John Louis Vordemberge, 64, owner of Baltimore saddlery, horseman

September 30, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

John Louis Vordemberge, former owner of a venerable Baltimore saddlery that outfitted area horsemen for more than a century, died Saturday of congestive heart failure at University of Maryland Medical Center. He was 64.

Mr. Vordemberge, who was known as Jack, was born in Baltimore and raised in Catonsville. He was a 1958 graduate of McDonogh School, where he was captain of the cavalry and trained with the U.S. Olympic team. He served in the early 1960s in the Army as a computer specialist at the Pentagon.

After earning a bachelor's degree in animal husbandry in 1969 from the University of Maryland, College Park, Mr. Vordemberge joined Vordemberge Saddlery Inc. - the third generation of the family in the business established in 1886 by his grandfather, Louis Matthew Vordemberge, at Howard and Madison streets.

It faithfully kept the families associated with Maryland racing supplied with saddles, boots, coats, bridles, tack and other equine necessities.

"Grandfather's business grew so much in that first year that it justified a move to larger quarters at 816 Madison Ave. at Biddle. Here, the store with the life-sized gray papier-mache horse in the window would be a landmark for the next 91 years," Mr. Vordemberge said in a 1986 Maryland Horse magazine profile.

Louis Vordemberge purchased the dappled gray horse, named Frosty Morn, and had it shipped here from Cleveland. Every day, Jack Vordemberge continued a tradition by putting it outside "so folks would know the store was open," said his wife of 35 years, the former Charlotte "Boo" Eidschun.

"Some days Jack covered the horse with a blanket or racing silks. He loaned it to the B&O Museum and it made appearances at President Jimmy Carter's inauguration and City Hall," she said.

Mr. Vordemberge later donated Frosty Morn to the Maryland Historical Society.

"My brother and I, who were aspiring steeplechase riders, used to go into the old Madison Avenue store and look around at saddles and tack. It was long and narrow and I remembered that it smelled of old leather. It was just full of it," said Charles Fenwick Jr., who later became a champion steeplechase rider. "It really was a throwback to the old days."

In 1974, Mr. Vordemberge opened a branch store on Greenspring Drive in Timonium, and moved all operations there in 1978.

Mr. Vordemberge's business philosophy was simple: He urged customers to take home and use his products before they paid for them.

"Much of what I use in this business is pure animal science. There is so much that has to relate directly to the particular horse and his needs. For this, I have to throw out the computer side of the business and depend on what I know from experience is right," he said in the Maryland Horse article.

"It would be nice to think that if you buy a certain model by a certain maker, the tack will be the same, but the truth is that there is so much finish work, hand work, that each saddle or bridle or whatever can be different ... and wrong," he said.

"Jack was a good guy who loved horses and being involved with horse people. He was also good at making and fixing tack. If you ever needed something fixed, he'd do it right away. The customers just loved him," Mr. Fenwick said.

"He loved the business because it was a challenge and he had to be creative. No two days were ever alike," Mrs. Vordemberge said.

After closing the business in 2000, Mr. Vordemberge became a cashier for Valley Motors Inc.

He was named Maryland Horse Council Horseman of the Year in 1998, and Maryland Horse Shows Association's Horseman of the Year in 1999.

Mr. Vordemberge was a communicant of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, 11856 Mays Chapel Road, where services will be held at 10 a.m. today.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Vordemberge is survived by two sons, John M. "Tacker" Vordemberge of Fayetteville, N.C., and Louis T. Vordemberge of Delaware City, Del.; a sister, Barbara V. Benjovsky of Fort Belvoir, Va.; and a granddaughter.

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