Museum gift helps to preserve industry Heritage: Alonzo G. Decker Jr., son of one of Black & Decker's co-founders, has given $1 million to the Baltimore Museum of Industry.

November 16, 1996|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,SUN STAFF

Alonzo G. Decker Jr., a former Black & Decker chief executive who is endlessly fascinated with everything from milling machines to cordless screwdrivers, has donated $1 million to the city's chief repository of the remnants of its industrial past.

His gift to Baltimore Museum of Industry pushed the museum VTC over the top in its campaign to raise $3.5 million for its expansion and renovation. Fund raising began last year with a reception for 100 corporate heavyweights and, with Decker's gift, surpassed the goal by $300,000 as donations continue pouring in.

Nearly $3 million has come from the private sector, no small feat at a time when corporate donations have become increasingly elusive. Most of the remainder came from state bonds.

The renovation, about half complete, will add 10,000 square feet of exhibits, a 500-seat open air pavilion and an adjoining waterfront park at the southern end of the Canton-Locust Point harbor promenade.

Dennis Zembala, the museum's executive director, said the gift from the 88-year-old Decker, who is the son of one of Black & Decker Corp.'s co-founders, proved especially gratifying.

"Mr. Decker's gift means so much to us, because of who it comes from," Zembala said. "Here's a man who has worked in industry all his life, created thousands of jobs for others and now is giving back to preserve the heritage."

Decker started at Black & Decker in 1923 as a 14-year-old doing odd jobs on the shop floor and rose to head the world's biggest tool-making company from 1960 to 1972. Long before such companies as Home Depot and Hechinger's came on the scene, he played key roles in Black & Decker as it virtually invented the do-it-yourself market during the post-World War II boom years.

Decker, now honorary chairman of the Towson-based company, knew every job because he did every job -- from operating punch presses to overseeing development of the pioneering cordless power head, which was first used in a lunar drill to bore holes in the moon for samples.

"I've known success in my business, my career," Decker said in an interview. "But it didn't have to be as president or chairman. It could have been as an engineer, as a research technologist or a man on the line in the factory. It all depends on whether you're really dedicated to your job."

To honor Decker's gift, his name will be inscribed on a wall in the Maryland Milestones Exhibit, in the museum's main gallery. It features inventions and firsts that Marylanders have contributed to the world's industrial heritage. The exhibit includes a Black & Decker section highlighting the first hand-held drill, the prototype of most modern power tools.

The expansion and renovation will retain the 18-year-old museum's please-touch policy and its distinctly Baltimore flavor. A street scene will re-create a West Baltimore industrial area, with windows opening onto an alley between a garment and a printing shop.

Completion of the pavilion, expected by spring, will be one of the first of a dwindling number of projects expected to be completed during the year that Baltimore celebrates the bicentennial of its 1797 incorporation.

Pub Date: 11/16/96

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