Alfred J. Zang, who oversaw more than 80 construction projects across the region from the former Baltimore Arena to Morgan State University, died Thursday at Glen Meadows Retirement Community. He was 90.
Known to family and friends as “Al,” Mr. Zang was one of three sons born to Alfred Joseph Zang Sr., who worked in a boiler room at a medical facility, and Minnie Edelman Zang, a homemaker. He lived for the first 80 years of his life in Northeast Baltimore.
His father died two years before Mr. Zang graduated from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute in 1946, leaving him to help care for his mother and curtailing any college ambitions. He studied engineering in high school, but his aptitude for baseball drew the interest of several minor league teams. As a shortstop for the Engineers, his batting average hit a remarkable .455. His baseball dreams were cut short when Mr. Zang injured his knee during a flag football game, routing him to an alternative career in construction that lasted a half-century.
About a month before his 23rd birthday, he married Verna Eileen Keys. They were married for 67 years and had two children, Debbie and Chris.
Mr. Zang worked for Davis Construction Co. for about decade after high school. He went on to work for Lardner and Wich and Cogswell Construction Co., where he became a vice president. He retired in 1992 from Roy Kirby & Sons Inc.
Sara Wegad, the former comptroller at Roy Kirby, said Mr. Zang’s “integrity, efficiency, honesty and dependability” stood out. The two continued to exchange Christmas letters each year after both retired.
“He was a perfectionist,” said Mrs. Wegad, 98, of St. Petersburg, Fla. “No matter what he did, he did it very well. When Al was on the job, we never had anything to worry about.”
The projects Mr. Zang managed could be seen all around Baltimore, such as the one that transformed the Civic Center into the Baltimore Arena, now known as the Royal Farms Arena. A personal highlight was the construction of Hightman Hall at Epiphany Lutheran Church in Northeast Baltimore. The church, where he was baptized and attended throughout his life, was two blocks from the Raspe Avenue home Mr. Zang shared with his wife for 60 years. He taught Sunday school, served on the church council and participated in the men’s fellowship.
While the hall, named for the church’s founding pastor, the Rev. Frederick Hightman, was being built, Mr. Zang would stop by nightly to make sure the crews had followed his instructions, leaving notes about what they should accomplish the next day. At the 2014 Christmas Eve service inside the hall, Bishop William Gohl, then Epiphany’s lead pastor, saluted Mr. Zang for shepherding the building project.The congregation gave Mr. Zang a standing ovation with his wife, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren by his side. The church now shares the hall with City Neighbors Charter School.
The Rev. Gohl, who presides over the Lutheran churches in Delaware and Maryland, said in addition to being a contributing member of the church, Mr. Zang was a fixture in the Northeast Baltimore community and a good neighbor to many.
“He had a lot of small but significant accomplishments that really changed our community,” the Rev. Gohl said. “He was a man well worth knowing. He taught us well.”
Mr. Zang’s son said the tribute was meaningful to his father, who was surprised and a little embarrassed.
“He was a humble guy,” said the younger Mr. Zang, of Middle River, a former copy editor at The Baltimore Sun.
His father’s devotion to his family and his attention to detail were hallmarks of his life, Chris Zang said.
“When I bought my first house, I made the mistake of telling him I was hanging pictures,” Chris Zang said. “Three to four hours later, we were still working on it. He brought his level with him — the old fashioned kind with the bubble that had to be perfectly in the middle. My dad always said, ‘If you’re going to do it, you might as well do it right.’
“My sister and I feel really blessed. I didn’t appreciate all of the sacrifices he made until I had kids of my own.”
Mr. Zang built more than towering structures, his son said. From his meticulously organized tool shop in the family basement, Mr. Zang labored over little wooden crosses for confirmation classes at the church. He made model airplanes that flew, a bookcase for his daughter, a toy chest for his first grandson and a Christmas creche that was displayed in the family’s home and, later, in the hall at Glen Meadows.
Another cherished pastime was the family’s camping trips. Together with friends in 1960, the Zangs purchased 10 acres in Susquehanna Trails in York, Pa.
Sue Feete, of Long Island, N.Y., spent weekends on the land — which the Zang, Lehardy, Day and Will families called “Itchy Acres” — as a child. She said camping there was a “rustic” experience. They slept in tents, used an outhouse and sat around a fire at night, telling stories and making up poems.
“He is the man who showed me that men could be kind and funny,” said Mrs. Feete, a family friend who affectionately called him “Uncle Al.”
“He had the same respect for little kids as he did for everyone else,” she said. “I told him, ‘When I grow up, I want to marry someone like you.’ He was the best.”
Even as his memory became compromised by dementia, Mrs. Feete said, she shared a special moment with Mr. Zang a couple of years ago when she visited him at the nursing home where he was living.
“I walked into that room, and I put my arms around him and we both just sobbed,” she said.
At Mr. Zang’s request, there will not be a service or viewing. Interment will be private. Memorial contributions may be made to Epiphany Lutheran Church, 4301 Raspe Ave., Baltimore.
In addition to his son, Mr. Zang is survived by his wife; a daughter, Debbie Zang, of Portland, Ore; daughters-in-law Beth Crane and Sandy McKee; grandchildren Samuel Crane, Caitlin Miranda, Austin Zang, Jordan Zang and Kacey Zang; and great-grandchildren Taylor Crane, Malakai Crane, Trent Sheesley and Amelia Zang.