Peter L. Hornbeck
1943 - 2020
Hornbeck, Peter L. OLMSTEDVILLE Peter Hornbeck died with his boots on, following a walk with his family in the woods behind his house on December 26, 2020. He was 77. The apparent cause was sudden cardiac arrest. Born in Utica on January 20, 1943, Peter was the oldest of two children born to Edmund and Ruth (Davison) Hornbeck. He was raised in Hamburg. Peter learned to love the outdoors at an early age, and it shaped his life. Peter attended Hamburg schools and earned a degree in philosophy from the University at Buffalo. He served in the Army during the Vietnam War. In 1967, he met the love of his life, Ann. They were married in 1969, determined to create a life far from the suburbia where they were raised. Teaching jobs in the Adirondacks gave them the opportunity. In 1972, they bought a rundown farmhouse on Trout Brook Road in Olmstedville and spent the next dozen years rebuilding it. Many of the beams in the house were hand hewn by Pete. He also built a log cabin in the woods by himself, felling the trees and stacking them to create the walls. The cabin was only the first of many buildings that would eventually populate what Pete and Ann called "Hornbeckistan." Pete started messing about with boats in the early 1970s under a tree in his backyard, first building kayaks before developing a design based on the wooden boats built by John Henry Rushton (1843-1906). Pete used fiberglass and eventually Kevlar and carbon fiber, to make ultra-lightweight, durable solo canoes. Over the years, Pete's little boats have given thousands of people their ticket into the woods, onto still waters and meandering brooks, where they could watch birds, catch fish and just be. Building boats was Pete's dream, but for many years it was a hobby. For 23 years, his primary occupation was an elementary school teacher. He taught third and sixth grade at different times in his career at Johnsburg Central School in North Creek. He was a creative teacher, preferring to come up with his own spelling tests instead of taking one from a book and wrote his own "fractured fairy tales" to teach writing. He bought Nordic ski equipment so each of his students could learn to ski at recess. Sometimes recess in Pete's class lasted all afternoon. The many students who passed through his classroom over the years remember playing the eraser game, and hundreds of parents treasure the portraits Pete drew of their children. Artistry and creativity fueled Pete's boat business. He was a talented watercolorist and frequently drew portraits of friends and acquaintances as gifts. In 1992, at 49, Pete suffered a minor heart attack. He took an early retirement and started building boats full time. Ann was both partner and voice of reason as Pete's dreams grew. Ann was Pete's redheaded dream girl. In 51 years of marriage, he never got over his luck of having won her hand. He made Ann laugh, and even when he was difficult, he was never boring. Success at Hornbeck Boats meant more buildings and more customers. Pete hated crowds but loved to entertain visitors with his stories. He was generous to a fault and supported numerous environmental, preservation and wildlife organizations over the years with boat donations the nonprofits then raffled to raise money for their causes. He supported breast cancer organizations as well. Many Hornbeck Boat customers are women who find they can carry and car-top a boat on their own for the first time. Preserving wilderness was always forefront in Pete's mind. He was an unabashed "tree hugger" and a proponent of motorless lakes. He believed keeping the Adirondacks clean and largely wild was the secret to the economic success of its residents because of the tourists drawn to it. Pete also trained the next generation of boat builders, and for many years loaned molds and donated materials to Wells Central School teacher Brian Richards, who led his students in building their own Hornbeck boat. Pete and Ann traveled; St. George's Island in Florida was a favorite destination. They went to Iceland and then Amsterdam to explore Pete's Dutch roots. In Switzerland, Pete watched in terror as Ann went hang gliding. Pete made cross-country trips to Alaska, Newfoundland and Labrador. He loved places where there weren't a lot of people. The greatest misconception about Pete was that he was laid-back. He was not. He was always thinking, watching, creating. He was uncompromising and unfailingly determined. In 2018, Pete turned over the day-to-day management of the business to his son-in-law, Joshua Trombley. Last year, he went to work restoring the old cabin so his grandsons could use it. He was deeply proud of Josh; his daughter, Leigh, and his grandsons, Rushton and Devlin. He often said of the boys, "the circle is unbroken." In addition to Ann, Leigh, Josh, Rushton and Devlin, Peter is survived by a niece, Jennifer Quinlan and a nephew, John Quinlan. Many friends, former teaching colleagues, customers and employees mourn his passing. Honor Pete's memory with a walk in the woods. In the spring, find some quiet water. You will find him there. A celebration of Peter's life will be held in the summer, if COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to Protect the Adirondacks!, an organization he helped found: P.O. Box 48, North Creek, NY, 12853 or at

Published by Albany Times Union from Dec. 31, 2020 to Jan. 3, 2021.
