Robert Ellsworth Romoser, 93, educator, craftsman

April 13, 1999|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Robert Ellsworth Romoser, a retired Polytechnic Institute teacher who built harpsichords in his basement, died Friday in his sleep at Hospice of the Chesapeake in Linthicum. He was 93 and lived in Pasadena.

From 1923 until his 1960 retirement, Mr. Romoser taught mechanics and thermodynamics at the school's North Avenue building, where, in 1952, he painted a mural as a memorial to Poly students killed in military action during World War II and the Korean conflict.

"He was the kind of teacher that [Poly Principal] Wilmer Dehuff reveled in," said William McClean, a retired Poly guidance counselor. "He was a serious chap, very technically oriented. He was interested in the capable, bright kid."

Born in West Baltimore in a German butchering neighborhood along Millington Lane on the banks of the Gwynns Falls, Mr. Romoser's family had a stall in Hollins Market, selling pork products.

A 1923 graduate of Poly, he was invited back as a teacher immediately after his senior year. He taught part time until 1931, when he earned a degree in mechanical engineering from the Johns Hopkins University.

He was a member of the Tau Beta Pi engineering fraternity.

"A stickler for detail, and a demanding teacher, he aroused respect bordering on awe. I cannot think of any other single person who exerted as significant an influence on me," wrote former student Frank H. Taylor in a 1979 letter to the editor of The Sun.

"Mr. Romoser instilled a feeling for workmanship, for objectivity, for humor in human dealings, and above all, a respect for absolute honesty in all aspects of life," wrote Mr. Taylor.

In 1960, Mr. Romoser began to feel that students were not as disciplined as he wished them to be and he took early retirement.

When the school moved from North Avenue to Falls Road, the alumni insisted that his war memorial be removed and taken to the new location. But it was never reinstalled.

In retirement, he devoted his energy to his hobby -- building harpsichords from scratch.

In a 1961 Sunday Sun magazine profile, he said: "I think the modern piano has been so overstrung and amplified."

So he built harpsichords -- harp-shaped musical instruments with wire-stringed keyboards -- in his basement.

Renowned for his technical ability and tenacity as a craftsman, he began a professional collaboration with Johns Hopkins mathematician Clifford Truesdell and his wife, Charlotte, in the 1960s.

Mr. Romoser studied the architectural books of 16th-century Italian architect Andrea Palladio and reproduced fine interior woodwork for the Truesdells' Guilford home.

"He was outrageously scrupulous over every detail in his life," said Mrs. Truesdell. "He was unusual. He had not traveled. He learned everything from books."

Mr. Romoser often worked long hours as he fashioned door casings and mantels, paneling and other fittings.

He also played the harpsichord at musicales the Truesdells presented for their friends and visiting Hopkins scholars, was a longtime member of Pro Musica Rara, Baltimore's early music ensemble that plays music on period instruments, and played with the Baltimore Baroque Ensemble.

Services for Mr. Romoser were conducted yesterday.

He is survived by a brother, Edward Romoser of Bradenton, Fla.; and nieces and nephews.

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