Don Horton: A builder of history, a builder of dreams

Written by Scott Graves, Pilot staff writer November 19, 2013 09:33 pm

Don Horton and his wife, Marjorie, moved to Brookings in 1953. He soon started Horton Brothers Construction, which built many well-known structures. Submitted photo
Don Horton and his wife, Marjorie, moved to Brookings in 1953. He soon started Horton Brothers Construction, which built many well-known structures. Submitted photo
Don Horton.

For longtime Brookings residents the name evokes memories of community buildings dating back to the 1950s — many of which are still standing:

Kalmiopsis Elementary School.

The Harbor Fire Department building.

The Port of Brookings Harbor.

Brookings City Hall.

Curry County Jail.

Curry General Hospital.

The list goes on and includes numerous businesses, churches, libraries and homes — not just here, but in adjacent counties.

Horton died Nov. 9 at his home. He was 94.

Horton, often seen sporting his trademark white cap and driving a beat-up vehicle, was equally known in the community for his quiet philanthropic ways. He often shared his business acumen and financial means to help launch the careers and businesses of numerous friends and employees and their family members.

  “He had a vast amount of energy and knowledge, and he was always there to help people when they needed it,” said long-time friend Archie McVay.

Harlan Mitts, 55, who credited Horton for helping him start his own a log hauling business, grew up as a friend of Horton’s three children.

“He was a good man and an excellent judge of character,” Mitts said. “He worked hard all his life and put 100 percent into everything he did.” 

Building the town

Horton and his wife, Marjorie, moved to Brookings in 1953, where he began Horton Brothers Construction. His brothers move away soon after. As a local builder, Horton won many building contracts during a boom era, earning a reputation for quality construction work.

“He was known as “Mr. Brookings Builder,” said Dick Keusink, longtime resident and former owner of the Curry Coastal Pilot. 

“If you looked at any building in Brookings today, chances are it was one of his.”

Bob Kerr, co-owner of Kerr Ace Hardware in Brookings, recalled hiring the Horton Brothers Construction to build the original Ace store and add a post office.

“He was well-liked and well-respected,” Kerr said. “We felt close enough to have him build our home 26 years ago.”

Rick Richardson was hired by Horton and helped supervise the building of the Curry County Jail in Gold Beach in 1972.

“In the ’70s there were about 25 guys working for him,” Richardson said. “He got the crane that was needed to dredge the port (of Brookings Harbor), and we poured the concrete boat ramps there. And we built the College of the Redwoods in Crescent City.”

Community involvement

However, Horton wasn’t content with building things in his community. When he wasn’t spending time with his wife and their three children, Michelle, Danny and Colleen, he participated in various community and business organizations such as the Brookings Harbor Chamber of Commerce,  Brookings Elks Lodge 1934 and Brookings Rotary Club. 

In 1969, at the age of 50, Horton was named “Citizen of the Year” by the Brookings-Harbor Chamber of Commerce for outstanding community service.

One the projects close to his heart was a drive by the chamber to raise $90,000 to build Curry Good Samaritan Center nursing home in Brookings. With the help of McVay and other prominent community leaders, Horton was instrumental in building the center. He later became a member of the center’s board of directors.

Decades later he continued to win accolades for his community involvement. He was named Azalea Festival grand marshal in 1999.

Changing lives

For many people, the name Horton doesn’t trigger immediate recognition — and that’s how he preferred it. 

“He was very quiet in the way he did things — it was always behind the scenes,” said Ernie Hinze, who, as a teenager, met Horton in 1971. “He was instrumental in helping me with my business.”

Hinze, whose electrician father worked for Horton in 1970s, came to know Horton better when he entered the family trade in the mid-1980s.

“We had coffee every morning in his office as we planned the day,” Hinze said of Horton. “He was a sharp businessman, he was always up on world, state and local politics, and on top of market conditions.”

Horton took Hinze under his wing and helped him start his own business, now called Brookings Electronic Services, Inc.

“He helped me with the bidding process; he helped me to be a better businessman,” Hinze said. “Without his assistance and financial help, I wouldn’t be here today, I’d be living somewhere else. He provided for me, my family and my employees. I wouldn’t be as successful as I am now without him.”

Mitts said the same.

“When I was just 20 or 21 I had a vision of buying my first used log truck and going into business for myself, but no bank was going to touch me,” he said. “But Don loaned me the money to purchase my first truck. That was 30 years ago and now I’m a successful businessman. If Don believed in you, he would do anything to make it happen,” he added.

Smith River resident Rosita Peasley was just 18 when Horton hired her as a Spanish tutor. Horton and several business partners wanted to speak the language during visits to Mexico. Peasley, now 53, and Horton became lifelong friends.

“I didn’t have any family in the area and he took me in like family,” said Peasley, who is now a successful real estate agent.

“When I got into real estate, he gave me a loan to help me get started,” she said. “He’d send real estate business my way. He was a great mentor and gave me great advice on real estate and life. He taught me to never give up and to believe in myself.”

— See Page 9A for Don Horton’s full obituary.