William A. Stansbury, 94, carpenter who produced elaborate retail displays

April 22, 1999|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

William Alexander Stansbury, a retired Highlandtown carpenter who was his church's organist for 45 years, died Monday of cancer at the Masonic Home of Maryland in Cockeysville. He was 94.

For five decades, his woodworking was visible along Baltimore's premier shopping thoroughfare -- Howard Street -- where he made thrones for Santa Clauses and latticework pergolas as backgrounds for springtime-attired mannequins.

A member of the carpenter's union, he worked throughout the city and was called upon to produce elaborate seasonal displays, cabinets and counters for the city's retailing giants of the 1930s through the 1950s.

"He built the crystal department for Stewart's on York Road. He received many compliments on his workmanship," said John V. Lentz, a family member. "He wasn't a heavy nail-pounding carpenter. He was the man you hired to do the fancy work, the finishing jobs."

Many of his projects -- including a North Pole Santa's seat -- were placed in the plate-glass windows of May Co., later Hecht Co., at Howard and Lexington streets.

Born at Carson's Run near Aberdeen, he moved to Curley Street as a child and lived in the Highlandtown rowhouse for 73 years.

On Sunday mornings, he walked three blocks to St. Paul Lutheran Church, where he dressed in a black cassock and white surplice and took his place in the choir loft.

"Carpentry was the way he earned his living, but his real heart was in accompanying the church choir. He enjoyed working with the young singers," said Naomi Gieser, a retired St. Paul parish worker who lives in Essex. "He had his limitations as an organist -- he wasn't a concert organist -- because he'd often have a Band-Aid on his finger from where he'd hit it with a hammer."

As a young man, be began organ lessons at the Peabody Conservatory of Music so he could play religious music. He sang in and directed the senior and youth choirs at his church for many years. He was an officer in the church's Men's Group and was a chaperon on bus trips for the parish's Young People's Society. He also taught Sunday school.

"I don't know anyone who visited more shut-ins. He would just pop in and visit the sick," Mrs. Gieser said.

At age 37, he enlisted in the Navy and served with the Seabees as a carpenter in Alaska, Hawaii, Guam and Okinawa. He was discharged in October 1945 with the rank of chief petty officer.

Mr. Stansbury was a member of the Highland Lodge of the Masonic Order. This month, he was presented with his 70-year pin at a ceremony at Bonnie Blink, the Masonic retirement home, where he moved in 1982.

He is survived by a niece, Shirley Lentz of Timonium.

Funeral services will held at 11 a.m. today in the Bonnie Blink Chapel, 300 International Circle, Cockeysville.

Memorial contributions may be made to St. Paul Lutheran Church, 141 S. Clinton St., Baltimore 21224.

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