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Frank Kuchta, a decorated Army sergeant and former director of the Baltimore City Department of Public Works, dies

Frank Kuchta worked for Baltimore City for 41 years.
Frank Kuchta worked for Baltimore City for 41 years.

Francis Walter Kuchta loved watching movies, especially ones starring John Wayne. “Rio Bravo” and “The Searchers” were two of his particular favorites, and he passed his interest along to his eldest child.

“When I was growing up, I don’t think there was a Western or a war movie that we didn’t see,” said his son, Robert Kuchta. “And I loved it, too.”

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Mr. Kuchta (pronounced COOK-ta), a director of the Public Works Department in Baltimore City for 14 years, died Aug. 22 at Lorien Mays Chapel in Lutherville-Timonium of heart failure. He was 98.

Former Baltimore County public works director Gene L. Neff said he knew Mr. Kuchta from working for the city department from 1966 to 1976. He called Mr. Kuchta “a very outstanding professional engineer.”

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“He was an excellent person in the way of his personality and his leadership,” Mr. Neff said. “He had thorough experience in Baltimore City and the different agencies he worked for before he came to Public Works. He was very active in the reorganization of the Public Works Department. He was a career employee and a professional employee. He was a delight to work with.”

Born in East Baltimore, Mr. Kuchta was the eldest of three siblings raised by the former Margaret Alt and Stephen Kuchta. Mr. Kuchta played baseball and soccer in Patterson Park, but remembered the difficulty of growing up in the Great Depression.

“I think the Depression had the same impact on him as with everybody,” his son said from his home in Hampstead. “Be careful with your money and save for a rainy day.”

Mr. Kuchta developed into a sprinter for the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, becoming one of two members of the high school’s inaugural Hall of Fame induction class in 1994.

After graduating from Poly in 1941, Mr. Kuchta signed up for the U.S. Army the following year, joining an infantry division that spent one year in France, Germany and Belgium during World War II. Discharged in 1945 as a sergeant, Mr. Kuchta was awarded the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.

Mr. Kuchta rarely talked about his experiences in World War II, and his son said he was unaware of his father’s honors until he read his discharge papers.

“He didn’t talk about that kind of stuff,” the younger Mr. Kuchta said. “Like many guys of his age, the expectation was for him to come home, take off his uniform, put on civilian clothes, and act like it never happened. A lot of the guys, my father included, just tried to compartmentalize it and push it to the back.”

A year after his return, Mr. Kuchta married the former Josephine Anna Kerner in Baltimore. The two knew each other as they grew up one block from each other.

Mr. Kuchta began working for Baltimore’s Department of Public Works in 1947 on a survey crew in the Bureau of Surveys. One year after earning a bachelor’s in civil engineering from the Johns Hopkins University in June 1953, he transferred to the Baltimore Redevelopment Commission, where he became an assistant director. When the commission was absorbed by the Baltimore Urban Renewal and Housing Agency, he was promoted to director of development.

While serving as the agency’s deputy commissioner, Mr. Kuchta was appointed deputy director of the Department of Public Works in February 1969. Mayor William Donald Schaefer appointed Mr. Kuchta as acting director of the department in December 1973. Mr. Kuchta was made director in June 1974, a position that he held until January 1988.

Mr. Neff said Mr. Kuchta’s career was highlighted by an emphasis on cleaning up the city and repaving streets. But Mr. Kuchta was instrumental in ushering in a new philosophy for the department.

“He reorganized it from a political organization to a professional organization,” Mr. Neff said. “It was made up of people that were very capable in the jobs and had a lot of the experience and brought a lot to the city.”

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The younger Mr. Kuchta said it was not uncommon for his father to receive a phone call from Mr. Schaefer well after working hours with a question or a problem. Mr. Neff said Mr. Kuchta enjoyed a solid relationship with Mr. Schaefer.

“Because of his previous experience in the city, he was well respected by the mayor,” Mr. Neff said. “He looked to him for direction in engineering problems, and they got along quite well. Certainly Schaefer was demanding, but he knew that when he wanted things done, Kuchta could produce for him.”

After 41 years spent in the city, Mr. Kuchta became director of capital construction with the state’s Department of General Services in 1988 and then director of engineering and construction with the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services before officially retiring in 1992. But Mr. Kuchta continued to maintain an affinity for Baltimore.

“He loved the city,” Mr. Kuchta said of his father. “He was very dedicated to Baltimore City. He loved working with Mayor Schaefer. He always felt like he was contributing something.”

Mr. Kuchta received the American Public Works Association’s Top Ten Public Works Leaders of the Year Award, the APWA’s Samuel A. Greely Local Government Award and the Maryland section of the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Meritorious Service Award.

“He felt like that was a reward for the hard work and care,” his son said. “He took a great deal of pride in that and a great deal of pride in the job although he was humble at the same time. If you went into the house, you wouldn’t see that stuff hanging up on the walls.”

Because of his experience with the Great Depression, Mr. Kuchta encouraged his children to save their pennies. And he worked additional jobs as a private draftsman and a member of a survey crew on Saturdays to pay for family vacations, Christmas presents and private school education for his three children.

“Those were the three things that he worked for and saved for,” his son said.

Mr. Kuchta enjoyed playing cribbage, which he picked up from his time in England during World War II. He also loved to watch the Orioles and third baseman Brooks Robinson.

But his most fervent pursuit involved owning a series of boats to take the family to Solomons and go crabbing and fishing.

“He loved the boat because the boat brought family back together,” his son said.

A viewing for Mr. Kuchta is scheduled for Sunday from 2 to 6 p.m. at the Johnson-Fosbrink Funeral Home in Parkville. A funeral is planned for Monday at 9 a.m. at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Parkville, and Mr. Kuchta will be buried at Dulaney Memorial Gardens in Cockeysville that same day.

In addition to his son, Mr. Kuchta is survived by another son, Bernard William Kuchta of Towson; a daughter, Mary Jo Sheckells of Parkton; a brother, Bernard Frank Kuchta of Towson; five grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

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