Rupert "Rupe" Cuneen left his mark on many landscapes

June 28, 2008|By MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail publishes "A Life Remembered." This continuing series takes a look back -- through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others -- at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Rupert Cuneen, who died June 14 at the age of 84. His obituary was published in the June 16 edition of The Herald-Mail.

When World War II ended, Rupert "Rupe" Cuneen boarded a train with every intention of returning to his Wisconsin home. But when the train stopped briefly in Martinsburg, W.Va., he never got back on board.

Eventually, Rupe found his way across the Potomac River to Western Maryland, where he left his mark on the landscape for future generations through his work with the then-fledgling Washington County Parks Department.

Rupe worked for Jacob "Jack" Berkson, who served as the first chairman of the parks commission for Washington County in 1965 and 1966, longtime friend Dick Stoner said.


Now a Realtor in Rockville, Md., Dick said he first met Rupe in the fall of 1964, when he was 8 years old. Rupe was living in a stone farmhouse that was part of the old Woburn Manor -- a farm that was being sold at that time by Berkson.

"My father, Jim Stoner, purchased roughly half of the 250-acre farm from Mr. Berkson, and Rupe worked to add plumbing and heating to the old stone house," Jim said.

Beth Stoner Kariel, Jim's sister, said via e-mail that she remembered Rupe well and saw him throughout her childhood and adult years.

"When I was a little girl, he used to pick me up and throw me over his shoulder and call me a sack of potatoes," Beth said. "He had wonderful Christmas parties at his house, and Santa always came."

By telephone, Berkson said Rupe was the first employee of the county parks department.

A plaque at Doub's Woods Park on Downsville Pike lists it as the first county park and is dated June 20, 1965. Dick said Rupe led a team of troubled teens who helped him clear the land and create the lawns and wooded area that still are pleasant today.

Devil's Backbone Park near Boonsboro was second on their list.

"Rupe took me there in 1966, when it was overgrown, and said he was going to build a bridge," Dick said.

He managed that project, and his hand-built rope and cable suspension footbridge allowed people to cross Antietam Creek until Hurricane Agnes caused the anchors to be pulled from the rock in 1972, Dick said.

"Rupe built and restored many structures with his amazing skills," Dick said. "He would research and learn how to build or repair anything that was not in his previous experience."

His plumbing and electrical prowess was learned in the U.S. Navy. Rupe joined the Navy at age 17 and served in the South Pacific during the war.

When he relocated to Washington County after the war, Rupe went on to farm here and honed his skills in training horses, raising cattle, growing corn, hay and other farm products, and in managing farming businesses with a unique attitude and direction, Dick said.

In the early 1980s, Rupe became licensed in real estate with Machat Realty Inc. as he continued to repair homes and properties throughout the area.

He programmed computers for Machat Realty and created databases for properties sold and for sale, as well as his ongoing involvement in farming and property management -- a rather innovative skill in those days.

"He was a rural renaissance man," Sydney Machat said. "Rupe was very effective and loyal to his clients."

Joy Machat recalls that Rupe and her son, Joshua, now 35, had a very close relationship when Joshua was a young boy.

"Joshua has such fond memories of those times with Rupe," she said.

Rupe always had a rapport with young people, and for a while was a Big Brother, Joy said.

Always learning, Rupe enrolled at Shepherd College, now Shepherd University, and completed his degree by his 60th birthday in 1983, Dick said.

"He was proud of his degree," he said.

Barb Pryor of Sharpsburg said Rupe lived simply, enjoying life and making the most of it ... but always his way.

When Rupe retired from farming, he became a missionary, helping people in Mexico and South America build homes and churches, she said.

Six years ago, Rupe returned to Washington County, and Barb said she welcomed him into her home.

"For the last six years, we have looked out for each other," she said.

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