Developer Van Wyk dies following surgery

December 28, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

Developer, entrepreneur and philanthropist Bruce Van Wyk, who transformed a piece of "gone-to-weeds farmland" into Martinsburg's largest shopping and dining area, died on Christmas morning after undergoing surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

He was 63.

Since Van Wyk moved to Falling Waters, W.Va., in 1974, he built or helped bring 450 homes, 108 apartments, a movie theater, the Martinsburg Mall, the U.S. Coast Guard facility, the U.S. Barcoding Facility, the U.S. Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms National Tracing Center, Potomack Industrial Park and other businesses or agencies to the Eastern Panhandle.

Although best known for his development efforts, Van Wyk also was instrumental in helping the school system improve, said Berkeley County Schools Superintendent Manny Arvon.


"In a quiet way Bruce was always out there in the public eye as an entrepreneur. He was known for his developments, both residential and commercial," Arvon said. "But the other side was a compassionate man who very much cared for his community."

Van Wyk has donated land to the school system in two of the last three years. A primary school will be built on a parcel donated by Van Wyk in the Spring Mills area, Arvon said.

Despite his health problems and other endeavors, Van Wyk always took the time to discuss education. He was a spokesperson for a school bond and Van Wyk's company, Van Wyk Enterprises Inc., served as the business partner of Winchester Avenue Elementary School in Martinsburg.

An articulate, focused man with a wonderful sense of humor, Van Wyk never spoke of his illnesses, Arvon said.

"If there was a need, he would always say, 'How can I help?'," Arvon said. "Bruce always made it very clear that a good school system was so important to a good community."

Del. John Overington, R-Berkeley, represents northern Berkeley County, the fastest-growing section of the county. Part of the growth can be attributed to Van Wyk's developments, Overington said.

"He has changed the face of Berkeley County in many ways," Overington said.

With talent and energy, Van Wyk "did things with quality. He focused on quality and he had the expertise to do it right," Overington said.

Although Overington said that farms, fields and forests are ideal, growth is imminent in what has become the fastest-growing county in the state. "If you're going to have subdivisions ... you want them done right," Overington said.

"He'll be sorely missed."

Four years after moving to the county in 1980, Van Wyk bought 70 acres of "gone-to-weeds farmland" near the intersection of Interstate 81 and West King Street. "There was nothing here. I mean nothing," Van Wyk said in an interview published in The Herald-Mail in March 2000.

Now, all up and down Foxcroft Avenue and Viking Way, which are parallel to I-81, are businesses he either built, owns or for which he provided the land or infrastructure.

"The (Martinsburg) Mall wouldn't be here if I hadn't already put in the roads and the other infrastructure," Van Wyk said. "There are 3,500 new jobs in businesses on land we've built."

Among other awards and recognitions, Inc. Magazine ranked Van Wyk's company 357th on a list of the 500 fastest-growing U.S. private companies in 1994. In 1997, the West Virginia University School of Business and Economics named him the state's Entrepreneur of the Year.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Tuesday at Trinity Episcopal Church in Martinsburg.

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