unique commitment to community service to leave for something with no real understanding of where it might lead and likely take a cut in pay. But it was indicative of how committed Don was to the community,” his friend and colleague Andy Love said.

Kortz died Sunday evening at UCHealth’s University of Colorado Hospital from complications of COVID-19, his nephew, Gary Kortz, said. Don Kortz, who was vaccinated, successfully fought brain lymphoma during the pandemic but could not beat COVID when he contracted the virus in late May. He was 81.

Kortz is survived by his wife, Mary Lou Blackledge Kortz; his daughter, Zoey Kortz; and his brother, Robert Kortz, and his family.

Born and raised in Denver, Kortz made his mark in the business world as a lawyer and later CEO at Fuller and Company, a commercial real estate firm. During his career, he had a hand in real estate transactions that exceeded $2 billion, according to a video biography of his life on the Colorado Business Hall of Fame website.

Kortz graduated from East High School and then attended Tulane University in New Orleans, where he participated in the ROTC. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, eventually earning the rank of captain. He graduated from the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law and then went to work for a Denver law firm.

Through his legal work, Kortz met the president of Fuller and Company, who hired him as the firm’s general counsel. Kortz eventually became the company’s president and CEO, and chairman of the board of directors, including when the firm was bought by Cassidy Turley Colorado.

Kortz also was a founder of Steele Street Bank and Trust in 2003, which later was sold to MidFirst Bank.

But it was his dedication to nonprofit groups, philanthropy and mentoring others that amazed his friends and colleagues.

“By definition, a ‘mensch’ is a person of integrity and honor who embodies kindness; Don Kortz was a quintessential mensch whose fingerprints are thankfully all over Denver, both in the Jewish community and beyond,” Rose Community Foundation President and CEO Lindy Eichenbaum Lent said.

Along with establishing the Rose Community Foundation, Kortz served on the boards at Rose Medical Center, Children’s Hospital Colorado, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and Denver Water, among others.

“Denver has lost a leader who was willing to do things without looking for money,” his friend Dick Robinson said. “He did it for the good of the people and the city and the state.”

Kortz was chairman of the Rose hospital board of directors when its members made the decision to sell to Health One, which left the board with $170 million to invest. That’s when the idea for the Rose Community Foundation came up, and Kortz agreed to take a leave of absence from Fuller and Company to make it happen.

“He was confident he would be able to return to real estate whenever he wanted to. He had a solid reputation,” Mary Lou Kortz said. “He wanted to do something incredibly significant for this community that would last forever.”

Friends said Kortz never sought glory or credit for his big projects and ideas. And he had a knack for bringing people together and negotiating through conflict and obstacles.

“Don was an incredibly thoughtful, fair guy,” said Norman Browstein, chairman of the Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck law firm. “He always came up with the right solution and answer in the issues he was presented because of the great capacity he had to be fair and understand every issue.”

Multiple people described Kortz as a “doer.”

“He just had the greatest instincts and vision. He was so thoroughly confident and ethical in everything that he did,” former chamber president and friend Joe Blake said. “He understood a need. It’s one thing to understand it and envision it, but it’s another thing to get it done.”

Even with his busy work and philanthropic life, Kortz was a dedicated family man, often turning down social invitations to spend time with his wife and their daughter.

“I knew he was a businessman but to me, it seemed that his No. 1 was as a dad,” Zoey Kortz said.

The family enjoyed traveling together, Mary Lou Kortz said. Don Kortz had been looking forward to his daughter’s wedding and visiting her when she moved with her husband to England, she said.

Don Kortz also loved his dogs, enjoyed touring historic sites with friends and always had a book in hand, she said.

“Don’s approach to life was a laser focus. He was able to focus on a matter, a person or an entity. He could immediately distill what was the important thing that needed to happen or what needed to happen to make it better,” Mary Lou Kortz said.

Kortz’s funeral will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday at Temple Sinai, 3509 Glencoe St., Denver.

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