Esbenshade remembered as generous

VIENNA – When Vienna officials were unsure of whether they could afford to complete an $850,000 sports complex in Jackson Park all at once, Harry C. Esbenshade Jr. stepped forward.

“We weren’t sure we could afford to do it at one time, and Harry wanted to see it done at one time,” recalled former Vienna City Councilman Bob Marshall.

It was estimated the city needed a quarter of a million dollars to cover the rest of the project. Esbenshade made a significant donation to the effort, then set about raising the rest.

“The man went to work on it and got us what we needed,” Marshall said. “Writing the check was the easy part of the work for him.”

Esbenshade, a Yale University graduate who came to Parkersburg in 1949 to operate what is now Tri-State Roofing and Sheet Metal, passed away Sunday at his home. On Monday, he was remembered by those who witnessed his generosity over the years as someone whose contributions went beyond money and who never sought the limelight for himself.

“His joy was the satisfaction in making something good happen,” said Judy Sjostedt, executive director of the Parkersburg Area Community Foundation. “Harry didn’t want recognition. He just wanted to do good.”

Even the local venture with which his family name is perhaps best associated – the Esbenshade Series of lectures, performances and programs at Marietta College- was named not for him but for his mother, Frederica G. Esbenshade. Harry Esbenshade Jr. established it in 1980 in her honor, asking that “there would be a variety in the programs, it would be free, open to the public and advertised in the Marietta and Parkersburg areas,” according to the college’s website.

Esbenshade was also an emeritus trustee for the college, MC President Joseph Bruno noted.

“It was my pleasure to get to know Harry in the short time I have been Marietta College’s president,” Bruno said in a statement Monday. “His outstanding service and generosity is just part of his legacy at Marietta College, and it will continue to benefit our students and faculty for many generations. I know I join the entire Marietta College community in relaying to the Esbenshade family our sincere sorrow in his passing and that our thoughts and prayers are with them at their time of loss.”

Esbenshade started the Esbenshade Advised Fund at the community foundation in the 1980s. Sjostedt said the foundation would bring projects to Esbenshade for his consideration. Over the years, he distributed more than $220,000 in charitable grants through the fund, Sjostedt said.

“He favored capital projects and helping groups with substantial needs,” she said.

Esbenshade also served on the foundation’s board of directors for more than a decade.

“Harry was an incredible man,” Sjostedt said. “He had a key role in building our foundation’s financial and investment policies.

“He always wanted to make sure we made the very best use of what anyone gave us,” she said.

Sjostedt said she learned a great deal working with Esbenshade.

“I will miss him,” she said. “I considered him a mentor and a friend, and a great citizen of our community.”

Wood County Commissioner Blair Couch described Esbenshade as “a fun guy (who) was also very down to earth.”

“He told me once he really liked to contribute to parks and libraries (because) everyone from 8 to 82 can enjoy and use the parks and libraries,” Couch said.

James Edwards, president of the Vienna Public Library Board of Directors, said Esbenshade’s patronage of the library was “a blessing.” Esbenshade contributed to the renovation and new addition at the building several years ago and provided funds to purchase books. Often, he chose the subjects those books should cover, including construction, science and sports.

“He was just a strong supporter, even just physically being there,” Edwards said.

Esbenshade is survived by four children, 11 grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

(Staff writer Pamela Brust contributed to this story.)