Benjamin C. Kohlhafer, 88, founder of athletic club

March 01, 2000|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Benjamin Carroll Kohlhafer, who founded a Southwest Baltimore boys athletic club, died Thursday of cancer at Oak Crest Village Care Center. He was 88 and had lived on Marydel Avenue in Irvington.

From the 1940s through the 1960s, he organized sports teams for children in the Irvington and Yale Heights neighborhoods. When other fathers didn't have time to help, he coached, umpired and kept score at the same time.

"He was an energetic man who was so good for the youth in the neighborhood," said Patrick Hannon, a Catonsville resident who played on his teams in the 1950s. "We passed the hat and held raffles to buy the equipment."

Born in Baltimore, Mr. Kohlhafer was raised on Byrd Street and attended public schools. As a young man, he began wrestling at the Germania Turn Verein, a gymnasium and athletic club in the 1800 block of Gay St.

A solidly built, slim man, he won several South Atlantic Championships in wrestling in the 1920s and 1930s. He also competed at the Central YMCA at Franklin and Cathedral streets. He was a founding member of the Maryland Wrestling Officials Organization.

In the early 1930s, after he had moved to Irvington, he began working at Western Electric Co.'s Point Breeze plant. A manager in the the coaxial cable-making department, he retired after 42 years.

Family members recalled that he never missed a day of work and that he did not own a car until he was in his 60s.

"He worked the night shift and rode the No. 8 streetcar to work and made all sorts of transfers downtown," said his son, Alan W. Kohlhafer, a coach in the Anne Arundel County school system who lives in Arnold.

Mr. Kohlhafer founded the Irvington Boys Club in the 1950s as a way of focusing attention on wholesome sports. He organized softball, baseball, basketball, football and wresting teams.

"He was a good disciplinarian," his son said. "He believed that discipline was fundamental to life."

Most of his games were played on Slentz Field, a city-owned lot adjacent to Mount St. Joseph High School, where his teams occasionally used the gym.

The teams often were composed of members of large Irvington families -- the Hannons, the Batemans and the Nevells. When he didn't have enough players for football games, he came up with a six-player version.

"My father's big day was when he organized a game against Boys' Latin," his son said. "They had helmets and real equipment. We had what we could find and still won."

At the end of each season, he held a sports banquet at Heinze's delicatessen on Frederick Avenue. Prizes were small trophies or silver dollars.

In the 1960s, he turned his attention to the Yale Heights Boys Club, another Southwest Baltimore organization.

In 1935, he married Irma Weil, who died in 1985. In 1989, he married Doris Fosler, who survives him and lives in Parkville.

Funeral services were held Monday at Christ Lutheran Church, where he was a member and taught the men's Bible class for 20 years and sat on the church council.

He also is survived by another son, Richard C. Kohlhafer of Arnold; a stepdaughter, Janice Clark of Cleveland; a brother, George Kohlhafer of Baltimore; two sisters, Elnora Hofmann of Chicago and Edna Fortman of Pasadena; seven grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter.

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