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25 Entries
My parents bought two canoes from Pete back in 2001 or so, and loved them dearly. After inheriting them a few years ago, my wife and I now love them. We are so thankful for Pete's incredible boats that allow us to experience the outdoors in ways that we never would have. So sorry to hear about his loss. Still love the video of Pete demonstrating how to board and get off a canoe from a dock--I still owe him a dollar! - David Kelly
David Kelly
February 24, 2021
I am so sorry for your family's loss. Our Hornbeck canoes have given us so much joy. We will think of Peter when we are on the water this spring.
Alice Kelly
February 24, 2021
I was shocked and saddened today to learn of Pete's death. I have a Hornbeck boat that needs some loving hands after it blew off it's stand while we were having a tornado. I hope to bring it to Pete's shop for some refurbishing on my trip to Olmstedville this summer. I was a friend of Anne LaBastille and also love the woods. We were both NY Guides. My regards to the family.
donna blair
January 16, 2021
We are so sorry for your loss. He was a great guy.
Angus and Peg Mc Lean
January 5, 2021
"Mr. Hornbeck" who my stepbrother Branch Dunlap and I were lucky enough to have as our sixth grade teacher allowed us to sit side by side in the back of his room and indulge our love of reading while he taught class, ignoring the fact that we were not paying attention, knowing that we were learning despite not participating in the lesson he was presenting at the time. He indulged all of his students with the eraser game which was a broad lesson in skill, coordination, temperament, and so much more. Branch and I have never forgotten his kindness and respect and we never will.
Bridget Sullivan
January 4, 2021
Andrea Malik
January 3, 2021
Andrea Malik
January 3, 2021
I first met Pete in 1996 when my dog Wolfen and I went to test and buy a lost pond boat. It wasn´t just a meeting but a wonderful full day experience. After Wolfen died, Pete memorialized her by naming his new kayak design after her and then, on another visit while getting my boat repaired, gifted me the original Wolfen plug, outfitted with foot rests and a seat. I remember another visit, going for a walk in the woods with Pete and having great discussions. Pete was so interesting and interested in what others thought. I received a book in the mail from Pete which reflected on some of the things we talked about. Pete was so very generous and big hearted. I am sure many have similar stories. I last saw Pete in 2018 while buying a New Trick. He was telling me how he wanted to be able to give health insurance to his workers, another example of his big heartedness. Words cannot express the deep sadness I feel at his passing. Though I only had a handful of actual meetings with Pete, they were broad and deep and will forever remain in my heart. I know his spirit will be present wherever I put one of his boats in the water from the Adirondacks to Algonquin Ontario. The joy and happiness he brought to me and so many, lives on. We love you Pete. Until we meet again. Andrea
Andrea Malik
January 3, 2021
Pete and Ann opened their hearts to Keith and I. We loved visiting with Pete at the shop, eating pizza, sharing stories and talking about the next paddle. RIP my friend, you will be remembered with love and affection. Hugs to Ann, who he adored and Leigh, Josh and the boys, you were his everything.
Judi Harris
January 3, 2021
Kathryn Sands
January 2, 2021
I am so sorry for your family's loss and send you all virtual hugs. Your father sold me my boat years ago. I too am 77, a 4'11" woman but can still lift my boat and enjoy paddling.
Mindy Loucks
January 2, 2021
What a wonderful fabulous man! So glad to have known him as a dear friend and fellow teacher at Johnsburg, and his wonderful wife Anne and Leigh. So sad: will miss him a whole lot.
