John W. Rach

Csx Executive Was A Church Organist And A Volunteer Financial Administrator For The Choral Arts Society

December 12, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen , fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

John W. Rach, a retired CSX executive and church organist who was also a longtime Baltimore Choral Arts Society volunteer, died Wednesday of prostate cancer at the Oak Crest Village retirement community. He was 87.

Mr. Rach, the son of a Koppers Co. designer and a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised in the city's Lake Montebello neighborhood.

After graduating from Polytechnic Institute in 1939, he earned a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from the Johns Hopkins University in 1943.

He served as an Army cartographer in Korea and Japan during World War II, and after being discharged at war's end, went to work for the B&O Railroad as a bridge designer.

Mr. Rach moved up through the ranks and eventually worked in the office of B&O President Howard E. Simpson, and later became director of costs and budgets for CSX, successor company to the B&O. He retired in 1986.

"John was part of the early core of folks that used statistical techniques to move the railroad into a new management era and continued on in similar areas in the finance department," said E. Ray Lichty, a retired CSX vice president.

"He was a solid citizen, not flashy, but took a factual approach to complex railroad operations," Mr. Lichty said.

Music had been a lifelong interest of Mr. Rach's, ever since he studied piano at Peabody Preparatory School in his early years. He later became a self-taught organist.

He was an active member and church organist at Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hamilton for 52 years, and he conducted the church's choir for the first 25 years of his church ministry.

The former Towson resident would on occasion fill in as church organist and continued playing the organ for pleasure until the end of his life.

In addition to his church work, Mr. Rach was a past president of the Lutheran Mission Society of Baltimore.

From 1982 until stepping down in 1997, Mr. Rach was a supporter of the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, where he served as the organization's financial administrator.

"John Rach's contributions to Choral Arts are unparalleled. He was our most dedicated and committed volunteer, giving unsparingly of his time and talent, and serving us with graciousness and humor for a long time," said Tom Hall, the Choral Arts Society's music director and a WYPR Radio personality.

"I admired the guy a lot. He was both a gentle man and a gentleman. He was quiet, self-effacing and unassuming," Mr. Hall said.

He said that Mr. Rach had taken care of the Choral Arts Society's books for years and came to the office three times a week for 15 years.

"He handled all of the payroll and taxes. It was an enormous help to a nonprofit, not having to pay for this work," Mr. Hall said.

He also credited Mr. Rach for bringing the organization's bookkeeping into the computer era.

He added that Mr. Rach was meticulous in his bookkeeping.

"He'd spend hours searching for an errant 32 cents, and I'd tell him that I'd give him the missing money, but he didn't work that way," Mr. Hall said, laughing.

He also praised Mr. Rach's musical abilities.

"He loved choral music and demonstrated it - Bach and Mendelssohn - and Lutheran church music in the great tradition of antiquity and modern times," Mr. Hall said. "He also had an abiding love of the Germanic classics of church music."

In addition to his engineering, financial and musical skills, Mr. Rach was also a watercolorist who favored painting landscapes.

"John really had a great artistic and imaginative side," Mr. Hall said.

George S. Wills, a semiretired Baltimore public relations executive and a watercolorist, became friendly with Mr. Rach at an art school in Rockland, Maine.

As a farewell gift for his work, the Choral Arts Society had presented Mr. Rach with a scholarship to study watercolors at the Maine art school.

"Originally, John said he couldn't paint the side of a house and at the beginning was quite nervous. But once he relaxed, he became an accomplished artist," said Mr. Wills. "We bonded and became great friends."

Friends and family looked forward to Mr. Rach's annual Christmas card that featured one of his watercolor landscapes, family members said.

Mr. Rach's wife of 41 years, the former Lenore Cassens, died in 1984.

Services for Mr. Rach will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday at his church, 4815 Hamilton Ave.

Surviving are a son, J. Stephen Rach of Chesterfield, Mo.; a daughter, Ellen Clayton of Phoenix, Baltimore County; and two grandchildren.

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