A Family Affair: Margaret Hargrave Kurt ’72 G, Kristy Kurt Spengler ’74, Kerry Kurt ‘83

For the Kurt family, community service runs in the blood. Their combined portfolio weighs heavy with nursing, social work and legislative advocacy. Family credentials also include multiple achievements at UVM and diplomas from the nursing program.

The matriarch, Margaret Hargrave Kurt, completed UVM’s first nurse practitioner’s licensure course – a precursor to the current DNP – in 1975, at age 53. At the time, she was managing the gynecological practice for the UVM student health center and had earned two master’s degrees from UVM in education and counseling, graduating with both in 1972. Her first training as a nurse took place at Flushing Nursing School in New York through the US Cadet Nurse Corps, a federal program that trained nurses during World War II.

Daughter Kristy Kurt Spengler earned her BS in Nursing from UVM in 1974. She worked at hospitals in Honolulu, Florida and Vermont before becoming a home health nurse. She has worked for the Visiting Nurses Association of Chittenden and Grand Isle counties for 17 years. A state legislator in the Vermont House of Representatives from 2007-2014, she served on the agriculture, water resources and health care committees.

Daughter Kerry Kurt graduated with an associate’s degree from the UVM School of Nursing in 1983 and practiced nursing at Freehold Hospital in New Jersey while also pursuing her passion for classical dressage. She was a state legislator in the Vermont State House of Representatives from 1992-1997, serving as Vice-Chair of the Health and Welfare Committee. She lived in Colorado where she learned cattle ranching and achieved a Master of Divinity. Returning to Vermont, she worked as an RN and case manager for adults needing nursing home care, and for an agency providing social services to people with developmental disabilities. Today she runs a beef cattle and sport horse farm that operates as a nonprofit arts, agriculture and equestrian camp for at-risk youth.

The other Kurts also chose careers in social service and healthcare.

Daughter Nancy Kurt studied political science at the University of Maine and worked in social services at Howard Center, an organization that provides counseling and supportive services to individuals with developmental disabilities, mental health challenges and substance abuse.

Son Karl Michael Kurt ’73 ’77, the oldest offspring of the Kurt clan, counsels patients at Howard Center. “Mike” maintains a patent law practice in Charlotte, Vermont, and is president of his labor union. He studied law at UVM and won many competitions for the UVM Swim Team.

The family Patriarch, Karl Kurt, did his undgraduate studies at New York University and earned a PhD in Education from Saint John's University. He worked as UVM’s Director of Corporation and Foundation Development programs starting in1969. He passed away in 1990 at age 66, two days before his and Margaret's 40th wedding anniversary. Karl Kurt volunteered for his church, actively campaigned for state and federal legislators and, along with his wife, received numerous awards from the American Red Cross for donating blood.

Margaret's Journey

Margaret Kurt began her career as a journalist in New York in the 1940s, writing and editing for the now-defunct newspaper, The Sun. Born in 1922, she was a child of the Great Depression who understood financial hardship. She felt strongly that everybody should learn a trade to support themselves, and she believed in the importance of helping others in need. When a Kamikaze pilot in the Philippines killed her husband, Hank Pimm, she joined the US Cadet Nurse Corps.

“I thought maybe I could do something help,” she explained. Although she enlisted too late to participate in the war, she continued her training, earning a BS in Nursing while working nights. “I worked in OB-GYN in the nursery with the babies and mothers while I went to school at NYU. I loved the patients and the people I worked with,” she recalled. “Many of the doctors and the other nurses had just come back from the service.”

She met Karl at NYU and they soon married. Together, they raised four children while he went to graduate school, earning a doctorate in education from NYU. They vacationed in Vermont and dreamed of living there, so they both pursued employment at UVM. When Karl joined the university’s development team in 1969, Margaret went to work as a nurse in the student health center and as a laboratory assistant doing research on research on oral contraceptives, an emerging field. The family settled in the town of Charlotte, on the shore of Lake Champlain, in the house where Margaret still resides.

She fondly recalls the nurse practitioner’s licensure course. “It was a great experience. I was 53, but there were a number of women my age in the course who had been nurses for many years in Vermont, in public health, town nurses, school nurses,” she said. “We took the nurse practitioner class with medical students, and we worked together at equal levels.”

Upon completing the course, Margaret. Kurt became the head nurse for the UVM student health center, a position she held for eight years. Both Kristy and Kerry fondly recall spending time at mom’s workplace.

“I used to get out of grade school and come hang out in the infirmary at UVM,” said Kerry Kurt. Observing her mom, and older sister, as nurses greatly influenced her own career choice. “Nursing was a natural fit. My mom taught me how to give shots, take blood pressure, make a hospital corner on a bed. My big sister was a nurse. I love taking care of people – it’s a natural trait for my family.”

Margaret Kurt retired from UVM in 1978 to work for the VNA as a legislative assistant, helping to pass a law to license nurses to provide primary care. She then worked for the Professional Standards Review Organization, assessing hospital practices for transitioning patients to nursing homes, and performed physicals for a life insurance company.

Throughout the years and well into her 80's she volunteered – on political campaigns, for her church, at a senior center and the Salvation Army. “Both of my parents were very involved in service work, and they encouraged their children to do so, and all four of us ended up in public service,” Kerry Kurt said.

Recalling her days as a nurse, Margaret Kurt said, “When you went home, although you were tired, you felt good that you had done something for somebody that made their lives more pleasant. You’re providing a very great service, after all … It’s very fulfilling.”


Janet Lynn Essman Franz
Margaret Kurt at home in 2018, with her trusted terrier, Pink.