Frederick S. Eckhardt, 99, sailor, fencing champion, insurance agent


Frederick S. Eckhardt, an adventurer and former Maryland state fencing champion, died Friday of natural causes at the home of his daughter in Naples, Fla. The Glyndon resident was 99.

Mr. Eckhardt was a strong-willed, fiercely independent man who lived a life of action and achievement. After graduating from high school, he learned Morse code and ran away to sea, making 11 trips to Europe as a radio operator on commercial ships. He worked as an insurance agent for 67 years and taught Sunday school for about 40 years. He courted his wife, Nellie Pitts, by horse-drawn buggy. The couple were married for 75 years; Mrs. Eckhardt died a year ago.

"It was interesting being his son," said H. James Eckhardt of Upperco. Remarking on his father's frequent voyages to Europe, he said, "In those days, it was a big trip to go from Reisterstown to Baltimore -- and he went to Europe all those times."

A native of Reisterstown, Frederick Eckhardt graduated from Franklin High School in 1918 and attended a radio operator's school in New York. This led to jobs as a telegraph operator on commercial ships hauling freight to Europe.

After getting married and working briefly as a private detective in Western Maryland, Mr. Eckhardt moved back to the Baltimore area and began working as an insurance agent for Sun Life Assurance Co. He continued to lead an active life.

He was a Maryland state fencing champion in the 1940s, and later served as a fencing referee at the U.S. Naval Academy. He was a charter member and past president of the Reisterstown Kiwanis Club, past president of the Baltimore Orators Club and past president of the Crab Alley Fishing Club on Kent Island, where he kept his sailboat.

Through the orators club, Mr. Eckhardt became friends with some Of Baltimore's prominent politicians, including Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin, a former governor of Maryland and a former mayor of Baltimore.

Mr. Eckhardt taught Sunday school for four decades at Trinity Lutheran Church in Reisterstown -- the same church where he was baptized in 1900. He could quote his favorite poems by heart and he read several books a week, among them novels by Louis L'Amour. He was proud of the fact that in his 90s, he never had to wear reading glasses. But he did insist on doing things his own way.

"We would say 'Pop, how about getting a hearing aid?' "his daughter-in-law, Patricia Eckhardt, recalled. "He would say, 'I don't have a problem. You just don't speak loud enough.'"

"To me, he was an amazing person," said his son. "He looked after the family, but he did all these other things, too."

Mr. Eckhardt is also survived by his daughter, Jean W. McWilliams of Naples, Fla.; another son, the Rev. Fred P. Eckhardt of New Windsor; 16 grandchildren; and 27 great-grandchildren. Services will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Trinity Lutheran Church, 109 Main St., Reisterstown. Burial will be at St. Paul's Lutheran Church and Cemetery in Upperco.

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