John T. von Stade, whose 17-year term as President of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame from 1989 to 2005 is the longest in the history of the institution, died on November 25 at his home of Lutherville, Maryland, after a long illness. He was 83 years old.
“John will be sorely missed,” said Cate Masterson, Director of the Museum. “He had such a passion for racing, the arts and the Museum in particular. He has contributed in so many ways and his kindness and generosity will be missed by all of us. “
Born in Old Westbury, NY on June 28, 1938, Mr. von Stade was the youngest of eight children of F. Skiddy and Katherine von Stade. He graduated from St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, and Harvard University, developing his passion for music and art at both schools. Bass-baritone, Mr. von Stade has participated in and conducted the St. Paul’s Choir and the Harvard Glee Club. After graduating from university, Mr. von Stade attended the Aspen Music School and served in the Army Reserves. He then spent some time in the banking world before opening the Essex Gallery of Sport in Far Hills, NJ.
Taking part in thoroughbred races was a natural fit for Mr. von Stade. His father was one of the founders of the National Museum of Racing in 1950, president of the National Steeplechase Association and the last president of the Saratoga Association, which owned and operated the Saratoga Racecourse before its assimilation into what is now the New York Racing Association. In his youth, John von Stade drove a tractor on the Saratoga racetrack, tearing up the track between races.
Participating for a brief period at the Thoroughbred estate, Mr. von Stade partnered up with little Ivy Creek Stable with his friend Charlie Mellon. A few horses in the stable were steeplechasers, which led to Mr. von Stade’s relationship with New Jersey’s Far Hills Race Meeting and the National Steeplechase Association. For 50 years, Mr. von Stade was co-chair of Far Hills, helping to develop an event which, early in its history, drew a few thousand spectators in the country’s richest day of steeplechase, with over 50,000 participants and millions of dollars raised for charity. He did everything from sleeping stalls in the stables to installing snow fences at first, then managing hundreds of volunteers and guiding the facility as she grew. .
“He was an art lover, a historian. He was like an old school guy, but he managed to change over time, ”said Guy Torsilieri of the National Steeplechase Association, who spent 35 years running the Far Hills races with Mr. von Stade. “He had an amazing way of it, so sweet and focused. He knew which way things had to go and had to go.
Torsilieri added that Mr von Stade was the “fabric and glue” that held things together between the races and the foundation that donates to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Somerville, NJ. It is the headquarters of the Steeplechase Cancer Center and the von Stade. Lobby, built on $ 18 million raised with proceeds from Far Hills races.
After serving for more than a decade as a trustee of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, Mr. von Stade was elected president in 1989, succeeding Whitney Tower. During his tenure as Museum President, Mr. von Stade oversaw an $ 18 million project that modernized the institution and increased the size of the facility to over 45,000 square feet. After his presidency, Mr. von Stade remained administrator of the Museum and served on various committees.
In 1995, Mr. von Stade was selected to receive the F. Ambrose Clark Award – the highest honor in steeplechase – which is awarded periodically to a person who has done the most to promote, enhance and encourage growth and well- to be of the American steeplechase.
A longtime boxholder at Saratoga Racecourse, Mr. von Stade resided in New Jersey and Saratoga Springs until he moved to Maryland six years ago. He was a member of the Porcellian Club of Harvard, of the Knickerbocker Club of New York. the Racquet Club of New York, and for many years was president of the Somerset Medical Center Foundation in New Jersey.
Mr. von Stade is survived by his wife, the former Phyllis Kaltenbach DuVal; his son, John von Stade, Jr. and his daughter-in-law, Ann von Stade; Phyllis’ daughters and son-in-law, Anna DuVal, Olivia Duval and Joseph Cutrone; grandchildren Lily, Talbot and Charlie von Stade, and Orlando, Sophia and Nico Cutrone. He was also the proud uncle of many nieces and nephews, including opera singer Frederica von Stade.
Services will be held Sunday, December 19 at 2:00 p.m. at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Owings Mills, Maryland.
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