John Waltersdorf: 1999 Herald-Mail Person of the Year

December 31, 1999

Person of the YearBy KERRY LYNN FRALEY / Staff Writer

John M. Waltersdorf doesn't quite know how to take the fact he was named The Herald-Mail newspapers' Person of the Year.

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It's unusual being the first recipient of what is to become an annual award for outstanding contribution to the community, he said.

"I'm humbled, I guess, because it sounds like a very special award," said Waltersdorf, 73, who said his involvement feeds off the vibrancy of the community.


"I'm very proud of our community. We have so much. I hope to do whatever I can do in a small way," he said.

Waltersdorf is deserving of the honor and will be a hard act to follow, say those who have worked with him in his many community involvements - the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, the Greater Hagerstown Committee, the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, the Community Foundation of Washington County, Maryland, Inc. and the Hagerstown YMCA.

The Herald-Mail Person of the Year for 1999 was chosen from 54 nominations sent in by some of our subscribers and by community leaders.

A committee of newspaper employees narrowed the list to 12, which was then sent to a committee of 12 community leaders and two newspaper employees who chose John Waltersdorf.

That's only a smattering of the local nonprofit organizations the Hagerstown businessman has supported with time, expertise and money over the years.

Meanwhile, he was building his family business and was active in national professional organizations and economic development efforts.

"To me, he's proof positive you can be an intelligent, capable businessman, an acute businessman, be successful, and have a humanitarian side," said Joyce A. Heptner, who as executive director of the Community Foundation works closely with Waltersdorf, its chairman.

He's a wonderful, warm, personable man who cares for the community he lives in, said Heptner, who counts herself lucky to have him as her boss.

"He's renewed my faith in business in America," she said.

Waltersdorf, former owner of Hagerstown-based Tristate Electrical & Electronics Supply Co., isn't one to tout his volunteerism.

While being interviewed, Waltersdorf kept bringing the conversation around not to his contribution to a particular cause but to the cause itself and its value to the community.

He's especially excited about the Community Foundation, a nonprofit philanthropic endeavor that he helped get off the ground.

Started in 1996, the foundation provides a vehicle by which people can support favorite causes or organizations in the community long-term and helps meet the changing needs of local nonprofit groups with the earnings from invested contributions.

"We're trying to make people aware of the variety of ways the Community Foundation can be helpful to anyone with charitable or philanthropic interests," said Waltersdorf, who relishes the flexibility of the foundation's concept and the way it focuses on helping all aspects of the community.

Contributions aren't touched, allowing the foundation's endowment to continue growing and generating more earnings.

"To me, the beauty of it is you're not asking for 'x' number of dollars. You're saying here it is if you have extra dollars to give, from $5 to $5 million. It's for everybody and anything," Waltersdorf said.

During fiscal year 1999, the foundation's net assets grew from $146,566 to $680,905 and $95,375 in grants were given, according to the annual report.

A large fund created by the Bowman Board helped boost assets to about $1.3 million by late December, said Waltersdorf, who anticipated a potential $100,000 prospect would add to the pot by year's end.

He's hopeful the foundation's assets will grow substantially as local people are made aware of how it works and can help them and their community.

This a very giving and caring community, said Waltersdorf, a Pennsylvania native who has spent most of his adult life in Hagerstown.

Born and raised in Washington County, Pa., Waltersdorf graduated from Mercersburg Academy in Mercersburg, Pa., in 1943.

He attended Washington and Jefferson College until 1945, when he transferred to Yale University in New Haven, Conn.

In 1946, he left college to serve in the U.S. Army and became an official photographer with Operation High Jump, the last expedition led by Admiral Richard E. Byrd to the South Pole.

Following his Army service, Waltersdorf returned to Yale and graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1948. In 1949, he received an MBA from the School of Business of the University of Chicago.

In November 1953, he and his wife, Peg, moved to Hagerstown, her hometown and headquarters for her father's business, Tristate Electrical & Electronics Supply Co.

Waltersdorf was president of the company from 1960 until 1994, when he passed the mantle to daughter Grayson W. Oldfather.

He continued serving as CEO until Tristate's sale in November to Dutch firm Hagemeyer N.V., which pledged to keep the headquarters in Hagerstown and Oldfather as its head.

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