Nicholas VanSant, 70, retired ad agency head

July 31, 1994|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Sun Staff Writer

Nicholas VanSant, retired president and chairman of the board of VanSant Dugdale & Co. Inc., one of the oldest advertising agencies in the country, died Thursday of cancer at his home in Towson. He was 70.

Mr. VanSant, a 35-year veteran of the company, retired in 1983. While he was president, the company maintained national accounts with clients such as USF&G, Black & Decker and Martin Marietta.

Mr. VanSant joined the firm, founded by his father, Wilbur VanSant, in 1948 as a service assistant after graduating from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. He worked in various departments before joining management.

He served as a senior account executive, vice president and a member of the board of directors before assuming the firm's presidency in 1973. In 1980 he became chairman of the board.

"Wilbur was a pioneer in the business, and Nick carried on the traditions his father started," said Kenneth E. Mayhorne, who was chairman of the board when the 77-year-old firm merged with Gray Kirk in 1991.

Wilbur VanSant founded his advertising agency in Philadelphia in 1912 and moved it to Baltimore in 1914 to merge with H. Kirkus Dugdale. The firm grew to be one of the largest agencies in Baltimore with a reputation for high standards and principled business practice. The younger Mr. VanSant was careful to maintain that reputation, his colleagues said, as the firm's volume of business swelled in the late '70s and early '80s.

"VanSant had a reputation of treating its people very well. It had the best list of corporate clients in the city for a long time," said Daniel Loden, who preceded Mr. VanSant as chairman and was a friend for more than 30 years.

Mr. Loden said Mr. VanSant was known for his expertise in direct mail advertising.

One of his biggest accounts was National Radio Institute, one of the world's largest correspondence schools.

Mr. VanSant also supervised "American Lifestyles," a syndicatefilm series about the lives of famous Americans that was shown in schools across the country by USF&G. The series won first prize in several national film festival competitions and ran a number of years with popular TV personalities as hosts.

"He was something of a renaissance man, like his father," Mr. Loden said.

"He had wide interests, and knew a lot about many things. It was part of his charm and why he was such a good public speaker."

Born in 1924 in Baltimore, Mr. VanSant attended McDonough School. He interrupted his college education during World War II to enlist in the Army. He served in Europe with the Corps of Engineers and as a liaison to the British army. When the war ended, he returned to Cornell, where he graduated in 1947 with a degree in economics.

In 1948, he married Harriette Procter, a Towson native. They had four children. In the 1960s he and his wife became certified scuba divers and got the whole family interested in the sport, said daughter Katherine P. Criswell of Timonium.

"As a family we spent a lot of time at the beach and around the water," she said. Mr. and Mrs. VanSant took diving vacations annually, first off the coast of North Carolina and later in the Caribbean and off Mexico. Harriette VanSant died in 1989.

In 1990, Mr. VanSant married Helen Knapp Donegan.

Mr. VanSant had served as a president of the Kiwanis Club of Baltimore, the Baltimore Association of Retarded Citizens and the Lady Maryland Foundation (now the Living Classrooms Foundation.)

In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by two sons, Nicholas P. VanSant, of Great Barrington, Mass., and Craig G. VanSant, of Baltimore; another daughter, MaryPat VanSant-Parker of Millers; two stepsons, Art and Phillip Nolen; and eight grandchildren;

Friends may call at the Ruck Towson Funeral Home, 1050 York Road, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. tomorrow. Burial will be private.

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