Earl P. Zepp Jr., 78, Catonsville Little League organizer

April 13, 2005|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Earl Preston Zepp Jr., a retired insurance agent known as Catonsville's "Mr. Little League," died of congestive heart failure Friday at his home there. He was 78.

Born in his grandfather's Marriottsville farmhouse, he was raised there and in Randallstown. He was a 1945 graduate of Catonsville High School.

"He always loved baseball but could never play when he was in high school because of the long school bus ride home," said his son, Richard P. Zepp of Catonsville. "He was an athletic guy and knew a lot about sports without playing competitively as a youth. He just picked it up."

Shortly after his Navy service in World War II, Mr. Zepp moved to Catonsville, where his father, who worked in insurance, persuaded him to open an office of the Farm Bureau Insurance Co. - a precursor to Nationwide Insurance.

Mr. Zepp's agency, first located at his Prospect Avenue home, was known as Zepp Insurance. After moving the business with his home several times, Mr. Zepp retired from Nationwide in 2001.

He began working with the Catonsville Little League about 1956. He became known as "Mr. Little League" to the thousands of Catonsville children whose sports programs he helped run over the next 15 years. He also recruited team sponsorships from the old Wilton Farm Dairy, local painters and service clubs, his son said.

He coached basketball, baseball and football teams, set up player selection committees, rounded up dozens of coaches for all sports and raised money through an annual pancake breakfast at Catonsville United Methodist Church, where he was a member and where services were held Monday.

Family members said he designed and bought uniforms, purchased equipment, raked muddy fields before games, lined the baseball and football fields and built the snack shack - which is still located on the bottom field of the old Catonsville Junior High School, now a community center - on Bloomsbury Avenue.

He organized a trophy night at Westview Mall's auditorium after each football season. Mr. Zepp worked through his friend, Evening Sun sports writer Walter Taylor, to coax Colts players, including Lenny Moore, Bobby Boyd and Raymond Berry, to hand out the awards.

Mr. Zepp joined the Rolling Road Golf Club in the late 1960s and became president of its board. He raised funds to fence the property and rebuilt a pond on the second fairway with friends and relatives after Tropical Storm Agnes destroyed it in 1972. He also planted a fruit tree grove on the back of the course. Family members said he believed in raising money on a voluntary basis to keep members' dues from being increased.

A Mason, he had been a member of Palestine Lodge in Catonsville since 1965.

He and his wife of 53 years, the former Nancy Caroline Garner, were ballroom dancers at the old Gwynn Oak Park's Dixie Ballroom. They bowled in the same duckpin league at Westview for almost 30 years. She died in 1999.

Family members said Mr. Zepp had a desire to sail through the Panama Canal since World War II, when his ship was slated to make the trip but the war ended. Last month, accompanied by seven family members, Mr. Zepp boarded a ship at Fort Lauderdale to make the trip. The first night out, he became stricken with sepsis. He left the ship at Aruba and was flown to Baltimore for hospitalization.

In addition to his son, survivors include three other sons, Robert P. Zepp, James P. Zepp and Jeffrey P. Zepp, all of Catonsville; two daughters, Donna Lee Leister of Hunt Valley and Jenny L. Zepp of Catonsville; a sister, Elaine Thompson of Eldersburg; 12 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

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