Kurt Garbe, a retired Portland shop owner who spent decades as an active volunteer and leader in many industry organizations, died May 29 at age 77.
“Kurt shared countless hours over the decades as a dedicated board member of NATA, and prior to that, to the organizations that merged in 2001 to form NATA,” Cathi Webb of NATA said. “He always worked to make sure the associations worked for the industry.”
For more than 40 years, Kurt owned and operated Esquire Motors in Southwest Portland. An authorized Bosch Service Center, the company also earned the “Eco-Logical Business” designation based on its pollution prevention, hazardous waste management, recycling and energy conservation efforts.
“We have one planet and we must take care of what we have for our children and grandchildren,” Kurt said when the shop received that designation.
Kurt was among the earliest in the industry to earn the Accredited Automotive Manager (AAM) degree from the Automotive Management Institute (AMI).
“Any time there was an association event or industry fund-raiser, Kurt was always among the first to raise his hand to be there and help in any way,” said industry writer John Yoswick, who knew Kurt since the early 1990s. “He took improving his business and helping the industry very seriously, but he also had a great sense of humor, which made it fun to have him involved.”
His is survived by his wife Kathy, who he married in 1996 and who also played a key role in the business and in the industry organizations the Garbes supported and helped lead. The two retired and closed the business in 2011.
He is also survived by two sons: Kurt Jr., who lives in Columbia with his wife Ariana and son Quinn; and Olaf, who lives in Germany with his wife Kathi and daughter Merle.
Kurt loved to hike, backpack and ocean canoe. He ran marathons and was invited to the Boston Marathon in 1996. He also was active in his community, serving as an officer of the Goose Hollow Neighborhood Association.
Kathy Garbe said throughout his life Kurt hosted exchange students from Germany, and became a father figure to many young people facing difficult circumstances, often offering them jobs or even a place in his home.
“Many of those relationships started before he and I got together, but he maintained them, and those folks had pretty strong ties to him,” Kathy said. “He just had a generous spirit and heart, inside the industry as well as outside the industry.”
A celebration of Kurt’s life will be held from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. (with a brief program at 5:30 p.m.) on Wednesday, July 17, at Hoyt Arboretum’s Stevens Pavilion in Southwest Portland. The family suggests remembrances to any automotive training scholarship fund, or a donation to help fund the support groups offered by Parkinson's Resources of Oregon.