Oliver Slater “Ollie” Travers Jr., a business executive whose holdings included wheelbarrow manufacturing and who co-founded a charitable foundation to aid Baltimore’s poor and other causes, died of leukemia Oct. 23 at Gilchrist Hospice Towson. He was 93 and lived in the Hampton section of Towson.
Born in Baltimore and raised in Wiltondale, he was the son of Oliver S. Travers Sr., an engineer, and his wife, Stacey Lair. His family traced its Maryland roots to Porto Bello, a home in St. Mary’s County.
He attended Lida Lee Tall School in Towson and studied at Drexel University and Dartmouth College before graduating from the University of Maryland, College Park. He enlisted in the Navy and served in the Philippines.
He met his future wife, Mary Jean Schenuit, whose family owned the old Koester’s bakery and the Schenuit Rubber Co. in Woodberry, while on vacation at Ocean City.
The Schenuit firm made aircraft tires during World War II. In a 1979 Sun article, Mr. Travers said that the postwar years were “very difficult” for the business he joined in mid-1950 as a vice president.
Despite his executive title, he said, “in reality I worked in the plant to learn the business.” He rose to become Schenuit’s president in 1963.
“Ollie was an absolute people person,” said a close friend, Thomas H. “Tuck” Maddux. “He saw people for what they were, not for who they were. He had a real skill for recognizing people’s talents.”
He also said, “Ollie had the ability of going into a company and selling himself and creating a positive atmosphere. Not only did he save Schenuit, he grew it."
Mr. Travers decided to take Schenuit public in 1962 and began a restructuring of the company so that it could would be less reliant on government aircraft contracts. He purchased Jackson Manufacturing in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a leading maker of wheelbarrows.
In the 1979 article, Mr. Travers said he was familiar with the Jackson firm because he sold it rubber tires for the wheelbarrows. He later bought Nelson Inc., a firm that made industrial pallets. He also invested in lawn care firms, an exercise bike maker and a patio furniture maker. Schenuit withdrew entirely from the tire business in 1978.
Mr. Travers sold what became Schenuit Industries to Allegheny Ludlum, later Allegheny International Inc., in 1980. In 1986 he became the president of Allegheny’s worldwide consumer product group, including the Sunbeam and Oster home appliance line and Wilkinson Sword, including its razor product line. He later became the firm’s chairman.
His Wilkinson firm made made ceremonial swords for the Olympics and for royalty, including the one the Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, wore the day of his marriage to Lady Diana Spencer.
He also negotiated the sale of the Baltimore-based Koester’s bakery, founded by Eilert and Lisette Koester, his wife’s grandparents.
Mr. Travers was featured in Business Week, The Wall Street Journal and the Pittsburgh Press.
He retired from Allegheny in 1990 and remained active in Schenuit Investments, based in Towson.
Mr. Travers served in the Young Presidents Organization and was named to the boards of Waverly Press, PH&H, and the old Maryland National Bank.
He was also board chair of the Kernan Hospital in Dickeyville, now the University of Maryland Rehabilitation and Orthopaedic Institute. A room at the hospital is named in his honor.
Mr. Travers and his wife created an $8 million charity, the Mary Jean and Oliver Travers Foundation.
“My father believed in giving back to society and leaving the world a better place,” said his son, Robert Slater Travers of Towson. “As a father, he always told us to be involved.”
The foundation gives grants to local nonprofits, local educational institutions and environmental causes in Baltimore.
Mr. Travers was also a board member of the Baltimore Country Club. He was the club’s champion duckpin bowler and an accomplished tennis and golf player.
Mr. Travers, his wife and children enjoyed the outdoors. He was a skier and made to trips to Aspen, Colorado, and Switzerland. From 1978 to 2005, Mr. Travers took extended bicycling trips with his family along the East Coast.
A funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Nov. 7 at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles Street.
In addition to his son, survivors include two daughters, Jean Travers Goodwin and Joan Travers Ottenritter, both of Towson; eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. A son, Thomas Schenuit Travers, died in 2005. His wife of 65 years died in 2017.