$600,000 to alter life of parish Ex-parishioner's gift is 4 times the budget of St. James' church

September 21, 1997|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

W. Dana Rudy spent his adult life in Westminster and Baltimore. But he never forgot his small hometown church, St. James' Episcopal Church in Mount Airy.

In his will, the retired state motor vehicles administrator left more than $600,000 to the Main Street parish -- four times the 125-member church's annual budget.

When the estate's trustee called the Rev. Robert D. Herzog to tell him about the bequest, the startled rector had to call him back and ask the trustee to repeat the message.

"We have started to realize the enormity of the impact it's going to have," Herzog said. "I think it will change the life of the congregation."

First, the church is planning a Nov. 9 service and a reception, where people who knew Rudy or his parents, Walter R. and Laura V. Rudy, can share their recollections and help others to understand why Dana Rudy chose St. James' for his bequest.

"I'm so glad there's going to be a party because if anyone loved a party, it was Dana," said Helen "Betty" Burgard of Eldersburg, goddaughter of M. Elizabeth Rudy, Dana Rudy's second wife.

Notice of the bequest came in April. Church officials may take a year to decide how to use the money, using a collegial process of suggestions from church members and recommendations from a committee.

The money is only symbolic, Herzog said. He quoted a conversation he had with Marshall McLuhan on the subject. Money, the Canadian media expert told the rector, is merely the ability to open and close your fist.

"We want to take our time and look beyond the money," Herzog said. "A lot of people here feel it's not really our money, it's not really Mr. Rudy's money. It belongs to God."

St. James' is largely made up of young families, newcomers to Mount Airy. Herzog wants them to learn about the young man who was baptized in St. James' church at the turn of the century, grew up in a Victorian house across the street and helped his father in Walter Rudy's two enterprises, the post office and a pharmacy on North Main Street.

"Ninety-seven percent of this congregation doesn't know who he is," Herzog said. "I don't want to start talking about what to do with his money until we know who he is."

Rudy died in 1983 of cancer at his apartment on East University Parkway in Baltimore. He was 85. He left his stocks, valued at the time at $370,000, in trust for his widow. When she died in April, the stocks, which had nearly doubled in value, went to the church. Rudy set no conditions except to request a small plaque commemorating the bequest in memory of his parents.

Why he left the money to St. James' is his secret, but the Rev. Austin Schildwachter, his rector at Ascension Episcopal Church in Westminster and later at St. John's-Huntingdon in Baltimore, said Rudy wanted to ensure that the church would continue.

Friends and family members remember Rudy as a warm, outgoing man with a lively sense of humor. He was "movie-star handsome," said his cousin, Margaret Miller of Frederick.

Rudy graduated from Mercersburg Academy, a south-central Pennsylvania preparatory school, in 1916. He entered Lehigh University but left after two years to enlist in the Naval Air Corps in World War I. When the war ended, he moved to Westminster and opened a car dealership. He married a Westminster woman, Mabel Weant.

In 1935, Walter Rudy, who had become Maryland commissioner of motor vehicles, appointed his son as the first circuit-riding hearing examiner for license revocations. He traveled to county courthouses around the state for hearings.

"He would talk about going to Salisbury or going up to Frostburg," Miller said. "I think he enjoyed it."

Walter Rudy died in 1939. His niece, Nancy Rudy Alexander, recalls him as a quiet man, a staunch Republican whose mantel was covered with little elephant statues.

Dana Rudy became deputy commissioner of motor vehicles in 1951. His first wife died in 1952. Rudy moved to Baltimore four years later.

At the then-Department of Motor Vehicles, he met M. Elizabeth McCloskey, a bright, career-oriented woman, the first female to head the DMV's traffic division.

McCloskey , a beautiful woman, dated many men but never became serious about any until she met Rudy, Burgard said. He was in his 60s and she in her 50s when they married.

The couple lived well, Burgard said. They traveled extensively and usually dined out. "Dana would say, 'Betsy, I didn't marry you to have a cook,' " Burgard recalled.

Rudy remained active as long as his final illness allowed, Burgard said.

"He thought how best to leave his money," she said. "He loved his parents, and Dana said he wanted to return the money whence it came, and he thought the church would be the most trustworthy [recipient]."

The bequest will help St. James' move into its future, in the view of Dr. Robert J. Meyer, senior warden.

"I think we're in a community that is probably growing as fast as many in Maryland," Meyer said. "We all sense that St. James' is in transformation."

Pub Date: 9/21/97

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