Dundalk community and elected leaders have hearts heavy with the news of the death of Fred Thiess, an ever-constant presence in many of Greater Dundalk's organizations and efforts.
Thiess, 71, a community activist involved in a range of activities and causes from recreation council programs to civic associations and local politics, died Monday, just about a month after being diagnosed with advanced lung cancer.
"I just can't believe this happened," Sen. Norman Stone said Tuesday in a voice heavy with emotion. "It's hard to express your feelings for not only a colleague but a good friend."
Thiess was involved in local recreation council activities and was president of the New 7th Democratic Club and the Wells-McComas Civic Association, according to Baltimore County Councilman John Olszewski Sr.
"This is a sad day for our community, he was like the mayor of Dundalk," Olszewski Sr. said Tuesday. "It will be strange to go to so many community functions and meetings and not see Fred there."
In addition to his extensive volunteer work, Thiess was Stone's legislative aide for about four or five years.
"Fred was great at the job and took it very, very seriously," Stone said. "He was particularly great at constituent service."
There wasn't a problem that Thiess was afraid to tackle, and he solved most of them, Stone said.
Thiess attended meetings and other functions on behalf of Stone, and worked on more projects than the senator can remember, he said.
The community activist was also remembered as a loving and loyal family man.
"No matter how active he was in the community, he was a fine family man—his family always came first," Olszewski Sr. said. "He did everything for his wife, kids and grandkids."
The councilman said he has many fond memories of Thiess, including many election night gatherings.
But a more recent memory sums up Thiess as a community activist, he said.
A recent reorganization of the Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks had residents in an uproar. Thiess brought the community together in a meeting at the Southeast Regional Recreation Center, and invited Barry Williams, director of rec and parks, and property management head George Klunk.
"Fred was a man of integrity and leadership," the councilman said. "And those qualities shined in that particular meeting."
Colgate resident Butch Henry, who worked on many projects with Thiess, said he's convinced his friend functioned on three hours of sleep per night because of the schedule he opted to keep on behalf of his family, friends and neighbors.
"Everything he did, he did for someone else," Henry said Tuesday. "He was instrumental in so much in this community and he was a very well-respected human being."
Thiess' routine started early in the morning when he made sure his staff was ready to go to work for his own company, according to Henry.
"He'd then go out for a three-, four-, five-mile walk and then he'd get ready to go to work at Norman's office," Henry said.
Evenings were spent with his family and his lengthy list of community projects, organizations and causes.
Henry said he would most remember Thiess for his efforts to keep the steel industry alive at Sparrows Point, his advocacy for American-made products and his desire to see unions stay strong so that workers could be paid fair wages for work performed in safe conditions.
Don Kellner, president of the Local 9477, United Steelworker Retirees, recalled Thiess' love of children and the work he did for youth recreation programs, particularly soccer, over a period of decades.
Kellner, who works at the Southeast Regional Rec Center, which houses many local and regional soccer programs and tournaments, worked closely with Thiess there.
"This is a big loss for a lot of kids in this area," Kellner said Tuesday. "Fred loved kids and devoted his life to them."
State Delegate John Olszewski Jr. said he would remember Thiess for his contagious smile and laugh, his love for his community and his devotion to his family.
"I had the chance to visit him in the hospital, and it was evident that he raised a strong, loving family," the delegate said Tuesday. "All of the kids and all of the grandkids piled into the room, wanting to spend every possible minute with him—he loved them and they loved him."
Generations come and go, and people step up and take over in community organizations as others leave. But Thiess was as close as anyone comes to being irreplaceable, according to his friends and colleagues.
"He was well-respected in the community," Stone said. "If anyone is irreplaceable, it's Fred Thiess."
"If you met Fred Thiess, you loved him," Kellner said. "You can't replace a Fred Thiess."
"He was a fierce advocate for the community he loved and lived in," Olszewski Jr. said. "He looked out for and spoke up for all of southeast Baltimore County—he was a great, great man."
Councilman Olszewski Sr. said he was glad to have known and worked with the community leader.
"But more importantly, I was proud to call Fred a friend," he said.
Death notice from Connelly Funeral Home of Dundalk:
On October 22, 2012, Frederick “Fred” Thiess Sr. “Mayor of Dundalk”, Beloved husband to Antoinette “Toni” Thiess; Devoted father to Vicki Bull, Kimmy Whiteley, Fred Thiess Jr., John Mason, Malissa Thiess, Jamin Thiess, Nick Thiess, Allison “Scooter” Thiess, and Kristen Thiess. Loving grandfather to 17 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. Dear brother to Nancy Harper, Elaine Clingerman and Kate Stevens. Predeceased by his granddaughter Sunshine Royston, three brothers and one sister.
Relatives and friends may call at the CONNELLY FUNERAL HOME OF DUNDALK, 7110 Sollers Point Road on Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m. and Friday from 3 to 5 and 7 to 9 p.m.
A mass of Christian burial to celebrate Fred’s life will be held Saturday morning at 10 a.m. at St. Luke’s Catholic Church, 7517 North Point Road in Edgemere. Interment following the service at Holly Hill Memorial Gardens.
In lieu of flowers please make donations to The Frederick Thiess Sr. Memorial Scholarship Fund in memory of Fred, 4102 Beachwood Road, Baltimore, Maryland 21222.
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