Washington -- During the five years that Silver Spring developer and philanthropist Homer Gudelsky was treated for bone cancer at the University of Maryland Medical Center, he was always digging into his pockets.
Named one of Regardie's "100 Richest People in Washington" before his death in 1989, he donated funds for oncology equipment there, for wheelchairs, for nurses' education, a library, even for Little League uniforms for a nurse's son's team.
And now, the family of Homer Gudelsky has picked up where the Baltimore-born businessman left off, donating $5 million -- the single largest gift ever to the University of Maryland -- for a new clinical tower at the Medical Center.
"We decided this would be an extension of my husband's wishes," said Martha Gudelsky, Mr. Gudelsky's widow who, along with their four children, is being honored tonight by the university at a dinner at the Science Center.
Mrs. Gudelsky, 69, who lives in the same home in Silver Spring that she and her husband moved to in 1950, says her husband had been misdiagnosed with arthritis until bone cancer was discovered at University Hospital in 1984. He received treatment there until his death.
University officials call the gift the "cornerstone" of a capital campaign that will be kicked off in the fall to raise $210 million for the medical center expansion.
When her husband set up the Homer and Martha Gudelsky Foundation in 1968, says Mrs. Gudelsky, "he primarily wanted most of the funding to go to the state which had been good to him and his family."
Indeed, the son of Russian immigrants, Homer Gudelsky was raised on a farm in Baltimore County where his father started a gravel business. In the 1930s, Homer and two brothers took over the business, opening a plant, Contee Sand and Gravel, in Laurel.
After serving in the Army in World War II, Mr. Gudelsky returned to Baltimore, married and then moved to Montgomery County. "There was a road between Baltimore and Laurel many years ago called Dead Man's Curve, where there were accidents all the time," recalls Mrs. Gudelsky. "I couldn't be married to him and have him leave home at 5:30 in the morning and not know when he'd return at night and have Dead Man's Curve in between."
So the couple settled in Silver Spring, where, in the postwar years, Mr. Gudelsky invested his profits from the gravel business into suburban real estate, eventually developing Wheaton Plaza and Tysons Corner shopping centers and selling land in Howard County for what would later become Columbia.
Mrs. Gudelsky says the family has always preferred to maintain a low profile, eschewing publicity and the social circuit and focusing on the community. "Their nearest and dearest friends were always the neighborhood group," says Rita Regino, the eldest of three daughters.
And although she donates her time and resources to various causes and institutions such as the Maryland College of Art & Design in Montgomery County, Mrs. Gudelsky says, "I help with things in a very back room kind of way."
The foundation has contributed to the University of Maryland before, for the construction of the Anna Gudelsky Magnetic Resonance Imaging Center, in memory of Mr. Gudelsky's sister, and the Avrum Gudelsky Veterinary Center at College Park, in memory of the Gudelskys' 31-year-old son who was killed in a motorcycle accident at the 1978 Grand Prix races in Canada.