He’s still got the touch

NEW ULM – An 89-year-old New Ulm man was applying stucco to the rear of the World of Sound Hearing Center Wednesday on North Broadway with the speed that belied his years.

Cliff Cordes has applied stucco to the interior and exterior of many large buildings. He has created structures like bird baths and other durable things throughout New Ulm for much of his life. He has no plans to retire.

Cordes did stucco work at the former Pamida store building on South Broadway. Some of his other work sites included St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Union Hall at Martin Luther College and many new homes.

It’s a family tradition. A mule head is the trademark of the company Cordes and his brothers created.

Stucco work is not for the faint-hearted.

Traditional stucco is made of lime, sand and water. Modern stucco is made of Portland cement, sand and water. Lime is added to add permeability and workability of modern stucco.

Traditional stucco involves three coats of material and it requires plenty to strength to work with cement and sand. The finished product could last a century, according to John Vorwerk, who along with David Harmening, worked Wednesday with Cordes. The men have been working together for years.

Vorwerk said Cordes often ends up doing a stucco project when he visits relatives. He builds things from scratch.

How does he continue to work?

“I believe in God. You can’t do anything without God’s help. I’m blessed by God to do this work,” Cordes said.

For much of his life, Cordes walked three to five miles a day. Once a week, he’d walk 10 miles. He once owned an electric-powered cart but decided he’d be better off without it.

“I eat whatever I want. I like duck lard, hamburgers and greasy pork chops,” Cordes said. “I’ve had two heart attacks and a stroke. My arteries are only half blocked, so they won’t put stents in.”

Vorwerk says he find’s it easier to get up and go to work each morning when he thinks of Cordes.

“When I feel aches and pains in the morning, I just think of Cliff and realize that if he can get up and go to work, I can too,” Vorwerk said.

Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at fbusch@nujournal.com

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