“If you needed help with something, Ken was always willing.”

That’s how Alice Oskam recalled Ken Eckert, a fellow longtime volunteer with Historic Schaefferstown Inc. who died Feb. 23 in a fire at his home in Heidelberg Township.

Friends and colleagues remembered Eckert, 82, as an amazingly gifted craftsman in many areas.

The late Ken Eckert working at the squirrel tail oven located on Schaeffer Farm. (Provided by HSI)

“He was really something,” said Bill Ross, who knew Eckert since the 1970s.

According to his obituary on clauserfh.com, Eckert was a native of Pittsburgh who served in the Navy from 1959 to 1962, where he learned engineering skills. He then worked as a technician and manager for 30 years at IBM.

“Ken’s passions were many and he loved sharing his skills and knowledge,” his obituary read. “He loved nature, animals, fishing, boating and sailing, and shooting. An aeronautic buff, he spent many years building, fixing and flying ultralight planes. A collector and creator of tools and gadgets, Ken could fix what was broken, even creating the parts he needed.”

Lynn Wenger, a friend and Historic Schaefferstown board member, said he used to ride motorcycles with Eckert. “He took me over the back roads of Lancaster County,” he said.

“He loved to ride as I did.”

And Eckert enjoyed sailing the Chesapeake Bay around Tilghman Island, Ross said
For more than 25 years, he was involved with the preservation and restoration of Historic Schaefferstown, “sharing his time, knowledge and skills as a craftsman, engineer, woodworker, stonemason, historian, demonstrator and friend,” his obituary said.

Eckert leaves behind four children, eight grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. A private ceremony celebrating his life will be held on the Chesapeake later this year.

Wenger said he and Eckert helped each other years ago when both were restoring older houses, and they got involved with Historic Schaefferstown.

Schaefferstown was founded in June 1758 by German immigrant Alexander Schaeffer. According to its website, “Historic Schaefferstown Inc. is a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to the culture and unique history of Schaefferstown and greater southeastern Lebanon County.”

It owns three properties — the Alexander Schaeffer House and Farm, the Thomas R. Brendle Museum and the Gemberling-Rex House – and hosts two major festivals a year, in the early summer and the fall. “They’re our big events,” Wenger said.

As a volunteer with the group, Eckert squared logs for timber framing, which was done before the advent of large saws, and performed masonry work.

He and Wenger also restored the pig sty, Wenger said.

And at the yearly Young Villagers gathering, “he would always be the one to fire up the squirrel-tail oven,” said Oskam, a Historic Schaefferstown past president.

Eckert was a “fount of information” who was very patient and calm whenever he was teaching someone, she said.

“Ken was one of those who could build or fix anything,” Wenger said.

He said Eckert learned those diverse skills early, working on different crews with his dad’s construction company growing up.

When an old house was rebuilt on Eckert’s property, he did all the finishing work, Ross said. “He was a really good craftsman.”

But more than that, “he was a very good friend,” Ross said. “We really miss him.”

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Paula Wolf worked for 31 years as a general assignment reporter, sports columnist, and editorial writer for LNP Media. A graduate of Franklin & Marshall College, she is a lifetime resident of Lancaster County.