Henry Edward "Pete" Riecks

Henry Edward "Pete" Riecks (Baltimore Sun / October 4, 2013)

Henry E. "Pete" Riecks, a retired Harford County public schools educator and photographer who was an ardent fan of the old Maryland & Pennsylvania Railroad, died Sept. 22 of Alzheimer's disease at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson. The longtime Forest Hill resident was 79.

"He was really a mild-mannered and soft-spoken guy who lived near the Ma & Pa's Forest Hill station. He was very knowledgeable and was always willing to help," said Rudy Fischer, archivist of the Maryland & Pennsylvania Railroad Historical Society and a longtime friend.

"He also did a great deal for the Baltimore Streetcar Museum and the Baltimore chapter of the National Railway Historical Society and their Maryland Rail Heritage Library."

The son of Edward H. Riecks, who had been director of passenger traffic for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and Viola Bell Riecks, a homemaker, was born in Washington and raised in Northwood.

After graduating in 1952 from City College, he enlisted in the Navy, where he served as a quartermaster aboard the aircraft carrier USS Hornet for two years before being discharged in 1954.

Mr. Riecks earned a bachelor's degree in 1958 from Washington College and a master's degree in education in 1965 from the Johns Hopkins University.

During his 34-year career in Harford County public schools, Mr. Riecks rose from being a teacher to assistant principal and supervisor of business education, computers, and gifted and talented education.

He began his career at Aberdeen High School, where he taught English for nine years before joining the faculty of Havre de Grace High School in 1967 as assistant principal. The next year, he was named a supervisor at Bel Air High School, where he remained for eight years.

Mr. Riecks completed stints as building supervisor at Aberdeen High, Harford Vocational-Technical High and C. Milton Wright High.

In 1982, Mr. Riecks was appointed supervisor of business education and computers. The gifted and talented program was placed under his administration.

It was Mr. Riecks who oversaw the conversion from typewriters to computers when the county high schools received five Apple 2 Plus microcomputers, which were housed in the business education departments.

Mr. Riecks then arranged classes to teach students and teachers how to use them.

In 2006, he was named to the Harford County Public School Educator Hall of Fame.

He retired in 1992.

"Pete could do a lot of different jobs. I first got to know him when he was a supervisor at Bel Air High at the time of a teachers strike, which he handled very professionally," said Tom Owen, who at the time of his retirement in 1992 was supervisor of human relations and staff development.

"I always thought of Pete as being a Renaissance man because he was good at so many things and so intelligent. He was a well-read fellow and loved the narrow-gauge railroads of Colorado, which he rode," said Mr. Owen. "He also had a marvelously droll sense of humor and was a low-key sort of guy."

Mr. Riecks' interest in railroading began in his childhood when he was able to ride B&O passenger trains for free because of his father's job.

"He was the first archivist of the Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad Preservation Society and held that position until he was no longer able to do it because of his health," said Craig Sansonetti, who succeeded Mr. Riecks.

"He was extremely active in building up the society's collection of images, and we now have more than 6,000 cataloged in our database, and he was responsible for that," said Mr. Sansonetti.

"Pete was also a conscientious hard worker and also served on the society's building committee. He was heavily involved in track work and the stabilization effort at Muddy Creek Forks," he said.

"He taught me the best way how to archive photos and we worked in his basement darkroom," recalled Mr. Fischer. "We spent many happy hours talking Ma & Pa and making and exchanging photos of the railroad. He was always willing to make copies of his photos."

As technology changed, Mr. Riecks began making digital files, Mr. Fischer said.

He had organized his collection in albums that started in Baltimore, the railroad's terminal, and each successive volume proceeded northward, as the single-track railroad corkscrewed 77.2 miles across Maryland until reaching its destination in York, Pa.

Mr. Riecks also enjoyed building and operating an HO-gauge railroad in his home.

Mr. Riecks and his wife of 57 years, the former Janet Gill, enjoyed traveling and visiting elderhostels.

He had been a communicant, senior warden and lay reader at Christ Episcopal Church in Rock Spring.

A celebration of his life will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, North Main Street and Broadway, Bel Air.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Riecks is survived by two sons, Jeffrey R. Riecks of Forest Hill and Stephen H. Riecks of Hightstown, N.J.; a brother, Paul R. Riecks of Baltimore; a sister, Ann Dubinsky of Towson; and three grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com