Robert C. Altenburg, owner and president of Altenburg Funeral Home in Hamilton, died Thursday at Good Samaritan Hospital of complications from a heart condition. He was 76.
For years, Mr. Altenburg combined business with good works, splitting his time between his company and volunteer projects.
When he learned of poor families who had lost a child, he was known to come to the rescue, said his daughter, Darlene Altenburg of Baltimore. She recalled one struggling couple whose 18-month-old baby died of a congenital defect and another whose 2-month-old infant died last year.
In such cases, she said, her father "paid for the grave, paid for everything. He would give the shirt off his back if he saw someone in need."
The stereotype of the somber mortician was probably lost on him, his daughter said. He loved movies, comedies in particular, and it was all the better if Jerry Lewis or Red Skelton was on the screen.
And after 57 years of marriage to the former Virginia Catherine Crutchfield, Mr. Altenburg still showed a romantic side, purchasing a lovebird for his wife a few months ago. For his funeral, he had arranged to have a dozen roses placed at the head of his casket with no card, an intimate acknowledgement of their special song, "One Dozen Roses." Why no card? The answer is a secret "that's between the two of them," said his daughter.
Active in numerous civic and professional organizations, he served on the board of directors of the J.F. Wiessner Home for Children. In 1969, he received a civic humanitarian citation of honor from the Jameson Bible Institute in Philadelphia.
He also was president of the Maryland State Funeral Directors Association Inc. from 1979 to 1980. In subsequent years, he continued to serve on the group's advisory council. He belonged to the National Funeral Directors Association and the Maryland State Automobile Association.
Born in Baltimore, Mr. Altenburg attended city public schools. He left school in the eighth grade to support his family.
He was introduced to the funeral business by his aunt and uncle, Howard and Mildred Blight, of Blight Funeral Home in Baltimore. Over the years, he tried other careers as well.
From 1947 to 1951, he served as a patrolman and later as a motorcycle officer in the Baltimore Police Department's Eastern District. After that, he opened a detective service known as Civil Investigation Agency Inc. But after receiving a funeral director's license in 1949, he began concentrating on that profession full time.
When the Blight Funeral Home merged with the William Cook funeral establishment, he became manager of the William Cook Mansion facility at St. Paul and Preston streets. Eventually it became the Altenburg Funeral Home, which operates as an independent, family-owned funeral home.
A life member of Liberty 219 A.F. & A.M. Masonic lodge since 1945, Mr. Altenburg also was active in the Shriners of the Baltimore Boumi Temple. He entered the York Rite degree of the lodge in 1945 and was director of the Boumi Temple directors staff from 1967 through 1968.
Funeral services will be held at noon today at the Calvary Tabernacle, 6008 Old Harford Road.
In addition to his wife, whom he met while serving in the Army Air Forces during World War II, and his daughter, survivors include a son, R. George Altenburg, and another daughter, Carol L. Vollmerhausen, both of Baltimore; two brothers, Howard N. Altenburg of York, Pa., and Frank J. Altenburg of Jarrettsville; and three grandsons.