Michael G. Holofcener, 74, fostered civil rights, sold sporting goods

October 13, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Michael G. Holofcener, a retired sporting goods merchant who in 1963 briefly served as chairman of Baltimore County's Human Relations Commission and openly clashed with County Executive Spiro T. Agnew over his lack of support for the commission's civil rights initiatives, died of cancer Saturday at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. The Sparks resident was 74.

Mr. Holofcener was born in Flushing, N.Y., and as an infant moved with his family to Baltimore's Forest Park section. He was a 1948 graduate of City College and earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Maryland in 1952.

After graduating from the University of Maryland School of Law and serving in the Army for two years, he returned to Baltimore in 1957 and took over his father's Pikesville insurance brokerage.

In the early 1960s, Mr. Holofcener headed the Citizens Committee for Good Government. Later, he was president of the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce and the Planning Council for Greater Pikesville.

Mr. Agnew created the 11-member Human Relations Commission in July 1963, with Mr. Holofcener as chairman, a week after tense demonstrations and arrests began at Gwynn Oak Amusement Park in Woodlawn.

Under Mr. Holofcener's guidance, the commission helped the park's owners reach an agreement that resulted in its integration on Aug. 28, 1963.

"The commission was born into the Gwynn Oak crisis and baptized under its tense negotiations," Mr. Holofcener told The Evening Sun at the time. "Recognizing the significance of Gwynn Oak's successful integration as a matter of precedent and recognizing the stake of the community in such a project, we hope everyone will lend his full support to this noteworthy project."

During his tenure, the commission made strides in ending discrimination in the county in housing, employment and service establishments, including bars and restaurants.

"As Mr. Holofcener has seen the function of the commission, it is not merely to meet the relatively few racial problems that have arisen in the county but to prepare the county for the coming of more Negro residents, job seekers and patrons of services and amusement places," an editorial in The Sun said.

"It was after the Gwynn Oak settlement that relations between my father and Agnew soured," said a son, Richard M. Holofcener of Reisterstown.

"According to Agnew at the time, the commission was going too far, too fast. Under my father's direction, the commission directed its attention toward open housing and desegregation of swimming pools, while Agnew wanted a less aggressive approach. Business leaders who controlled the housing, for instance, didn't want them to be dictated to by the commission and put pressure on the county executive."

By November, a dispute erupted between Mr. Holofcener and Mr. Agnew, the future governor and vice president, who called for his resignation, noting his "overly aggressive attitude" and failure to "mold the commission into a cohesive force for the accomplishment of its purpose."

Richard Holofcener said his father "remained as commission chairman until the end of 1963 and even endured threats on his life and the lives of his family. He received telephone calls threatening to bomb him and his children.

"He was feisty and not afraid of making enemies. He always spoke his mind and wasn't afraid of going against the grain when dealing with people. He left the commission at the end of his term in 1964 and never returned to public life."

When Mr. Holofcener resigned as chairman of the commission, an editorial in The Evening Sun said, "He has, by his own lights, served a vital cause conscientiously and diligently. He has recognized, properly, that if disruptive mass demonstrations are to be avoided, the commission must show a record of accomplishment," lamenting that "the man who has led the fight should have to be asked to turn over the commission to another."

In 1968, Mr. Holofcener left the insurance business and established Edge Set, a retail ski and sporting goods store on Padonia Road in Timonium, which he operated until he retired in 1998.

A skiing enthusiast who until recent years enjoyed the sport on the slopes of Vail, Colo., he was host of Sports in Season, a radio talk show on WCAO-AM radio, during the late 1960s.

Mr. Holofcener continued to enjoy tennis, golf and inline skating, and spent winters at a second home in Naples, Fla.

Services are private.

He is survived by another son, Edward A. Holofcener of Reisterstown; a brother, Lawrence Holofcener of Normandy, France; a sister, Dorothy Totz of Adelphi; and four grandchildren. His marriages to the former Ruth Glick and Randy Rowe ended in divorce.

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