John Waltersdorf, a 'giant in the community,' dies

September 02, 2010|By DON AINES
  • John Waltersdorf, left, and his wife, Margaret, speak after signing an agreement to create the Waltersdorf/Henson Endowment Challenge Campaign in 2004. At right is a portrait of the late Richard A. Henson. John Waltersdorf died Thursday, Sept. 2, in Delaware. Margaret Waltersdorf died in 2005.
File photo,

John Waltersdorf, a businessman, community leader and philanthropist who gave freely of his time to the boards on which he served, but shunned the limelight, has died.

He was 84.

Waltersdorf had been spending time at his summer home in Rehoboth Beach, Del., said Merle Elliott, former president of the Hagerstown/Washington County Industrial Foundation, known as CHIEF. Elliott said he was notified by the family of Waltersdorf's death.

Waltersdorf died Thursday morning at Beebe Medical Center in Lewes, Del., Elliott said.

"He was a great friend, a good father and a tremendous community supporter who was responsible for a number of philanthropic and civic activities, and he was a great leader," Elliott said.

His wife, Margaret C. Stott Waltersdorf, preceded him in death in 2005.

The couple had four children -- John G. Waltersdorf, Grayson W. Oldfather, Margaret O. Waltersdorf and Roberta A. Waltersdorf.

"We would like to thank everyone for the outpouring of affection for our beloved father," a statement from the family said. "He was a wonderful father, friend and mentor who led by example. He spent his last days with his family and passed peacefully."


'Truly an icon'

Waltersdorf was the former owner of Hagerstown-based Tristate Electrical & Electronics Supply Co.

His philanthropic endeavors included The Community Foundation of Washington County MD Inc., of which he was a founding member. With his wife and the Richard A. Henson Foundation, Waltersdorf in 2004 created the Waltersdorf-Henson Challenge, with each contributing $2.5 million to benefit the Community Foundation.

"He was truly an icon in Washington County," said Brad Sell, executive director of the Community Foundation of Washington County.

Sell said the donation from the Waltersdorf-Henson Challenge was matched by $5 million raised by 16 nonprofit organizations, creating endowments for each of those organizations.

That campaign ends at the end of this year, Sell said.

"We were looking toward celebrating that with him," Sell said. "He had a huge heart and a huge love for Washington County."

On a personal level, Sell said, "He was one of my mentors ... Just a great guy to sit down and talk to."

"John Waltersdorf was a giant in this community, but many people didn't know it," said Richard W. Phoebus Sr., president and CEO of CHIEF.

While well-known to the business community and the many charities and nonprofit organizations he worked with, "the average person in the community ... was not fully aware of how he affected the community through his philanthropy," Phoebus said.

"Unfortunately, these people are not easy to replace in a community," Phoebus said. A generation of people who built businesses and careers in the community and then applied their talents and resources to improving Washington County are aging, he said.

Waltersdorf was not raised in Washington County, but accomplished much as a businessman and civic leader during more than half a century here, Phoebus said.

"Surely, the community will miss him, even if they didn't know him," he said.

Hagerstown Community College President Guy Altieri noted that Waltersdorf did not seek out recognition for his philanthropic work, something that Altieri, Elliott, Phoebus and others wanted to change by naming the college's quad after him.

"It took some effort to get John to accept that recognition," Altieri said. The parklike space joins the campus' Student Center, Administration, Classroom and Science buildings and enhancements are being made to the area, including honoring the Waltersdorf and Henson families.

'A cheerful giver'

Over the years, Waltersdorf worked with the Maryland Symphony Orchestra and served as the symphony's board president. He also was involved with the Greater Hagerstown Committee, Washington County Museum of Fine Arts and Hagerstown YMCA.

He also served as a CHIEF board member, trustee of Saint James School and trustee of Maryland Citizens for the Arts, among other organizations the Hagerstown businessman supported with time, expertise and money over the years.

"He enjoyed giving. God loves a cheerful giver," said the Rev. Stuart Dunnan, headmaster of Saint James School.

He also was a smart giver, Dunnan said.

"He thought ahead about the causes he wanted to help and how he could best help them," said Dunnan, noting that while generous with his financial support, Waltersdorf also gave something more intangible.

"If John Waltersdorf supported you, you had John Waltersdorf and that was the best gift of all," Dunnan said. "And I can't talk about John without talking about Peggy (Waltersdorf). Peggy was especially wonderful to me. She was like a second mother."

Waltersdorf was named The Herald-Mail Person of the Year for 1999, the first year the newspaper presented the award. He was chosen from 54 nominations sent in by subscribers and community leaders.

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