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Thomas A. Church, retired civil engineer, conservationist who enjoyed collecting antique toys, dies

Thomas A. Church enjoyed fly fishing and hunting wildfowl.
Thomas A. Church enjoyed fly fishing and hunting wildfowl. (CamScanner / HANDOUT)

Thomas A. Church, a retired civil engineer and conservationist who enjoyed trout fishing and collecting vintage toys, died Monday from congestive heart failure at Gilchrist Center Towson. The longtime Anneslie resident was 86.

“We do multi-family housing and developments and Tom had been our civil engineer for years until he retired. We had a long business and personal relationship. I guess I’ve known him since 1978,” said Jim Clauson of Crownsville, president of Maryland Management.

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“He was just a first-class individual. He had been a Marine and conducted his whole life to that standard,” Mr. Clauson said. “He was a very humble person in that regard and was just the salt of the earth.”

Thomas Albert Church, the son of John Herbert Church, and his wife, Beatrice Church, was born in Green Bay, Wis., where he spent his early years until moving with his family in 1947 to Forest Park.

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Mr. Church was a descendant of Benjamin Church, one of the founders of Milwaukee. While living in Green Bay, family members said, he developed his lifelong passion for woodworking, fishing and the Green Bay Packers.

When the West Baltimore Boys Club needed a quarterback, they turned to Mr. Church, who was known for being fleet of foot and gifted with a strong arm.

“Over time, the club transitioned from the gridiron to an annual crab feast but was always admired by Tom for the welcome it extended when he moved to town,” his son, John Church of New York City, wrote in a biographical profile of his father.

During his years in Forest Park, he got to know Dr. Arthur Watson, the legendary director of the Baltimore Zoo, “who taught him how to love and ‘talk’ to animals, a passion Tom practiced throughout his life,” his son wrote.

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He enrolled at Polytechnic Institute, which provided for the foundation of his engineering career, and offered him the opportunity to play lacrosse. In the 11th grade, he transferred to Forest Park High School, where he continued playing lacrosse for Bob Scott, who later coached the sport at the Johns Hopkins University, where he was athletic director.

After graduating in 1952 from Forest Park, he enlisted in the Marine Corps, and as he reached Korea the armistice was signed. He spent the next three years in the region until being discharged in 1955 with the rank of corporal.

Mr. Church earned his civil engineering degree in 1960 from the University of Maryland, College Park, where he also played varsity lacrosse.

A summer internship at the old J.E. Greiner Co., which specialized in bridge design, led to a full-time job. He worked there for 15 years, until 1971, when he joined Kidde Consultants. He headed its planning and development department, first in Rockville, and later in Towson. Projects he worked on during that time included the John F. Kennedy Highway and the Masonville Marine Terminal in Fairfield.

In 1985, Mr. Church and Sam Shockley, a Kidde Consulting colleague, established Development Engineering Consultants on York Road in Anneslie. The firm specialized in designing and managing the development of more than 100 residential and commercial properties throughout the state.

Mr. Church was a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and had sat on numerous state and national engineering councils.

“He could roll out of bed and walk to work from our Anneslie home,” said Mr. Church’s wife of 62 years, the former Patricia Hamersly, a retired music and piano teacher, whom he first met when she was 14.

“He loved his work, had great integrity, and was very precise,” she said. “He was the kind of man who got right to the point, and that’s why he kept on working until he was 80. He always did a good job and people trusted him.”

Mr. Church closed the business in 2013.

“I met Tom when we both worked at Greiner, plus my wife and his wife were friends. We worked together until I left Greiner,” said John Allen, a former Anneslie neighbor. “He’s a man of so many interests that it was hard to keep up with him.”

“He loved to fly fish, as much as for the thrill of a ‘line’ as for his passion for the fish, entomology and the equipment it involved,” his son wrote.

He was a conservationist, a lifetime member of Trout Unlimited, and participated in numerous stream restoration projects around Baltimore.

Mr. Church was an inveterate wildfowl hunter.

“For 65 years, he traveled Maryland’s Eastern Shore from Transquaking River to Galena, taking more enjoyment from working the dogs and tolling the birds more than anything else,” his son wrote.

“We used to hunt together and he built a duck boat that was a real work of art,”said Mr. Allen, who described his friend as “basically a quiet kind of guy.”

He was an accomplished woodworker and enjoyed working in his home shop. He collected antique decoys, vintage toys, Lionel Standard Gauge electric trains, gum cards and cap pistols.

"He built radio-controlled airplanes, Mr. Allen said. “Everything he built was perfect.”

Mr. Church also liked to race classic motorboats, shoot skeet and tend to his rose bushes, jade plants and irises.

He and his wife moved to their home on Dunkirk Road in Anneslie in 1966, where they established an annual Christmas Eve carol singalong and set up a Christmas garden that featured model trains from his collection.

A visitation will be held from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Mitchell Wiedefeld Funeral Home, York and Overbrook roads, Rodgers Forge.

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Church is survived by two daughters, Kathleen Weidner of Charlesbrooke and Joyce Webster of Cockeysville; a sister, Mercedes Hartman of Charleston, S.C.; 11 grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

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