Builder Harry Mursten’s life was bookended by beautiful song.
Mursten took to the piano at age 3 and was performing with the Buffalo Philharmonic by the age of 9. He attended the Juilliard School of Music in New York.
After his retirement to Tallahassee in 1995, after more than 30 years in the construction business in Miami-Dade, Mursten resumed his love affair with music and played Chopin, Bach and Beethoven in concert halls.
His son Michael believes his father’s skill at the piano could have led to the success he enjoyed as president and owner of Mursten Construction Co. in Hialeah, a firm that built churches, schools, family and retail projects.
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“I’m sure his ability to play the piano had an influence, at least on his emotional or mental makeup … to be as successful as he was in business,” Michael Mursten said.
Discipline. Practice. Listening.
Mursten died on July 17 after a long battle with cancer. He was 85.
Born Nov. 11, 1930, in Buffalo, New York, Mursten earned his business administration degree from the University of Buffalo. In the 1950s, he was chief executive officer of Mursten Furs in Buffalo for six years.
His move to South Florida in 1959 cemented his most successful career. “Construction was booming and he figured it out with a business degree,” his son said.
Mursten was president of Barlin Construction in Miami from 1960 to 1970. In 1971, he founded Mursten Construction and remained with the family business until his retirement in 1991. Mursten, who won a community service award from Miami-Dade Public Schools in 1977, built many structures, including Walmarts and even a 220-bed modular jail in Pompano Beach.
He had gotten a check from the health insurance company for a nominal amount, $100 and it was an error that they had sent him this check. My dad sent it back. That would be a boring story but they sent it to him again. And a third time. He went through all these trials and tribulations and eventually they kept the money.
Michael Mursten on his father Harry Mursten’s honesty.
Building churches, however, was his passion, his son said. “He was a devout Christian, read the Bible every day and really took a lot of pride in developing those relationships.”
These weren’t grand churches but rather neighborhood houses of worship. “He was more of a practical guy. They had architects who would draw a Taj Mahal and couldn’t afford it and we’d help them figure out a way to build,” said Michael Mursten, who took over the company after his father’s retirement through its sale in 1996.
As a member of We Will Rebuild, a coalition of civic, business and religious leaders who came together after Hurricane Andrew in August 1992, Mursten helped rebuild some of the churches in South Miami-Dade.
A decade earlier, Mursten, president of Associated Builders and Contractors of South Florida and vice president of the National Associated Builders and Contractors, delivered Christmas to 100 elderly residents of the Patterson Pavillion in Hialeah. The Miami Lakes Rotary Club gathered more than $5,000 worth of food for those in need. Mursten co-chaired the program. “The personal gratification is enormous,” he told a Miami Herald reporter in 1984.
Mursten, who taught business at Nova Southeastern University from 1984 to 1990, was also chosen to lead delegations of construction executives to exchange ideas and techniques with their counterparts in China and the Soviet Union.
Mursten was one of 25 executives from the United States to make the three-week trip to China in 1983, as part of a People to People international exchange program started by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956. “I developed a very warm appreciation for the people and what they’re accomplishing under adverse conditions,” he told the Herald in 1983.
Six years later, in 1989, Mursten, a Member of the Year award winner from the National Association of Builders and Contractors, led another delegation of builders and contractors to the Soviet Union for the People to People program.
In addition to his son, Michael, Mursten is survived by his wife Margaret; children David and Scott Mursten, and Pam Stuart, Amy Abreu and Jackie Grossenbacher; and nine grandchildren. Services were held. Donations can be made to Big Bend Hospice in Tallahassee.