Edward Rahll Sr., 97, dairy farmer

April 22, 2004|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Edward George Rahll Sr., a Harford County dairy farmer and leading Maryland produce wholesaler, died of a heart attack Sunday at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center. The lifelong Forest Hill resident was 97.

In a life that nearly spanned a century of change, Mr. Rahll remained rooted on his land -- the Forest Hill farm where he was born and raised, and which he tended all his working life.

Ensuring that the land would remain in agricultural use, he sold the development rights to Harford County, his family said.

As a boy, Mr. Rahll attended the two-room Youth's Benefit School in Fallston, and completed eighth grade. He knew early on his occupation would be farming.

In 1937, he married Madelyn Elizabeth Bittner of Northeast Baltimore. The couple had nine children, five of whom still live within "throwing distance" of the farm, said a daughter, Mary Patricia Pearl of Baltimore's Hamilton section. Mrs. Rahll died last year.

Mr. Rahll had a no-nonsense work ethic that never let up until he retired in his 70s, when he softened somewhat and found his greatest joy in spending time with grandchildren, relatives said.

Still, he continued some work, and at age 92 lost a leg in a tractor accident.

The youngest son, Robert Bittner Rahll of Forest Hill, said his father disapproved of "horseplay" and usually conducted business conversations with visitors from the seat of his tractor, unwilling to leave his fieldwork for a break.

In the 1950s, Mr. Rahll went to Wisconsin to buy 30 head of cattle that became his prized Holstein herd -- because, in his opinion, Holsteins were the best dairy cows to be found. He also developed one of the first modern milking parlors in the state, relatives said.

"Dairy farming was what Daddy loved to do," Mrs. Pearl said. "He tried to anticipate the needs of the future."

In 1951, Mr. Rahll established a one-man wholesale fruit and vegetable booth at the old Marsh Market at Market Place and Lombard Street in Baltimore. The modest enterprise grew to become Edward G. Rahll & Sons, a thriving family-run wholesale produce company.

Mr. Rahll balanced his two lines of work -- dairy farming and selling wholesale produce -- by functioning on five or six hours of sleep. After spending the day with his farm animals and dining with his large family, he would get to bed at 6:30 p.m. and rise in time to arrive at 1 a.m. at the market.

The company -- now operated by his sons, a son-in-law and grandsons -- is located at the Maryland Wholesale Produce Market in Jessup.

On Sundays, Mr. Rahll was often an usher at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Hydes. He also belonged to the Lions Club, Knights of Columbus, Maryland Farm Bureau and the Holstein Association of America.

A favorite weekend pastime, before the team was moved to Indianapolis, was watching the Baltimore Colts. He was a season ticket holder for the entire history of the football team here, and was known to buy an entire section of seats at old Memorial Stadium if the game warranted it, his family said.

He traveled to New York to see the Colts win the 1958 championship. He also enjoyed watching baseball and horse racing, and in his youth had been a champion at Maryland's official state sport -- jousting.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. today at St. John the Evangelist, 13305 Long Green Pike, with interment in the church cemetery.

In addition to his son and daughter, Mr. Rahll is survived by four other daughters, Frances Elizabeth Strahorn and Mary Ellen Phillips, both of Forest Hill, Nancy Peverley of Timonium and Joanne Michele Walter of Clarksville, Tenn.; three other sons, Thomas Edward Rahll of West Friendship and Edward George Rahll Jr. and Joseph Richard Rahll, both of Forest Hill; a sister, Marie Riley of Timonium; 31 grandchildren; and 25 great-grandchildren.

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