Linda Rose
January 2, 2021
I live on Trout Brook Rd. a half mile north of Hornbeck Boats. I would visit Pete frequently. There was never a bad time to see him. He was always welcoming and friendly. Whether talking about local gossip, world events, or philosophy, a chat with Pete was always an uplifting experience. I will miss my wonderful buddy!
Bob Fisher
January 2, 2021
Such a beautiful tribute. I was introduced to the amazing hornbeck boat by my cousin this summer. Although I never had the pleasure of knowing Pete, I feel as if I know him after reading all the beautiful stories everyone has been posting. Hugs and prayers to his family and close friends. Cheers to Pete and a happy, healthy 2021for everyone.
Jodi Larkin
January 1, 2021
It was such a wonderful pleasure to share experiences with Pete and Ann at our class reunions 75th birthday celebration. Peace to your family!
Nancy Mona Snyder
January 1, 2021
What a beautiful tribute! I am amazed by all that Peter was and all that will continue because of his life. I am one of the proud winners of a Hornbeck raffled this fall at the VIC. Sad that I did not get to meet him in person but so glad to be a part of the group that he inspired. And I will think of him and his family while paddling my wonderful boat.
Mary Erdogan
December 31, 2020
Sad for your loss... Happy he was in our lives
Kathy Corey
December 31, 2020
I first met Pete in 2001, when I bought my canoe from him. In the shop, I noticed a drawing of a smallmouth bass, and told him that was my favorite game fish in the area. We immediately bonded over that, as well as both being from the Buffalo area. Pete was a generous man, both materially, but more important spiritually. He was eager to share his knowledge and wisdom with others. Over the years, he took me to a few fishing spots for my first time. My favorite was Long Pond on the Kempshall Mountain Club property, which had fantastic smallmouth fishing. My friend Gary (yet another Buffalonian), who had just built a house on that land, took me fishing there in September for the first time in close to 15 years. Gary had just bought Hornbeck canoes for himself and his wife this past year, and said he hoped the three of us could fish there together next summer. When we arrived at the property, there is a gate which has a lock which is a 5 number combo lock. This brought back a memory: when Pete took me there, he made sure that I memorized the number to the lock as he knew from his previous heart attack that it could happen again at any time. He certainly passed much too soon, but he lived his life keenly aware of his own mortality and lived it to the fullest. Perhaps the greatest wisdom of all he passed on.
Jeffrey Schanzer
December 31, 2020
I'll always remember our Lake Lila trip with Leigh and Heather when they were 8 or 9 years old and they each had their own boats we built for them. One of the best men I've ever known and lifelong friend.
Mike Singleton
December 31, 2020
A beautifully written obituary filled with love and undeniable details about Peter. He took the time to make everyone feel special. Thank you Peter for your generous spirit. You shared your creativity and love for our natural environment so, freely. May I remember and live the lessons learned. Shalom.
joyce Tuffey
December 31, 2020
I can attest to Peter's generosity. When I dropped my hornbeck off to be fixed, I 'bought' a hat from his store and learned I forgot my purse. He let me take the hat and gave me money to buy gas for the 3 1/2 hour ride home. I immediately sent a check to cover the cost of the hat and the gas money but he never cashed the check. His kindness was never forgotten.
December 31, 2020
Rest in Peace,Pete Hornbeck ~ There wasn't/isn't a nicer man on the planet!
Tom Philo
December 31, 2020
Peter was definitely a special man with unique artistic abilities. These qualities are what made the business so successful. What a wonderful legacy for his daughter, son-in-law and his 2 grandchildren.
Teresa Paoleschi
December 31, 2020
We met Peter and Annie over 40 years ago when Bob had heard about his boat building and we visited and struck up a friendship. Back in 1982 we had planned a canoe trip to La Verendrye waters in Canada and Peter and Annie were invited to join us; it was a week of hard paddling but so many fun memories. Here´s a picture of Peter proudly showing his biggest fish of the group! We will miss Peter terribly and give our deepest sympathies to Annie and Leigh and her family.
Bob and Melinda Dodds
December 31, 2020
Sorry for your loss. RIP Pete. The world was a better place with you in it.
Ronnie Bender
December 31, 2020
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