Mark Wagenveld, 73, who went from rural Midwest farmboy to big-city journalist to beloved mainstay of civic life in West Philadelphia, a tall, silent type determined to make a difference but uncomfortable with the spotlight, died at home Saturday, Jan. 27, after a six-month battle with glioblastoma.
Mr. Wagenveld spent the bulk of his newspaper career at the Inquirer, where he was a versatile and even-keeled government reporter, deadline rewrite specialist, and suburban editor. During his tenure in the West Chester, Conshohocken, and Cherry Hill bureaus, his nurturing of young reporters won their respect as well as their affection.
He retired from the paper in 2005 after 28 years but did not sit idle. Mr. Wagenveld threw himself into various community efforts that had drawn his attention over the years, said Terry Mond, his wife of 30 years. He soon took on leadership roles, serving for a time as president of the Spruce Hill Community Association in West Philadelphia, a board member of the City School, and a board member of the Association for a More Just Society, a faith-based social justice organization in Honduras. He also was a volunteer for UC Green, a nonprofit group that plants and tends trees throughout University City.
In his steady, unassuming manner, Mr. Wagenveld rode herd on the annual Clark Park May Fair and the Spruce Hill association’s massive Halloween parades. Two of his last projects were to help the 4300 block of Osage Avenue win recognition as a historic district and to distribute thousands of fliers that helped police make two arrests in the February 2017 slaying of his friend and fellow community activist Winnie Harris, the acting executive director and longtime volunteer coordinator at UC Green. Police have said her alleged killers broke into the wrong house that day on the 300 block of North Holly Street in Powelton.
Eight months would pass before the first arrest was made, time that Mr. Wagenveld devoted to finding answers.
“I wanted to know who murdered my friend, and he said, ‘Let’s do this and I can help you do this,’ ” said Saundra Fulwood, a retired Philadelphia narcotics police officer who was one of Harris’ closest friends. She tirelessly posted fliers Mr. Wagenveld made seeking tips on the shooting. “It was because of him that I kept going. I was the foot soldier, but Mark was the force behind me.”
A quiet force, Fulwood, who last visited with Mr. Wagenveld on Friday, called him “a gentle giant. He was very quiet about what he did.”
Terry Mond called her husband “a very humble man who was always behind the scenes by choice but was the glue who held so much and so many together in lots of different ways.”
So humble that Mr. Wagenveld had insisted that she, upon his death, not “let them put more than a couple paragraphs about me in the paper.”
“Mark would be furious,” Mond said with a laugh Saturday when a reporter called for additional details on his life and interests.
Mr. Wagenveld was born in 1944 into a struggling farm family of Dutch Reformed Calvinists in rural western Michigan, an upbringing that imparted both discipline and moral propriety. His intellect shone through early, earning him admission to Calvin College in Grand Rapids, where he received a bachelor’s degree in English and history and where his flair as a student journalist was on display, as he editorialized against the escalation of the Vietnam War.
He went on to earn a master’s degree in history from the University of Maryland, and then was hired by the Winston-Salem Journal, where he served as an editorial writer and reporter. His writings contributed to the Journal’s successful crusade to stop a plan to dam the New River for a power project in western North Carolina.
As an Inquirer reporter, Mr. Wagenveld wrote hundreds of stories, delving into such subjects as the notorious murder of teacher Susan Reinert, the decay of Chester City, the mob wars of the 1980s, and the investigation of the MOVE disaster. He was also routinely drafted to write judicious and deeply reported obituaries, including those for former Philadelphia Mayor James H.J. Tate and former Pennsylvania Gov. William W. Scranton.
“Mark was an excellent reporter whose versatility and skill guaranteed that you could rely on him to produce a quality story on virtually any subject,” said William K. Marimow, a former editor of the Inquirer and now vice president of strategic development for the newspaper’s owner, Philadelphia Media Network. “Even after his retirement, Mark took an active interest in the work of the Inquirer: In late 2013, he tipped us off to an upcoming book that would reveal for the first time the masterminds of the Vietnam War-era break-in at the Media FBI office. And for the Jan. 7 edition of the paper and Philly.com, he wrote a masterful, front-page story about how John and Bonnie Raines planned and executed the burglary.”
Said Inquirer reporter Craig R. McCoy: “Mark had an amused and almost serene good judgment that masked his deep passion for the country. His scholarly bent and deep knowledge of history were a huge asset to the paper, too. Whether he was chasing a story himself, serving as unflappable rewrite man or editing, Mark was the consummate journalist.”
Neche Harris struggled with her emotions Saturday in recalling Mr. Wagenveld’s efforts to help find her mother’s killers.
“If more people in the world just had a little bit of the courage and gumption that Mark always had, our world would be so much better,” Harris said. “I feel selfish in saying I’m sad that we won’t have him anymore, that we have to do the rest of this journey by ourselves.”
In addition to his wife, Mr. Wagenveld is survived by daughters Grace and Sarah; a sister; and a brother.
A visitation from 9:45 to 10:45 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 17, will be followed by a funeral service at 11 a.m. at Old Pine Street Presbyterian Church, 412 Pine St. A life celebration will be held afterward at the City School, 910 N. Sixth St., where he was a board member. Burial is private.
Memorial gifts may be made to the Association for a More Just Society, Box 888631, Grand Rapids, Mich. 49588.