Charles J. Levin Jr., Bendix engineer, dies

Longtime Towson resident was an accomplished musician and also a fan of trains and boats

  • Charles J. Levin Jr.
Charles J. Levin Jr.
March 18, 2011|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Charles J. Levin Jr., a retired Bendix Radio engineer who continued enjoying outdoor adventures toward the end of his life, died March 10 of heart failure at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. He was 97.

Mr. Levin was born at home in Forest Park and raised in Round Bay on the Severn River. He was a 1932 graduate of Polytechnic Institute.

"His father was a Russian immigrant who taught mandolin and performed in many mandolin ensembles in the Baltimore area," said Deborah S. Frank of Towson, his companion of 15 years. "He was also a partner in the Hamman-Levin Co., a music company. His mother was an accomplished pianist who performed in Baltimore and Atlantic City."

Mr. Levin was interested in electronics from an early age, and after graduating from high school, he worked for General Radio Service on Howard Street, where passers-by watched him sitting in a store window repairing radios.

During the late 1930s, he went to work for the Henry Berman Co. producing studio recordings, and then joined Liberty Motors & Engineering Corp. in Baltimore, which manufactured depth indicators and performed acoustical research for the Navy.

During World War II, when his brother served in the Navy, Mr. Levin was granted a military deferment because he was the sole support for his widowed mother and because his work at the engineering company was deemed vital to the war effort.

In 1952, he went to work as an electrical engineer at Bendix Radio on East Joppa Road in Towson, where much of his work centered on the development of the company's line of color television sets.

He retired in 1987.

In later years, even though he had not earned a bachelor's degree, what was then Essex Community College hired him to teach electronics and computer programming, said Ms. Frank. He also installed and maintained intercoms and performed maintenance work on the automatic pin-setting equipment at area AMF Bowling Lanes.

Trained as an income tax preparer, Mr. Levin worked for a time for H&R Block and also did volunteer tax preparation for the AARP at the Parkville Senior Center until recent years.

The call of the open road beckoned to Mr. Levin, who owned a small motorhome in which he and Ms. Frank traveled across the country.

"These trips all had an educational aspect to them or were some place he had found in a magazine," said Ms. Frank.

"There was always an adventure in the making. We once made a trip by airplane to Albuquerque, N.M., just to see the atomic bomb museum," she said. "Charles had been assigned top-secret projects for Sandia National Laboratories during his Bendix career and was glad to see Albuquerque again."

Ms. Frank said that "one of his favorite things was to go off the beaten path to find ferryboats, inclined plane railways, steam train rides and antique carousel rides — anything no one else would make a special trip to see."

"We rode almost every ferryboat on the East Coast on our vacations. At the Outer Banks, we spent a week to catch them all," she said.

She said Mr. Levin was also "addicted to inclined plane railways and rode most of them that are found in the East."

Mr. Levin was partial to the railways found in Johnstown, Pa., Pittsburgh, Duquesne, Pa., and Chattanooga, Tenn.

Mr. Levin's favorite steam railroads were the Valley Railroad in Essex, Conn., the Strasburg Railroad in Pennsylvania and the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad in Cumberland.

"He liked the Essex … railroad ride because it combined his love of trains and boats. We rode along the Connecticut River on the train and came back on the Becky Thatcher riverboat," Ms. Frank said.

When Mr. Levin visited historic Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, he was fascinated by the Sabino, which was built in 1908 and is one of the nation's last operating coal-fired steamboats.

During a voyage on the Mystic River, Mr. Levin rode with the vessel's chief engineer.

"They talked all the way down and back," Ms. Frank said.

"He liked anything fast, the high-speed ferry to Canada out of Bar Harbor, Maine, and a high-speed catamaran ride in Chattanooga. We also rode a riverboat in Chattanooga," she said.

"We rode over the Outer Banks in a Cessna and over Niagara Falls in a helicopter. This was no ordinary 97-year-old. He lived for adventure and danger," said Ms. Frank, who is 57.

"I was with him for 15 years and could barely keep up with him. Even though there was 40 years' difference in ages, you wouldn't notice it," she said. "We covered everything we could possibly cover."

Mr. Levin was also an accomplished musician who enjoyed playing the bass clarinet, soprano clarinet, and alto and tenor saxophones.

He was a member of amateur orchestras and bands throughout the state and Pennsylvania, and played with the Baltimore Civic Orchestra during the 1940s.

Locally, he also played with the Baltimore Symphonic Band, Chesapeake Concert Band, Westminster Municipal Band, Baltimore Philharmonic Orchestra and Middle River Band.

Mr. Levin performed at the Springwell retirement community a week before his death.

He also was an avid boater — he sailed last season — and liked taking his 36-foot Whitecraft houseboat out on the Chesapeake Bay, visiting Annapolis and various shore towns such as St. Michaels and Rock Hall.

Mr. Levin's last adventure was when he and Ms. Frank visited Chattanooga last fall.

"We rode the inclined plane railroad and two steam railroads, the Hiwassee River Railroad and the East Chattanooga Railroad. We ate dinner at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo," she said. "We were there for six days and never sat down."

He was a member of the Maryland Presbyterian Church in Towson.

His wife of 43 years, the former Mildred Hottle, died in 1995.

Services were Monday.

In addition to Ms. Frank, Mr. Levin is survived by a son, Charles J. "Chuck" Levin III of Parkville, Pa.; a daughter, Cynthia F. Shank of Greencastle, Pa.; and four grandchildren.

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