A man with a vision

Howard Kaylor's generosity touches many lives

December 31, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS |
  • Howard S. Kaylor has been named the Herald-Mail Co.'s 2011 Person of the Year. Kaylor's successful career as a local stockbroker, combined with a frugal lifestyle, put him in a position to donate a million dollars to the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts for an elegant glass-roofed atrium that opened in June bearing his and his wife's names.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

On the Saturday morning in the early 1930s when Howard S. Kaylor was introduced to the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, he had no way of knowing the role the museum would play in his life, or the important role he would play in the museum's evolution.

As a boy of 6 or 8, Kaylor joined a Saturday morning children's program in which youngsters were encouraged to copy the museum's paintings, often those of William H. Singer Jr., a landscape painter who, with his wife, Anna Brugh Singer, had founded the museum a few years before.

"I enjoyed it," Kaylor said. "I saved a couple of the pictures. I thought I might be president someday and they'd be very valuable."

Kaylor might not have become president of the United States, but his successful career as a local stockbroker, combined with a frugal lifestyle, put him in a position to donate a million dollars to the museum for an elegant glass-roofed atrium that opened in June bearing his and his wife's names.

In recognition of this and Kaylor's many other generous donations and service to his community, he has been named The Herald-Mail's Person of the Year for 2011.

"Howard has given both his time and treasure over the years in a manner which is both inspiring and daunting," wrote Brendan D. Fitzsimmons, one of 19 people who nominated Kaylor for the award. Fitzsimmons worked with Kaylor for more than 10 years at Ferris, Baker, Watts Inc., now RBC Wealth Management.

Kaylor, 85, is one of the founders of the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, has been in the Hagerstown Exchange Club for more than 50 years, and, with his wife, Anne, is a member of the Tocqueville Society, which recognizes those who have given $10,000 a year or more to United Way of Washington County.

Recently, he has made contributions to a new gymnasium for the Boys and Girls Club of Washington County, a new building for The Salvation Army and the expansion of Kepler Theater at Hagerstown Community College.

He has been a strong supporter of the Community Free Clinic of Washington County and has served on the boards of Zion Reformed United Church of Christ, Coffman Nursing Home and The Maryland Theatre.

"The late Mike Callas once stated that 'the world is run by people that just show up,'" Richard Whisner wrote in his nomination. "Our community is blessed that Howard Kaylor is one of the guys that always shows up."

A 'renaissance man'

Kaylor attributes his interest in helping the community in part to his father, Omer T. Kaylor Sr., a lawyer who served on the boards of organizations such as the YMCA and Washington County Hospital, and his mother, Mabel E. Slagen Kaylor, a teacher who was involved in the community.

A Hagerstown native, Howard Kaylor was born Dec. 20, 1926, in an upstairs bedroom of the same red brick house on West Irvin Avenue where he lives today.

"There was an epidemic at the hospital and the doctor suggested to my mother that she not go to the hospital," he explained.

Kaylor graduated from Hagerstown High School in 1944 and joined the Navy, serving as a mechanic and an aerial gunner during World War II.

He was discharged in 1946 and attended Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., graduating in 1950 with a Bachelor of Science degree in business. He also started law school there, but decided he didn't want to be a lawyer and returned to Hagerstown.

Kaylor didn't know what he wanted to do, but in those days, he said, "everybody worked at Fairchild." Kaylor was no exception, working at the airplane manufacturing company for two years.

"In those days, the Airport Inn was a big barn, and that's where all the young people went," he recalled. "They had dances out there, and it was quite a place."

It was there that Kaylor met Anne Ground. They were married in 1951 and celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in November.

They have three children, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

"Growing up, he had many, many interests," Kaylor's youngest daughter, Elizabeth Kaylor, said. "I really think of him as a renaissance man. He's very well-read, he's always had a great interest in history and astronomy, he loves antique cars, he's interested in the arts; he just really has embraced so many things and has really taken a hold of life."

Wilda Gift, a longtime friend of the Kaylors, described Kaylor as unassuming, funny and a true gentleman.

"He just truly is a person that you want to know," Gift said. "And you don't meet many people like that."

A successful career

Kaylor's brokerage career began in 1953, when he received a call from his friend John R. "Jack" Hershey — who had started as a broker about a year before — asking Kaylor to join him. Kaylor jumped at the chance.

"It's those little things that come along in a lifetime that change your whole life," Kaylor said. "I owe Jack a lot of thanks for giving me that call and giving me that opportunity."

Getting established as a broker wasn't easy, Kaylor said. Everyone he called in Hagerstown seemed to already have a broker, so he got in the car and drove to Frederick, then to towns like Woodsboro and Thurmont, and knocked on doors. In Thurmont, a jeweler invited him to have coffee with a group of local merchants, several of whom had never had a broker.

