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Charles L. Wagandt II, who led the restoration of Oella, dies

Charles L. Wagandt II oversaw the refurbishment of 76 acres and 245 housing units in Oella.
Charles L. Wagandt II oversaw the refurbishment of 76 acres and 245 housing units in Oella. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun)

Charles Lewis Wagandt II, who led a 40-year effort to restore the Baltimore County milling village of Oella, died May 21 of a non-COVID-19 virus related to old age at his Poplar Hill home. He was 95.

Born in Baltimore and raised in Roland Park, he was the son of George Taylor Wagandt, manager of the National Enameling and Stamping plant, and his wife, Lillie Hays Dickey.

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He attended the Calvert School and was a 1943 Gilman School graduate. He served in the Marine Corps during World War II as a lieutenant.

In a letter he wrote home, he told of the jubilation in the streets of Los Angeles at the end of World War II.

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After earning a degree at Princeton University, he received a master’s degree in textile science at the University of Pennsylvania.

He met his future wife, Mary Jo Trogdon, while skiing at Vail, Colorado.

Mr. Wagandt, the great-grandson of William James Dickey, was a member of the family who owned textile mills at Oella in Baltimore County near Ellicott City and at Dickeyville in Baltimore City. He was an officer in his family business, W.J. Dickey & Sons Inc. The family plants were sold in 1971 and 1972 as synthetic fabrics became popular.

“We were America’s foremost producers of menswear woolens and sold to big tailors such as J. Schoeneman and L. Greif,” Mr. Wagandt said in a 2012 Sun article.

Mr. Wagandt had interests in politics, civil rights and city planning. He was a candidate for the House of Delegates and also ran for the Baltimore City Council. He was elected a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of Maryland and served on a local advisory group to the U. S. Commission on Civil Rights. He also sat on the Baltimore Urban Renewal and Housing Commission and was president of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association.

In a 2012 Sun interview he explained that Oella was at the end of its economic life in the early 1970s.

“I bought it [the village and workers’ homes] because no one else wanted it. My family said, ‘We are out of here.’ They did take back a mortgage,” he said.

The article said he became the village’s patriarch who "gently but authoritatively led its journey from what had been a rural backwater, without sewerage and plumbing [to what] could pose for travel posters and postcards.”

Mr. Wagandt retained C. William “Bill” Struever to assist in the Oella transformation.

“Charlie was a spirited, optimistic and thoughtful guy,” Mr. Struever said. “My business usually works in Baltimore City, but there was no way we could say no to him. Oella was not just about the company. We had to honor low rents and lifetime tenancies for the people who still lived there. Charlie had a spiritual commitment to Oella.”

Mr. Struever also said, “His spirit and energy were so important to making the complicated financing possible. ... He was a great delight to work with and he took great joy in the resurrection of Oella.”

Until last year, Mr. Wagandt drove seven days a week to his office in the village’s former Methodist church, where he oversaw the refurbishment of 76 acres and 245 housing units, some old and others newly built. Sewer and water lines were installed in 1984, ending Oella’s dependence upon outhouses.

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“I have a theory," he said in 2012. "Rehabilitation takes twice as much money and twice as much time to get to the end objective. I should be through it all by now, but I’ve still got a few more things here to do.”

He said of the outhouses: “Now they make wonderful toolsheds. We call them amenities.”

Mr. Wagandt enjoyed local history and preservation. He wrote “The Mighty Revolution: Negro Emancipation in Maryland: 1862-1864,” published by the Johns Hopkins Press in 1964. He served on the board of the Lillie Carroll Jackson Museum. He was a founder of the Friends of the Patapsco Valley and Heritage Greenway.

He helped create the Benjamin Banneker Museum and Park to commemorate America’s first black man of science. He was founder and chair of the George Ellicott House Committee, whose members oversaw its move out of flood zone and subsequent restoration.

He was awarded the Maryland Historical Trust Calvert Award in 2008 for “paramount leadership and contributions to the preservation of Maryland’s architectural and cultural heritage.” He was given Howard County’s Senator James Clark Lifetime Achievement Award.

"My father was happiest hiking in the hills of the Shenandoah Valley or in the Colorado Rockies, " said his son, Charles L. Wagandt III of Baltimore. "He would transform into a boy. He stared out over the mountain range in skis or in hiking books and he often burst out, singing 'America the Beautiful' or 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic.’ He had a glorious spirit about him.”

In addition to his son, survivors include his wife of 42 years, a past president of the Women’s Board of the Johns Hopkins Hospital and an Enoch Pratt Free Library trustee; a daughter, Marianne Wagandt of Baltimore; another son, James E.G. Wagandt of Ellicott City; and two grandchildren.

A small family service was private.

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