Under Mr. Young's 43-year tenure, the bargaining unit grew from representing clerks in Philadelphia and the close-in suburbs to advocating for 24,000 workers in the region and across Pennsylvania.
As a result of expansion and company mergers, including a 1979 merger with a meat cutters' union, Local 1776 became more diverse.
It now includes retail employees, food-processing workers, health-care professionals, office and administrative workers, and employees of state liquor stores.
As word of his death spread, accolades flowed in from Philadelphia leaders.
"Wendell Young III was a truly good man," said Mayor Nutter. "He was always sincere and straightforward, a man who understood the political system and large organizations and who, for two generations, used that uncommon understanding as leader of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776 to benefit working men and women in the Philadelphia region."
U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.) called Mr. Young "a giant of the Philadelphia labor movement . . . and a man of action, a man of compassion, and a fighter for social justice."
"The labor and the peace movements in Pennsylvania have lost a great crusader," said Henry Nicholas, president of District 1199C of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, who knew Mr. Young as a friend for 45 years.
"He was the most progressive trade unionist of his era, and 100 percent committed to social and economic justice," Nicholas said. "And he was not only an asset to the retail clerks union but an asset to the labor movement as a whole."
A 1960 St. Joseph's University graduate with a degree in political science, who later obtained an MBA from Rutgers University, Mr. Young was known for swift and aggressive action when he thought it warranted.
In 1990, when Acme's parent company threatened to close its stores here, Mr. Young put together a strategy to have employees purchase the stores. Due to the pressure, the stores were taken off the market, saving thousands of jobs, said his son Wendell W. IV, who followed his father in 2004 as union president.
"We didn't buy the company, but no one else did either," his son said. Mr. Young also helped formulate a plan in 1981 to save the A&P stores from going out of business, paving the way for creation of the SuperFresh chain, his son said.
"Everything goes down the drain if you can't keep the company open," the son said. "He was so good at finding that silver lining and making it work for the members."
Mr. Young served in various positions within the AFL-CIO's Pennsylvania state chapter and from 1995 to 2005 hosted a weekly talk-radio program on WHAT-AM 1340, Talking Unions, focusing on the initiatives of the American labor movement.
An adjunct professor at St. Joseph's and a Hawks basketball fan, he frequently conferred with St. Joe's students about career opportunities.
He was active in Democratic politics, starting with John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign in 1960; he served as leader of Philadelphia's 35th Ward and as a delegate to eight Democratic National Conventions.
His commitment to keeping the liquor stores state-owned caused him to lock horns with political leaders. At one point, Gov. Dick Thornburgh felt Mr. Young's wrath after saying he favored privatizing the stores after pledging not to, Mr. Young's son said.
On Labor Day, Nicholas saw Mr. Young for the last time, ill and in a wheelchair. When someone mentioned a plan to privatize the stores, though, Mr. Young almost flew out of the chair, Nicholas said.
"Nothing had happened to his voice or mind," Nicholas said.
For many years, Mr. Young was active in fund-raising activities for his alma maters, Northeast Catholic High School and St. Joseph's.
He supported the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the Peggy Browning Fund, the Variety Club, and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. Proud of his upstate Pennsylvania roots, he was a longtime member of the Order of Hibernians John Kehoe Division No. 1 in Girardville.
In addition to his namesake, Mr. Young is survived by his wife, Katherine; sons Brian, Scott, Eric, Brendan, and Matthew; and 13 grandchildren.
A viewing on Sunday, Jan. 6, from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Boyd-Horrox Funeral Home, 200 W. Germantown Pike, Norristown, will be followed by a visitation from 9:30 to 10:45 a.m. Monday, Jan. 7, at St. Philip Neri Church, 437 Ridge Pike, Lafayette Hill. A Funeral Mass will be offered at 11 a.m. at the church.
Interment is private.
Contact Bonnie L. Cook
at 215-854-2611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.