Robert E. Voelkel Jr. dies at age 78

Former Mercantile-Safe Deposit mortgage chief also worked to find housing for the addicted in city neighborhoods

April 15, 2010|By Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun

Robert E. Voelkel Jr., who headed the old Mercantile Safe-Deposit and Trust Co.'s mortgage division and later worked in nonprofit housing for the addicted, died of cancer Tuesday at Gilchrist Hospice Care. The Roland Park resident was 78.

Born in Baltimore and raised in Hamilton, he attended St. Dominic's School and was a 1949 Loyola High School graduate. He attended the University of Maryland, College Park and Georgetown University before enlisting in the Air Force. He left military service as a lieutenant and earned a civil engineering degree at the Johns Hopkins University.

In 1953, he married Martha Alice Knott and several years later joined his father-in-law's business, Severn River Construction, owned by builder and philanthropist Henry J. Knott. Family members said he became Mr. Knott's "right-hand man" in his construction and development business.

Mr. Knott "had a brilliant mind and incredible concepts for building low-cost housing," Mr. Voelkel said of his father-in-law in a memoir. "His philosophy was there were more trash collectors than people wealthy enough to buy expensive housing. He and his superintendent spent two days visiting the operation of Levittown, N.J. Together they perfected that operation and produced thousands of housing units for sale and for rent in and around Baltimore City."

Mr. Voelkel said that his mentor, Mr. Knott, "impressed upon me the importance of giving back."

In the early 1970s, while he was president of the Home Builders of Maryland, Mr. Voelkel was hired by William McGuirk, Mercantile president, to set up a new banking division. He hired its staff and fostered its growth.

During his later years at Mercantile, he started building and developing multifamily housing in Waldorf and Columbia. He was an advocate of low- and moderate-cost housing.

After he retired from Mercantile, he wanted to do something with his time, and he started a jobs, housing and recovery program — JHR Inc. — a not-for-profit foundation, with headquarters on Oliver Street, that assists recovering substance abusers.

"Bob's passion was toward helping people get into recovery," said Thomas Hirsch, the group's board chairman who co-owns a Dundalk electrical contracting business. "He loved being down-to-earth with the guys in the program. With his strong faith, he wanted to have an impact on society while using his knowledge of real estate."

Mr. Voelkel also took over ownership of and renovated Carrington House in Walbrook, a transitional residence and clinical treatment center. In the 1980s, he bought and developed the Dembeigh Hill property along Lake Avenue in Baltimore County into housing.

"He believed in Roman Catholic education," said his son, R. Emmett Voelkel III of Lutherville. "My father provided numerous scholarships to needy students at Loyola Blakefield, Notre Dame Prep, St. Ignatius Academy and Archbishop Curley."

Mr. Voelkel also was on the development fundraising committee for Archbishop Curley last year and this year.

"He has been a real blessing to our school," said Barry Stitz, an Archbishop Curley official. "His energy was contagious, and he was always thinking of new ways and ideas that would benefit the school."

He was a youth league coach and a member of Baltimore Country Club, where he was a squash doubles champion. He enjoyed playing gin rummy and golf. He was a founding member of Roland Run Club and founded the Roland Park Squash Club in the old Girls' Latin gym off Roland Avenue.

A memorial Mass will be offered at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5200 N. Charles St.

In addition to his wife of nearly 57 years and his son, survivors include three other sons, J. Timothy Voelkel of Lutherville, Peter G. Voelkel of Raleigh, N.C., and T. Brent Voelkel of Chapel Hill, N.C.; two daughters, Carlisle V. Hashim of Towson and Marty Voelkel-Hanssen of Lutherville; a sister, Mary Agnes Gahan of Cockeysville; and 16 grandchildren.

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