John T. von Stade, whose 17-year tenure as president of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame from 1989 through 2005 is the longest in the institution’s history, died Nov. 25 at his home in Lutherville, Md., after a lengthy illness. He was 83.
“John will be missed tremendously,” said Cate Masterson, the Museum’s director. “He had such a passion for racing, the arts, and the Museum in particular. He contributed in so many ways and we will all miss his kindness and generosity.”
Born in Old Westbury, N.Y., on June 28, 1938, Mr. von Stade was the youngest of F. Skiddy and Katherine von Stade’s eight children. He graduated from St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H., and Harvard University, developing his passion for music and art at both schools. A bass baritone, Mr. von Stade participated in and managed the choir at St. Paul’s and the glee club at Harvard. Following his college graduation, Mr. von Stade attended the Aspen School of Music 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, N.J.
Participating in Thoroughbred racing was a natural fit for Mr. von Stade. His father was a founder of the National Museum of Racing in 1950, president of the National Steeplechase Association, and the final president of the Saratoga Association, which owned and operated Saratoga Race Course before its assimilation into what is now the New York Racing Association. In his youth, John von Stade drove a tractor at Saratoga Race Course, harrowing the track between races.
Partaking for a brief time in Thoroughbred ownership, Mr. von Stade partnered in the small Ivy Creek Stable with his friend Charlie Mellon. A couple of the stable’s horses 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 served as co-chair at Far Hills, helping develop an event that early in its history attracted a few thousand spectators into the country’s richest day of steeplechasing, with more than 50,000 attending and millions of dollars raised for charity. He did everything from bedding stalls in the stables to putting up snow fencing at first, and then managing hundreds of volunteers and set the fixture’s course as it grew.
“He was an art lover, a historian. He was like an old school guy, but he managed to change with the times,” said the National Steeplechase Association’s Guy Torsilieri, who spent 35 years leading the Far Hills Races with Mr. von Stade. “He had an incredible way about him, so gentle and focused. He knew which way things needed to go and should go.”
Torsilieri added that Mr. von Stade was the “fabric and the glue” that held things together between the races and the foundation that donates to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Somerville, N.J. It is the home of the Steeplechase Cancer Center and the von Stade Lobby, built on $18 million raised from the Far Hills racing proceeds.
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 as its president in 1989, succeeding Whitney Tower. During his time as president of the Museum, Mr. von Stade oversaw an $18 million project that modernized the institution and increased the size of the facility to more than 45,000 square feet. Following his presidency, Mr. von Stade remained a Museum trustee and served on various committees.
In 1995, Mr. von Stade was selected to receive the F. Ambrose Clark Award — the highest honor in steeplechasing — which is given periodically to an individual who has done the most to promote, improve, and encourage the growth and welfare of American steeplechasing.
A longtime boxholder at Saratoga Race Course, Mr. von Stade resided in New Jersey and Saratoga Springs until moving to Maryland six years ago. He was a member of the Porcellian Club at Harvard, the Knickerbocker Club in New York City. the Racquet Club of New York City, and for many years, served as 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 daughter-in-law, Ann von Stade; Phyllis’s 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 numerous nephews and nieces, among these opera singer Frederica von Stade.
Services will be held on Sunday, Dec. 19 at 2 p.m. at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church in Owings Mills, Md.
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