Albert John Wenzel, formerly of Wyndmoor, a 1965 graduate of Chestnut Hill Academy and former member of Whitemarsh Valley Country Club with an arm's-length list of talents and accomplishments, died April 11 at the age of 76. He lived in Sarasota, Fla.
According to his sister, Betsy Marple, and son, Austin, he fought a valiant battle against cancer, displaying his trademarks of grit, courage and strength until the end. Wenzel, who played baseball in the Wyndmoor Bantam Little League as a child, was a gifted musician, songwriter and author, as well as a dedicated Navy man, marathon runner, avid motorcyclist (in his younger years), third-degree black belt in Taekwondo, coach, teacher, business executive and real estate broker. But the role he cherished most was that of a family man and father to his sons.
Three years ago, Wenzel's book, “Internet Dream Date,” was published, earning him five-star reviews on amazon.com. The fictional book tells the story of Richard Lambert, a lonely, retired widower who tries online dating and winds up having relationships with two fascinating women, discovering undisclosed secrets about both of them.
“I never really understood what drove him to write a book,” Austin said last week. “I think we all yearn for some level of immortality, a need to have our story put out there.”
Al was a loving husband to his wife of 45 years, Nancy, who died nine years ago, and later, a devoted partner to Traute Winsor, who had a real estate partnership with Al. According to family members, Wenzel was a loving brother, father and grandfather whose loss leaves an immeasurable void in the lives of those who knew and loved him.
“Al and Nancy were such a loving couple,” Marple said, “When people saw them together, most would think to themselves, 'I'll have what they're having.' They met at 18. They were soulmates and adored one another.
“Al was a marathoner who ran the Pikes Peak Marathon, the L.A. Marathon and others and loved working out!” Marple added. “I would meet him at the University of Pennsylvania football stadium. He'd be my drill sergeant, and we would run up and down those darned steps! Holy cow!”
Austin and his dad would run almost every weekend, starting when Austin was just 5. “He took me to 5K and 10K races,” Austin recalled. “It made me feel special because we'd often have that time only to ourselves to create a unique bond. His exercise discipline was always remarkable. During any free time on weekends and evenings we'd run, lift weights and practice boxing on the heavy bag.”
When he became a teenager, Al took music lessons with the late Bob Zatzman (he died in 2009, at age 75), who owned a Chestnut Hill shop where he repaired string and reed instruments and gave lessons to generations of students. Zatzman, who also composed four operas, taught Al jazz and folk guitar. Al later formed a band with other CHA students that played for years at virtually every local haunt.
“He did not want his little sister around,” Marple said, “but I'd try and impress Al with my singing. He wasn't ready to listen at first, but at age 16, I got to sing in his band called The Candymen. He was playing in our basement with the group, and I just invited myself to sing a few tunes and harmonize with them! And I made the cut!”
The Candymen played at Plymouth Meeting Mall when it first opened. Al went on to perform with other singers (“I was laid off,” Marple said.), and up until last year, he still strummed and sang songs he himself wrote or just loved to play. His brother, Dr. Richard Wenzel, would also play as family members shared food, stories and music. Marple said, “My daughter, Jennifer, compiled an album of her Uncle Al, Uncle Dick and me singing with the rest of the family that I will cherish forever!”
Al's son, Tony, told us that Al passionately taught his three sons to work hard. “I spent every summer from eighth grade to college working on moving trucks and in warehouses,” Tony said. “It taught me that you can earn trust and respect by working hard. It also taught me that I didn’t want to do that work forever and maybe college wasn’t such a bad idea, after all.”
Wenzel earned a bachelor’s degree from Regis University, a Jesuit school in Denver, Colo. For years afterwards, he led sales and operations, primarily for several relocation service companies. He also served in the Vietnam War as a radioman third class and had top secret clearance, followed by several years in the Reserve.
By a remarkable coincidence, on April 30, 19 days after Al's death, his uncle, John Wenzel, also a CHA graduate, was the subject of a major feature article in the New York Times. John, who recently celebrated his 100th birthday, lives in Brooklyn. The article chronicled his heroism in World War II. He left college at age 19 right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, became a military pilot and flew 93 bombing missions in Europe before he turned 21. He was awarded a Silver Cross and two Purple Hearts for his heroism, but he suffered later in life with horrible nightmares because of his war experiences.
For the last nine years of his life, Al Wenzel ran a real estate business in Sarasota, Florida, with Traute Winsor, his business and life partner. He played golf, biked and worked out at a gym almost to the end. According to his family, his legacy will live on through the lives he touched, jokes he told, lessons he taught and memories he leaves behind.
In addition to his brother, Dr. Richard Putnam Wenzel, sons Austin and Tony, Uncle John and sister, Betsy Marple, Wenzel is survived by another sister, Suzy Woodall, and son Andrew. Al's father was Albert AR Wenzel of Chestnut Hill, and his mother was Barbara Sue Putnam of Radnor and Chestnut Hill, whose grandfather was Charlemagne Tower, Ambassador to Russia and Germany.
Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org