"So I ended up with a lot of accounts just by getting in the car and going down and coming back late in the afternoon," Kaylor said.

Kaylor remained in the brokerage business for 55 years, retiring in July 2008. Toward the end, he said, he went in only part time, delaying retirement because he enjoyed the work.

"I like the camaraderie in the office," he said. "I like my customers, a lot of whom became friends, and I still talk to some of them on the phone from time to time."

Although he did well financially, Kaylor avoided extravagance.

"I didn't build a million-dollar McMansion or anything," he said. "I lived the same level as my friends did. I didn't change friends."

When they were first married, Howard and Anne had an apartment downtown. Later, they bought an old farmhouse on Marsh Pike, where they lived until Kaylor's father died and his mother sold them the red brick house, building a smaller house for herself next door.

Kaylor counts himself fortunate to have never had a mortgage. Because the G.I. Bill paid for his college education, Kaylor was able to use the money his father put away for his education, along with money he and his wife had saved, to pay cash for their first home.

"I think in life, you have some luck and you also make your own luck, by hard work," he said.

Kaylor avoided borrowing money for other purposes, too. Although he loves cars, he has bought mainly used ones, and always with cash.

"I've never spent as much as I've earned," he said. "I don't pretend to be that bright, but you just can't help but put something away in 55 years."

Enriching the community

Kaylor said he likes to support the arts, youth programs and health-related causes.

In many cases, he said, his giving is inspired by seeing the way an organization changes lives, such as hearing a Boys and Girls Club alumnus speak about being the first in his family to graduate from high school or learning that a former resident of the San Mar home for adolescent girls had gone on to manage a soda plant.

The artistic institutions Kaylor supports also have an important role, he said.

"They enrich the community in a number of ways," Kaylor said. "Not only for enjoyment, but companies might be looking to move to Hagerstown and some of the people involved, the officers and so forth of the companies, might want to see, "What culture does Hagerstown have? Do they have a museum? Do they have an orchestra?' For a town of this size, we do have a lot of cultural activities."

The founders of the Maryland Symphony Orchestra had that vision in mind when they formed the group 30 years ago, Kaylor said.

"We were pretty presumptuous to call it the 'Maryland' Symphony Orchestra, and we wanted to do that," he said. "We thought that would give it much more recognition and importance."

At the museum, where Kaylor serves on the board of trustees, friends credit Kaylor with providing the vision as well as the financial support for a number of recent improvements.

"When they finished the (1994 addition to the museum), the garden out front was just kind of left in a mess, and nothing much was done to it," said Jeannette Rinehart, whose husband, Theron Rinehart, was then president of the museum board. "Howard saw that as an opportunity to contribute. He had done some gardening at his home and he was able to communicate with a designer of his garden, who was interested in doing the design for the museum garden."

The Kaylors donated more than $100,000 for the garden overlooking the lake, now a favorite spot for wedding and prom pictures.

Meanwhile, Kaylor continued to champion the idea of adding a roof to the 3,000-square-foot courtyard left at the center of the museum after the last addition.

"You could hardly ever use it," Kaylor said. "You couldn't plan ahead because it might rain, it might snow, it might be so hot that you don't want to be in there. So it got very little use."

The Kaylors' $1 million contribution was the lead gift that allowed the atrium project to move ahead, museum director Rebecca Massie Lane said.

"The atrium has become a hub of activity for the museum's special events, including the recent Treasure Sale, Halloween children's activities, and Autumn Arts Festival," Lane wrote in her nomination of Kaylor. "His philanthropy is far-reaching and will have great impact on the 50,000 people who annually visit the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts."

'An unsung hero'

When it comes to recognition for his contributions, Kaylor said he is embarrassed sometimes when a recipient makes a big fuss.

"I just don't want to make a big thing out of it," he said. "I don't give the money to say, 'Oh, he gave for this or that.'"

Rather, Kaylor said, he gives because he likes to do so.

"I've been fortunate and blessed to have done well with my investments, and I'm 85 now," he said. "Other than taking care of my kids, I may as well give this money away. I have no use for it."

Many of Kaylor's contributions have been made anonymously, nominators said.

"Howard is one to quietly give and ask for no publicity in return," Jerry Spessard wrote.

"He's sort of an unsung hero," Gift agreed.

Yet his contributions speak loudly to those they have touched and those they have inspired.

"Howard's quiet generosity has supported many who care for those who are marginalized," William P. Young Jr. wrote in his nomination. "And his generosity has spurred others to emulate his concern and his care for the most vulnerable."

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