Businessman, Olympian W.N. Ashenfelter, 85

William N. Ashenfelter trails his older brother, Horace, in the steeplechase at the 1952 Olympic trials. Both qualified for the Helsinki Games, where Horace would win the gold medal.
William N. Ashenfelter trails his older brother, Horace, in the steeplechase at the 1952 Olympic trials. Both qualified for the Helsinki Games, where Horace would win the gold medal.
Posted: June 21, 2010

William Nyman Ashenfelter, 85, of Malvern, a business owner, track star, and Olympic athlete, died of complications from a stroke Friday, June 4, at Neighborhood Hospice in West Chester.

After service in the Army, Mr. Ashenfelter earned a bachelor's degree from Pennsylvania State University, where he joined his older brother, Horace "Nip," and younger brother, Donald, on the track team. While at Penn State he won the Atlantic City Boardwalk Mile and was an Amateur Athletic Union cross-country champion.

In June 1952 at the Olympic trials in Los Angeles, he placed second behind Horace in the steeplechase. Horace went on to win the gold medal in the Helsinki Olympics that summer.

Mr. Ashenfelter told a reporter that he had done poorly at Helsinki because it had been his first international race. Several weeks later, though, he ran with the U.S. two-mile relay team that set a world record in London.

His amateur career continued with the New York Athletic Club, and he competed in the Penn Relays and the Pan American Games. In 1954, he won the U.S. 3,000-meter steeplechase championship, a title Horace held the year before. Mr. Ashenfelter broke a Penn Athletic Club Track Meet record in the 3,000-meter steeplechase in 1956, the year he stopped competing.

In the early 1950s, he began his business career with National Gypsum Co. In 1963, he established Ashenfelter Associates, a manufacturers representative for masonry and drywall accessory companies. Since his retirement in the mid-1990s, his daughter Mary Jo Heckman has operated the Malvern firm.

Mr. Ashenfelter grew up on his family's century-old apple farm in Collegeville. He and his brothers and his sister, Jane, helped make cider and sold produce from the farm at the Reading Terminal Market.

Mr. Ashenfelter played basketball at Collegeville High School. During World War II, he served in the Army with the 33d Field Artillery Battalion in Germany.

He graduated from Penn State in 1952 and in 1953 married his college sweetheart, Barbara Ranck. The couple raised two daughters in Malvern.

Mr. Ashenfelter served on the Malvern Borough Council for seven years. He was a 62-year member of the Warren Masonic Lodge in Collegeville and enjoyed playing golf and tennis at Aronimink and Hershey's Mill Golf Clubs.

In addition to his wife, his daughter Mary Jo, and his brothers and sister, Mr. Ashenfelter is survived by another daughter, Elaine Bednarz.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, June 25, at Paoli Presbyterian Church, 225 S. Valley Rd.

 Donations may be made to Natural Lands Trust, 1031 Palmers Mill Rd., Media, Pa. 19063 or National Audubon Society, 1201 Pawlings Rd., Audubon, Pa. 19403.  


Contact staff writer Sally A. Downey at 215-854-2913 or sdowney@phillynews.com.

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