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 protectadks.org
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Published by Albany Times Union from Dec. 31, 2020 to Jan. 3, 2021.