William F. Wilke, a retired mechanical and general contractor who owned and operated his own business for nearly two decades, died last Wednesday from complications of a stroke at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center. The Parkville resident was 95.
“He was the cream of the crop. In over 40 years, I never heard anyone say a bad word about him,” said Stephen W. Oliner, who had been Mr. Wilke’s accountant since 1975.
“I considered him both a client and friend. He was a wonderful person and I am glad that I got to know him,” said Mr. Oliner, a Baltimore resident. “He was honest, humble, sincere and a man who was known for his word. When he said he’d do something, he did.”
William Francis Wilke who was born and raised in Baltimore, was the son of William J. Wilke, an electrician, and his wife, Mildred Wilke.
While attending Polytechnic Institute, Mr. Wilke took “advantage of Saturday engineering sessions to learn to read blueprints and understand technical specifications,” wrote a daughter, Nancy A. Collins, of Phoenix in Baltimore County, in a biographical profile of her father.
After graduating in 1940 from Poly, he went to work for Julian P. Frieze Inc., a manufacturer of heating and cooling instruments, which allowed him to pay his tuition while studying engineering at night at the Johns Hopkins University.
With the outbreak of World War II, Mr. Wilke enlisted in the Army Air Corps and was selected for training in the bombsight and automatic pilot maintenance program, and served in the Pacific Theater until war’s end in 1945.
After returning to Baltimore, he worked in the mechanical contracting business for Wesley Freeman Inc. and Lloyd E. Mitchell Inc., where he worked for a decade and rose to be vice president and chief estimator.
In 1960, he started his own mechanical contracting business — William F. Wilke Inc. — which he started in his home and later moved to offices on Joppa Road and Satyr Hill Road.
“His construction company was extremely well-known and had an impeccable reputation,” Mr. Oliner said. “His employees respected and loved him, as did his clients.”
The business expanded to include general contracting and development work. Some of the major projects he worked on or built included Baltimore public schools, the renovation of City Hall during the 1970s, the National Aquarium, the U.S. Post Office, the Baltimore Fire Department’s Super Station on Lombard Street, BWI-Thurgood Marshall Airport, Fort Meade, the National Security Agency, Baltimore City Hospitals, the Cherry Hill Recreation facility TABCO Towers and several shopping centers.
After selling the business to his employees in 1978, Mr. Wilke continued to manage properties he owned and managed.
“His business acumen was very sharp and he was the most ethical and fair-minded man you’d ever meet,” said Ms. Collins, who as a young woman, worked as her father’s administrative assistant. “His integrity was beyond reproach.”
His professional memberships included serving as president of the Building Congress and Exchange and serving on the board of the Baltimore Metropolitan Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors.
“Over the years, he helped numerous people start their own companies,” Mr. Oliner said. “He gave them advice and never turned anyone away.”
Mr. Wilke had been a member of the board of the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center, Liberty Federal Savings & Loan Association and Baltimore Polytechnic Institute Alumni Association, of which he also had been president.
The former Timonium resident who had lived at Oak Crest Village for 25 years, enjoyed spending time at a second home in Fenwick Island, Del., and deep-sea fishing off Ocean City.
His wife of more than 70 years, the former Mary Scarpulla, died last month.
Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Ruck Towson Funeral Home, 1050 York Road.
In addition to his daughter, Mr. Wilke is survived by a son, Randall W. Wilke of Baltimore; two other daughters, Kathleen F. Edwards of Leonardtown and Frances M. Breen of Punta Gorda, Fla.; and six grandchildren. Another son, Michael J. Wilke, died in 2003.