Bonaventure von P. "Duke" Wachter, a retired State Highway Administration civil engineer who worked on numerous highway projects throughout Maryland, died May 23 of cancer at Coastal Hospice at the Lake in Salisbury. He was 69.
"He was probably the best boss I've ever had in my life, and he was probably the best on-the-job-trained engineer that the State Highway Administration ever had," said Tony Smith, a former SHA civil engineer who lives in Nottingham. "Duke came up through the ranks.
"He was very professional and a perfectionist. He'd go out of his way to give clients a fantastic job, and he'd bend over backward to anyone to help them come through the ranks as he did," said Mr. Smith, who later also worked with Mr. Wachter at Whitney Bailey Cox & Magnani LLC — also known as WBCM Engineering — in Towson. "He was never a boss and always a friend. You could always go into his office any time to speak with him."
The son of Gustave Wachter, who worked for von Paris Moving & Storage, and Genevieve von Paris Wachter, a homemaker, Bonaventure von Paris Wachter was born in Baltimore and raised in Highlandtown. His maternal grandfather, Eligius von Paris, founded B. von Paris & Sons Moving & Storage in 1892.
After graduating in 1962 from Polytechnic Institute, Mr. Wachter decided to pursue a career in civil engineering.
Though he did not earn a bachelor's degree in civil engineering, he completed four years of college-level engineering studies in the 1970s. After sitting for examinations, he became a licensed professional engineer, which is conferred by the state of Maryland.
"My father was always very, very precise and analytical," said his daughter, Genevieve "Gen" Wachter Haller of Pasadena.
Mr. Wachter began his career in 1964 with the State Highway Administration as a draftsman and rose to become the agency's assistant bureau chief of its in-house design department.
Major projects during his 32-year SHA career included overseeing the first widening of the Baltimore Beltway, the Interstate 83 and Interstate 695 interchange in Lutherville, and Sideling Hill in Western Maryland
In the early 1980s, workers blasted their way through Sideling Hill, a 340-foot-tall multilayer of rock that was estimated to be 350 million years old, to build Interstate 68, which became a part of the Appalachian Freeway.
"Sideling Hill. Now that was something," said Al Califano, who was Mr. Wachter's assistant in highway design at SHA for many years and lives in Grasonville. "Duke was part of the five-man design team that handled the job, and we had to remove 4 million yards of rock in order to cut our way through the mountain. In those days, we had no computers, and all the design work was drawn by hand."
Ms. Haller said he kept a piece of Sideling Hill on his desk.
In 1996, Mr. Wachter left the SHA and went to work for WBCM, where he was chief of the firm's transportation division. He retired in 2009.
"He contributed more than most to the state of Maryland's infrastructure with his practical solutions and shared everything he knew with anyone who asked. In fact, I was lucky to have him as my boss for a few years when I worked at WBCM," said Ms. Haller.
"In the beginning, I wasn't so sure how this was going to work out. I'm just as stubborn as he is, and I thought, 'We're never going to get along.' I was doing highway work with him, and he taught me more than a regular boss," recalled Ms. Haller.
"One day, we were in my kitchen, and I had a highway problem. He took a brown paper bag and with a crayon drew on it. He broke it down and I finally got it. He said, 'It's simple and not that hard,' " she said.
The former New Freedom, Pa., resident moved to Ocean City in 2009. He enjoyed fishing and was known for his marathon crabbing sessions.
"We'd leave at 3 a.m. and head for Kent Narrows where we rented a boat, and we'd be out until late in the afternoon," said Mr. Califano. "And then we'd go back to his house, where he steamed the crabs and we ate them. It was like a 20-hour day."
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During the 1960s, Mr. Wachter raced his 1963 Impala at Capitol Raceway and 75-80 Dragway in Damascus, where he won many trophies.
Mr. Wachter was as generous and kind to his neighbors as he was to his co-workers.
"When we were kids, my best friend and her brothers, who lived across the street, lost their father to a car accident," recalled Ms. Haller.
"My father took them under his wing, helping them from the sidelines. He offered guidance, hugs and cookouts," she said. "Our families are still close to this day, and my best friend said it felt like she lost a family member [when Mr. Wachter died]. In a way, she did."
A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Friday at Hastings Funeral Home, 19 S. Main St., Selbyville, Del.
In addition to his daughter, Mr. Wachter is survived by his wife of 49 years, the former Barbara Mabry, a retired Maryland Lottery accountant; a son, Robert T. Wachter of Ocean City; three brothers, Jay Wachter of Bel Air, Gus Wachter of Taneytown and Art Wachter of Baldwin; a sister, Mary Shenk of Daytona Beach Shores, Fla.; four grandchildren; and a great-grandson.