William H. Wendel, 76, the retired top official of Carborundum Co. and a leader in revitalization efforts in Niagara Falls, died unexpectedly Monday (Dec. 3, 1990) while visiting his summer home in Savannah, Ga.
A native of Johnstown, Pa., Wendel rose from assistant to the president of Carborundum in 1947 to become president and chief executive officer in 1962. In 1978, when Carborundum became a wholly owned subsidiary of Kennecott Copper Corp., Wendel moved on to head that corporation as president. He served as vice chairman in 1980 and 1981, when he retired.
"Bill Wendel left behind a legacy of optimism and growth," the current Carborundum president, Luiz F. Kahl, said Monday. "He continued as a friend, loyal adviser and supporter to myself and other top company management."
Kahl said Wendel was looking forward to Carborundum's centennial next year and was a "valuable resource in planning the company's 100-year celebration."
Wendel graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1936, then served two years on the USS Arizona before resigning his commission to enter Harvard Business School. He received his master's degree in business administration in 1940.
But after the United States entered World War II, he left his executive trainee's post with Westinghouse Electric Corp. for flight training in blimps.
"It was very interesting," he said in a 1973 interview. "If they weren't so expensive, they'd make a great hobby."
After 18 months in the air on anti-submarine patrol, he was sent as part of a 10-man Navy team to operate the commandeered Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. plant in Akron, Ohio. His boss then was Capt. Tony Clark, who became president of Carborundum after the war and brought Wendel on board for that Niagara Falls industry.
Before joining Carborundum, Wendel, who also had run oil refineries on the West Coast during the war and had achieved the rank of commander by war's end, spent a year at United Engineering Co. as assistant to the president.
Just five years after assuming the helm of Carborundum, Wendel was being praised for rejuvenating the company, more than doubling its profits and putting it into dozens of business fields, some of them connected only remotely to abrasives.
After retiring from Carborundum, Wendel became chairman of a number of businesses, including Polaris Industries, and he served many local organizations. One of the latter was SPUR, the Society for the Promotion, Unification and Redevelopment of Niagara Falls, which he helped found in 1964 and which he served as president until 1980 and as chairman from 1980 to 1984.
"William Wendel was a truly gifted individual," said Henry Kalfas, who served as SPUR president in the early 1980s. "He had the Niagara community's interest at heart in everything he did, especially as a leading spokesperson for the Niagara area's economic, cultural and social concerns.
"William Wendel possessed a rare gift and we in the Niagara area have all benefited from his optimistic outlook and personal dedication," he continued.
Wendel received honorary doctorates from Niagara University and Clarkson College and awards from Harvard Business School and the magazines Industry Week and Business Week. In 1980, he was executive-in-residence and visiting professor at the Graduate School of Business and Public Administration at Cornell University.
Wendel served on the boards of directors of several corporations, including Allegheny International, Dunlop Tire & Rubber Corp., Energy Reserves Group, Marine Midland N.A. Inc., New York Telephone Co. and Norfolk & Western Railway Co.
Wendel and his wife, Louise, who was his high school sweetheart, had a home on the Buffalo waterfront, as well as their summer home in Georgia.
In addition to his wife, survivors include two sons, William H. Jr. and Jeffrey; a daughter, Christine Longyear, and three grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete Monday night.