Kimbel E. Oelke, 80, longtime publisher of Dundalk Eagle and community booster

August 04, 1998|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Kimbel E. Oelke, publisher of the Dundalk Eagle, died Sunday of a heart attack while attending Mass at St. Rita Roman Catholic Church in Dundalk. He was 80.

Mr. Oelke, a well-known figure in eastern Baltimore County, was a seasoned newspaper reporter and editor when the unthinkable happened one day.

He woke up one morning and noticed his name missing from the mastheads of Dundalk's Community Press and the Eastern Beacon, where he had worked for 31 years.

He had complained when the newspapers began expanding and turning away from local news coverage, and the owner, Stromberg Publications, demoted him to advertising manager of the Essex Times, another of the chain's newspapers.

Disgruntled, he quit. He was in his early 50s and had a wife and 11 children to support.

He and his wife took a gamble. They took their savings and started their own newspaper.

The Dundalk Eagle, a tabloid, arrived on May 15, 1969. Its slogan was "Of The People, By The People, For The People."

In a front-page editorial, Mr. Oelke wrote, "I am firmly convinced that there is a need for a paper in the greater Dundalk area continually cognizant of the needs and desires of the people and the local businesses."

The paper sold for 10 cents a copy and subscriptions were a $1 a year. It has grown from 500 subscribers to a paid circulation of 24,000 and a staff of 20.

For many years, Mr. Oelke wrote most of the newspaper copy and was a familiar figure in courtrooms, police stations and firehouses. Tipsters kept his phones ringing.

The paper was homespun and covered Dundalk and its environs in great detail. Mr. Oelke's appetite for Dundalk minutiae was insatiable.

One of Mr. Oelke's space-saving tricks, which gave his newspaper a particularly distinguishing if not unusual look, was his use of ampersands -- "&" -- instead of the word "and" in copy.

"The Eagle is more family-like than at most places," said Wayne ** Laufert, who was hired as a reporter in 1986 and was named editor in 1996.

"That's due to the personalities of Mr. and Mrs. O. Most of us think of them as grandparents. They treated a group of 20 or more people to Christmas dinner every year and hosted summer parties where we ate crabs and played softball."

Mr. Laufert described Mr. Oelke as "a very warm person" who had "difficulty saying 'no' to people. He was very accommodating and it was one of his most endearing qualities."

Deborah I. Cornely of Dundalk, a daughter and the paper's managing editor, said, "He was the kind of man who was very humble. He never bragged about his accomplishments, but most of all tried to give everyone an even break."

Deeply involved in the community, Mr. Oelke led the efforts to establish the Dundalk Library, the Dundalk Chamber of Commerce, the Dundalk Association of Businesses and the Greater Dundalk Sports Hall of Fame.

Mr. Oelke, a soft-spoken man who had a penchant for green eyeshades and big King Edward cigars, was born in Louisville, Ky. When he was seven, his family moved to Dundalk, when his father was transferred there by American Standard, the maker of plumbing fixtures.

The 1935 graduate of Sparrows Point High School once dreamed of becoming a major-league baseball player, but his hitting failed him. In 1938, he became sports editor of the Community Press.

"When I was in high school, I had two ambitions: To be a baseball player and to be a newsman," he told the Dundalk Eagle on the newspaper's 25th anniversary.

After serving with the Navy in the Pacific during World War II, he returned to the Press and was promoted to editor.

Studying at night, he earned a law degree from the University of Baltimore Law School.

Services will be held at 8: 30 p.m. today at the Duda-Ruck Funeral Home of Dundalk, 7922 Wise Ave.

He is survived by his wife, the former Mary Georgina Jarboe, whom he married in 1946; three sons, Timothy Oelke of New Freedom, Pa., James A. Oelke of Corpus Christi and Andrew P. Oelke of Seattle; seven other daughters, Kim E. Boone of Dundalk, Barbara E. Oelke of Monkton, Elizabeth A. Oelke of Fawn Grove, Pa., Mary Jane Oelke of White Marsh, Suzanne C. Oelke of Seattle, Amy K. Christensen of Upperco and Kerry A. Raszewski of Monkton; a sister, Virginia Becker of Dundalk; 16 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Pub Date: 8/04/98

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