Herman William “Bill” Wernecke Jr., a real estate professional in the Baltimore area for more than 50 years and a Navy veteran, died of congestive heart failure Oct. 11 at the Gilchrist Center in Towson. The longtime Timonium resident was 93.
Born in Baltimore in 1928 and raised in the city’s Walbrook neighborhood, he attended Baltimore Polytechnic Institute through the end of his junior year. He joined the Navy on Aug. 14, 1945, the day before V-J Day, when Japan surrendered in World War II. The timing gave rise to a joke family members said he would tell for the rest of his life: that the Japanese gave up as soon as they learned he was on his way.
He served in the Navy Reserve until 1950, when he was called to active duty for the Korean War. A radio operator on a landing ship for tanks, or LST, during the conflict, he was discharged in 1953.
Mr. Wernecke, who earned his high school diploma by taking night school classes after the war, parlayed his technical skills into a job as a telephone splicer — a technician who puts telephone lines on poles and connects them to houses — with the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co., where he worked for 15 years.
In the early 1960s, he added a part-time job with Grempler Realty Inc., one of the state’s busiest real estate firms. The work would become his full-time career.
Starting as an agent, Mr. Wernecke built a sizable clientele in Timonium, where he lived with his wife, Mary, and three children for 51 years. He specialized in the sale of homes in and around their neighborhood of Pine Valley.
Eventually promoted to management, he opened and oversaw Grempler company offices in Woodlawn and Columbia before managing the firm’s headquarters at Joppa Road and Fairmount Avenue in Towson.
He finished his career as an agent with Long & Foster, retiring his license in 2017 after more than 50 years in the field and the sale of what his son Dan said were “thousands of homes.”
Bob Simon, 69, who joined Long & Foster in 2004 and worked under Mr. Wernecke’s tutelage for more than a decade, said Mr. Wernecke went to great lengths to keep up with past clients, was generous with sales pointers, and established the status of a mentor in their office. He was known to sneak into the office at night to hang framed inspirational messages.
Mr. Wernecke was always determined to make the next sale, going above and beyond to assist clients, Mr. Simon said. He would occasionally drop by past clients’ houses to check on them, to see whether he could help them out or whether they needed any more of his real estate services. Mr. Wernecke’s high energy level meant he never looked his age.
“He had his battles with different health issues — sometimes you thought he was down for the count — but he was like a good boxer: He’d take an eight-count and he’d be right back in the fight,” Mr. Simon said. “He was remarkable. He was someone all the agents here looked at like a phenom.”
A friendly, outgoing man, he was a fixture in community activities throughout his adult life. A member of the Sigma Lambda Nu fraternity in high school, he acted as the group’s social director as an underclassman and for decades after his war service, organizing trips to dance halls and other get-togethers. He organized socials and oversaw the work behind Fourth of July parade floats for the Towson Jaycees, and he became a decorated member of the Timonium Kiwanis Club, earning “Kiwanian of the Year” honors one year for his skill at bringing new recruits to the organization.
A dedicated booster and fundraiser for Poly over the years, he always regretted not graduating with his classmates, his son Dan said, and was moved to tears when the school presented him with an official 1946 graduation certificate at an ROTC ceremony three years ago. “I can’t tell you how moved he was by that gesture,” Dan Wernecke said.
The elder Mr. Wernecke was also a man who never shied away from adventure or taking the initiative to make things happen, according to family lore.
He never saw combat in Korea, but members of his crew — noting that they had no Jeep to use when they arrived in Asian cities — pilfered one in Japan, painted it Army gray, craned it onto their LST, and used it during ports of call, only to return it to the place they’d found it at the end of the war. After his discharge in California, he hitchhiked his way back to Baltimore, apparently befriending a succession of young women along the way.
It was during a job that found him working in a maintenance hole downtown that Mr. Wernecke chatted up a young Commercial Credit Company employee, Mary Kathleen Martin, the daughter of a family in Rodgers Forge. They reconnected one day at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Towson, were wed in 1955, and enjoyed 58 years of marriage, raising three boys. Mary Wernecke died in 2013.
Mr. Wernecke was known to many as the de facto “mayor” of the Pine Valley neighborhood in Timonium, where many of his neighbors lived in homes he sold them. He fought for years to get a traffic light installed at a busy corner there (the county reconfigured the intersection instead), was delivered by helicopter to the local elementary school one Christmas as the neighborhood Santa Claus, and in the 1970s facilitated the arrival of Pine Valley’s first African American family by going door-to-door to encourage neighbors to offer them a warm welcome.
Mr. Wernecke was also a devoted dancer throughout his life. In his 20s, he and his fraternity brothers frequented big-band music halls across Baltimore, and in more recent years he regularly showed up to kick up his heels at American Legion halls in Rosedale and Parkville and the Hunt Valley Towne Centre.
Doug Heisey, 89, of Timonium met Mr. Wernecke about 50 years ago through their wives, who played bridge together. Mr. Heisey would regularly substitute into Mr. Wernecke’s Saturday morning golf foursomes at the Pleasant Valley Golf Club in Stewartstown, Pennsylvania. They became closer later in life, meeting with a group of men every Sunday at the Towson Diner.
Mr. Wernecke would seek out anyone with Poly apparel to strike up a conversation about his alma mater and spoke of lessons he learned in the Navy, Mr. Heisey recalled. He described Mr. Wernecke as a “very outgoing gentleman, very friendly.”
“There was hardly anybody he didn’t know being a Realtor,” Mr. Heisey said.
He moved to Pickersgill Retirement Community in Towson in 2013 and lived there for the rest of his life. Dan Wernecke said that while he was “a thorn in the side” of the maintenance crew, always pointing out when something needed repair, he was a popular figure and one who made a point of showing his appreciation for employees.
Last December, he called residents together in the dining hall to lead them in a group carol to thank staff for working so cheerfully on a holiday.
“The whole community stood up and sang them ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas,’” Dan Wernecke said.
In addition to Dan Wernecke, of Lutherville, Mr. Wernecke is survived by his other sons, Douglas of Bethany Beach, Delaware, and Donald of Cockeysville; six grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Mr. Wernecke’s younger brother, Howard, died Friday.
Anyone is welcome for a reception hosted by the family from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 5 at the Peaceful Alternative Funeral and Cremation Center at 2325 York Road in Timonium. A Mass of Christian Burial, also open to anyone, is scheduled for 11 a.m. Nov. 6 at the St. Joseph Catholic Church at 100 Church Lane in Cockeysville. Interment, which will be private, is scheduled for a later date.