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Community was blessed to have John Waltersdorf

September 05, 2010
  • John M. Waltersdorf is pictured at his home in Hagerstown in 2008. The businessman, community leader and volunteer died Thursday, Sept. 2, at a hospital in Lewes, Del. He was 84.
File photo,

"You must give something back to the community, particularly if you've benefited from your community. You can't always say, 'Let Joe do it.' There may not be any Joe."

- John Waltersdorf, October 1988, The Herald-Mail

Every now and then, a community is blessed with one of those rare individuals who steps up to the plate, again and again and again. Sometimes their gift is money. Sometimes it's their time. Often it's their leadership or special talent. And sometimes it's a convergence of all three.

John Waltersdorf, who died Sept. 2 after a lengthy illness, was one of those rare people who gave this community just about all he had. Few people have left such a huge imprint on Hagerstown and Washington County.

A true gentleman, Waltersdorf was the embodiment of a dwindling generation of citizens and leaders who believed that the more a community provided to them, the more they had an obligation to return something to the community. He was one of the standard-bearers for that community-minded philosophy, a commitment that seems to be waning with succeeding generations.

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The former owner and operator of Tristate Electric poured millions of dollars of his own money, and that of the company he once owned, into charitable causes big and small. Sometimes the community heard about his gifts. Often it did not.

Through the Community Foundation, which he helped found, he and his late wife, Margaret, donated $2.5 million to fund the Waltersdorf-Henson Challenge, an endowment fund established to assist Washington County nonprofits and charities. He had been recognized by the United Way for contributing in excess of $150,000 to its campaign. He also was involved with fund-raising at Hagerstown Community College.

But he was also just as likely to field a call from the Boys & Girls Club, and quietly write a substantial check for its Steak and Burger Dinner fundraiser.

It didn't stop there.

Heading up a volunteer organization means giving up a large chunk of your personal time, time that could have been spent with family and close friends, or indulging in your personal interests. That sacrifice often includes a large menu of 7 a.m. meetings before work, 7 p.m. meetings after work, and numerous weekend events and obligations.

Waltersdorf took his turn serving as president of The Maryland Symphony Orchestra and chairman of The Community Foundation. He also was involved with the Hagerstown YMCA and the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts. He chaired the Washington County Regional Airport Board, The Greater Hagerstown Committee, and was a longtime board member of the Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation. That is only a sampling of his involvement.

He fulfilled these commitments while running a multi-million dollar electrical supply company that conducted business throughout the region. He also served as national president of two trade organizations.

He and his wife raised four children, three of whom still reside in the Hagerstown area.

Born and raised in Washington County, Pa., he was a graduate of Mercersburg Academy, Yale and the University of Chicago. His college years were interrupted by a stint in the U.S. Army.

It was in November 1953 that he came to Hagerstown to run his wife's family business. He was either president, CEO or chairman of Tristate Electric until the day he sold the business.

A picture of Waltersdorf, wearing one of his trademark bow ties, graced the front page of The Herald-Mail on Jan. 1, 2000. He was saluted as our first Person of the Year, an award we've since given annually to a county resident for his or her contributions to Hagerstown and Washington County.

He said at the time: "I'm very proud of our community. We have so much. I hope to do whatever I can do in a small way."

John Waltersdorf led an exemplary life and a full life. He tried to leave our community a better place than he found it.

He will be missed.

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