Bernard Vondersmith, 61, professor of English, contractor-group official

August 16, 2005|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Bernard J. Vondersmith, a former university English professor and author who for the past two decades had been an executive with mechanical contracting trade organizations, died of laryngeal cancer Friday at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. The Timonium resident was 61.

Dr. Vondersmith was born in Baltimore and raised on Louise Avenue in Hamilton. He was a 1961 graduate of Loyola High School and earned a bachelor's degree in English in 1965 from Loyola College.

He earned a master's degree in English in 1967 and a doctorate in English Renaissance literature in 1971, both from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, and from 1968 to 1979 taught English and writing courses at Indiana State University in Terre Haute.

After returning to Baltimore in 1981, Dr. Vondersmith served as assistant commissioner of the state Board of Higher Education. Two years later, he became executive vice president of the Mechanical Contractors Association of Maryland -- a position he held until his death.

He was a co-founder in 1987 of COUNT -- Contractors and Unions Together -- and for a decade was executive director of the organization, whose goal is to encourage unity between labor and management.

He was also executive director of Associated Utility Contractors of Maryland from 1980 to 1989, and held a similar position with the Masonry Institute of Maryland from 1986 to 1997, when he became executive vice president of the Delmarva Mechanical Contractors Association.

Dr. Vondersmith was a trustee of various funds for Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 486 in Baltimore, and Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 782 in Seaford, Del. He also served two terms on the board of the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, and at his death was board secretary.

"Bernie was an amazing person and quite a character," said Brian A. Chapman, executive director of COUNT. "He was honest, even-tempered and forthright. He kept an open mind and had a knack for being able to work through complicated problems."

"He had a lot of arrows in his quiver and was truly an amazing fellow. The reason he was able to make the switch from academia was because his background was blue collar and he had an appreciation for where he came from," said Richard C. Frushell, a longtime friend and retired Penn State University faculty member.

"He was a clear and forceful thinker and also did a lot of writing for the association. He was also very good at contract negotiations and public relations. In other words, he was very good with the pen and his vocal cords."

Dr. Vondersmith's academic specialty was William Shakespeare and Edmund Spenser, the Renaissance English poet who wrote The Faerie Queen. Dr. Vondersmith was the co-author of Contemporary Thought on Edmund Spenser and Edmund Spenser: A Reference Guide. He also wrote numerous magazine articles on various subjects.

"He never really abandoned academia. Working for the mechanical contractors was his day gig. He had shops in both worlds," Mr. Frushell said. "He always had a book going, was a prodigious reader and a wonderful letter writer. He was an egghead in the best sense of the word."

Dr. Vondersmith had served on the boards of Baltimore City Community College, Towson University, the Baltimore Architecture Foundation and the Advertising and Professional Club of Baltimore.

Dr. Vondersmith was a communicant of Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ Roman Catholic Church, 20 E. Ridgely Road, Timonium, where a Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated at 10 a.m. tomorrow.

Survivors include his wife of 39 years, the former Mary Jo Matricciani; three daughters, Laurie A. Collacchi of Parkton, Amy L. Czyz of White Marsh and Bridget M. Heckel of Carney; his mother, Margaret Vondersmith of Parkville; a brother, Thomas L. Vonder- smith of White Marsh; a sister, Mary Margaret O'Hare of Carney; and six grandchildren.

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