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William G. Hupfeldt, 80, last family Esskay president


William George Hupfeldt, the last member of his family to head the venerable Esskay meatpacking business, died of an apparent heart attack Friday at his Chestertown home. The former Roland Park resident was 80.

Part of the fourth generation of his family to operate Schulderberg-Kurdle Co., a business created when two Baltimore meatpackers merged in 1919, Mr. Hupfeldt sold his controlling interest in 1985.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Park Heights Avenue, Mr. Hupfeldt was a 1944 graduate of Boys' Latin School, where he played on the varsity football, basketball and lacrosse teams and was president of the Press and Poster Club.

After Navy service during World War II, he earned a bachelor of science degree in commerce from the University of Virginia, where he played lacrosse and belonged to the Zeta Psi fraternity.

A nephew of an Esskay president, Theodore Schulderberg, Mr. Hupfeldt joined the business as a trainee in 1951. He rose through the ranks and was named superintendent of its Highlandtown plant in 1957, vice president of production in 1963 and president a year later.

A 1984 article in The Sun described Mr. Hupfeldt's office as "cluttered with ribbons of prize-winning animals Esskay had purchased over the years at the State Fair, bric-a-brac sporting the company logo and piles of paper."

That year Mr. Hupfeldt approved signing a five-year contract with young Orioles baseball star Cal Ripken Jr. to promote Esskay hot dogs. But behind the scenes, the company was beset by labor problems, layoffs and an aging physical plant.

Mr. Hupfeldt was board chairman and chief executive officer until shortly before he and others decided to sell the company in 1985 to Smithfield Foods, which quickly moved hot dog production to a plant in Portsmouth, Va. The East Baltimore plant, topped by a neon signing reading "Esskay Quality Meats," closed in 1992.

Mr. Hupfeldt retired in 1990 as board chairman and president of the Schluderberg Foundation.

"He was always a very real person, likable and just a good guy," said a former company officer, Walter Stucki Jr. of Stoneleigh. "We went through some tough times with the unions and found we just couldn't make money in an old plant."

In a Sun letter to the editor, a writer regretted the sale and called Esskay a "goodwill ambassador" that made contributions to the Boy Scouts, Special Olympics, bowling leagues, and senior citizen and educational groups.

Mr. Hupfeldt had been president of the National Independent Meat Packers and Eastern Meat Packers Association. He was a former board member of the Maryland School for the Blind, Columbia Bank, Equitable Trust Co. and Baltimore Museum of Industry.

A past president of the Maryland Chapter of the University of Virginia Alumni Association, he was also active at Boys' Latin as a president of its alumni association, school trustee and board president from 1976 to 1978.

"He was a guy you could sit down with and discuss a problem," said Dyson Ehrhardt, the independent school's associate headmaster for development. "He was great to work with on a capital campaign. He loved Boys' Latin and he said, 'We're selling a product and it's an easy sell - education to young boys.'"

Family members said Mr. Hupfeldt preserved the toys he had as a boy, including his trains. He collected antique toys and Esskay memorabilia.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Chestertown.

His first marriage, to Nancy Kidder Christie, ended in divorce. His second wife, the former Claire Requard, died in 1991.

Survivors include his wife of 13 years, Margaret Kane; a son, Christopher Edward Hupfeldt of Haverford, Pa.; two daughters, Susan Kimberly Hupfeldt of Palmetto, Fla., and Juliet Hupfeldt Miller of Ruxton; a sister, Nancy H. Seitz of Seneca, S.C.; a stepson, Brian Kane of Catonsville; three stepdaughters, Claire Cunliffe McLaughlin of Rochester, N.Y., Claudia Kane of Kona, Hawaii, and Betsey Kane of Bethesda; and 13 grandchildren. Another son, William George Hupfeldt Jr., died in 2004.

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