Owner of Ellicott City restaurant mourned Businessman died after crash in Savage

January 22, 1993|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

A black-ribboned wreath of magnolia leaves hung yesterday on the door of Only The Best restaurant in historic Ellicott City.

The owner, Dale R. Houck, died Monday at Greater Laurel-Beltsville Hospital, apparently of injuries he received after his car ran off the road along Interstate 95 in Savage.

"It was a shock to all of us," said Barry Gibson, president of the Ellicott City Business Association. "He always cooperated with us and was a very hard-working individual."

Merchants recalled Mr. Houck as a quiet, serious man, who operated one of the most successful restaurants in the area.

Mr. Houck walked away from the accident Monday and called his wife, Myra, from the office of a towing company in Laurel. But, his wife said, he collapsed in the office before she arrived to pick him up.

A spokeswoman for the state medical examiner's office said that a preliminary autopsy showed Mr. Houck died of a neck injury. Police were unable to provide details of the accident yesterday afternoon.

4 His sudden death is still a mystery to his wife.

"It doesn't make sense to me," said Ms. Houck, who spoke to her husband by telephone twice after the accident. "He didn't even tell me he was injured."

Ms. Houck said her husband told her that he fell asleep and wrecked the truck.

"Twelve to 14 minutes before I got there, he was face down on the office floor."

Ms. Houck described her husband as a dedicated worker.

The 41-year-old Elkridge resident was on his way to Vibra-Tech Engineers Inc. in Frederick, where he worked part time as a seismologist, when the accident occurred.

If he had survived, "I think he would have taken another car and kept going to Vibra-Tech," Ms. Houck said.

Mr. Houck, who lived in Howard County for more than 20 years, loved to explore caves, sail and ski. He was a founder of the Columbia Ski Club and a member of the Restaurant Association of Maryland. He also adored his seven cats.

He named one stray feline "Ellie," for Ellicott City, after finding her scampering up and down Main Street last spring.

"We found her in front of the restaurant, crying, crying," Ms. Houck said. "We brought her home. She trotted right beside us and jumped right in the car."

Born in Hanover, Pa., Mr. Houck was raised in Millers, Md. He was a 1969 graduate of North Carroll High School and a 1973 graduate of Towson State University.

In historic Ellicott City, news of Mr. Houck's death spread quickly.

"He was a very nice man. A very lovely person and a hard worker," said Annie Adams, who owns Annie's, a gift and card shop across the street from the restaurant, and made the magnolia wreath for Mr. Houck.

Ms. Adams said that she dined at Only The Best nearly every day. "I went there every Sunday for brunch, and he'd come over and sit down and talk with me."

Sometimes he delivered meals to her door free of charge, she said.

Mr. Houck's 3-year-old restaurant was one of the few successful ventures recently at 8167 Main St.

"He was one of the few people who had the fortitude to go in there and make it work," said Robert Costella, owner of E.C. Does It Cafe, who remembers two restaurants at the same address failing in as many years.

Last Friday, diners had to wait for up to an hour before they were seated, said Mr. Gibson, head of the business group.

"They were so swamped, Dale couldn't even come out," Mr. Gibson said.

Ms. Houck said she will reopen the restaurant Jan. 29 "with slightly different hours."

"The place was a labor of love for us," she said. "It will be hard for me without him, but I have a very supportive staff."

Ms. Houck, who has operated her own catering service for years, said she will continue to cook at the restaurant.

A memorial service will be at 3 p.m. tomorrow at the Owen Brown Village Interfaith Center, 7246 Cradlerock Way in Columbia.

Memorial donations can be sent to Alley Animals Inc., P.O. Box 27487, Towson, Md. 21285.

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