Changing of the Guard

THE YEAR 1965 BROUGHT MORE WORK, and everything was going well for the company. John Sundt loved to hunt, and in March he flew to Nairobi, Kenya, with an old friend to hunt for four animals: a leopard, an elephant, a lion and a water buffalo. They were hunting in a place that had only recently been reopened to hunting, and they were surrounded by thousands of animals, including the four John wanted. He joked that he needed five leopards in order to make a coat for his wife, Marion, and that he would play poker for them if he had to.

After successfully killing a tiger and an elephant, he shot a water buffalo that did not go down but disappeared in some thick bushes. When Sundt started tracking the wounded buffalo, he suddenly slumped, sat down and rolled over. He was dead of a heart attack. Apparently he
did not utter a sound. His friend said he died with a half-smile on his face.

He was mourned by Tucson, and the newspapers were filled with long obituaries and editorials praising him. Here is one example:

John Sundt Is Missed

It is just a week today since the saddening news came from deep in Kenya, Africa, that Tucsonian John Sundt had suffered a fatal heart attack while on a hunting expedition there. And with each passing day it becomes harder to adjust to the immutable fact that he will not be coming back to take his long accustomed role in this community.

For 35 years, John Sundt was one of a handful of men who would qualify as real builders of this city. He qualified both literally and figuratively.

His construction firm built many of Tucson’s public, private and military structures and the Sundt name on any project always has been a hallmark of excellence.

Less obvious but with at least equally enduring values were the many organizations and activities of the community which John Sundt (and his good wife Marion) helped build through dedicated support and unheralded generosity.

John Sundt was a modest, unassuming man. He performed his many personal good works and his acts of kindness and encouragement in a quiet manner. The full length of his shadow is therefore not immediately measurable.

Some estimate of the broad impact of his life had on this community and its people was afforded by the memorial service conducted Sunday in the First Methodist Church. The 700-seat sanctuary was filled by fellow citizens from every phase of Tucson’s civic, business, political and social life.

The void created by John Sundt’s untimely passing will not easily, or immediately, be filled.

New Leadership for Sundt

Before the family and employees were really over the shock of John Sundt’s death, the board had to meet and decide who would lead the company.

Bill Naumann moved up from vice president to chairman of the board of directors; Duane Anderson moved from vice president to president and chief executive officer; H. Wilson Sundt to executive vice president; and Robert (Bob) Sundt to vice president and manager of the Building Division.

“Naumann was a good selection as chairman of the board,” Bob Sundt wrote. “But he could not have been a good fit as the acting CEO and manager of the business. [Duane] “Andy” Anderson did not make any waves. He was able to keep things on a firm base. He had been the financial manager for the corporation. Although Andy was not a participant in any of the construction activities, he did keep the corporation itself on an even keel during his tenure as president and CEO.”

In something of an understatement, Sundt added that “Andy was also respected by the bankers, the bonding company and community leaders.” These were actually the main reasons Anderson and Naumann were promoted into their jobs. The Sundt board knew it needed to present a professional front to these entities now that John Sundt had died.

This top management team remained in place for the next 15 years and did a good job of keeping the company on an even keel.