William Sponseller, engineer

William J. Sponseller
William J. Sponseller
Posted: July 30, 2014

William J. Sponseller, 87, a civil railroad engineer and longtime Wayne resident, died Thursday, July 24, of cancer at Shannondell at Valley Forge.

Mr. Sponseller was hired by the Pennsylvania Railroad as a civil engineer fresh out of college, and remained in the industry throughout his career, retiring from Amtrak in 1991.

Born in Canton, Ohio, he attended Lincoln High School there while also working to help support his family.

He served in the Navy during World War II, and then attended Illinois Institute of Technology on the GI Bill. He graduated with a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering.

In 1950, he married Dorothy Louise Keffler of Canton. The two moved seven times in 16 years, throughout Ohio, Maryland and Pennsylvania, but finally settled in 1966 in Wayne, where they stayed for more than 40 years and raised six children.

During his time with the railroad, Mr. Sponseller worked on a variety of projects. In one, he helped create numerous rail links to connect coal mines with steel mills in the Ohio Valley.

As he rose from divisional engineer to chief engineer, he took on larger projects associated with Amtrak's Northeast Corridor Improvement Project. Most of the upgrades were done to improve speed and service between New York and Washington, said his son, David.

In retirement, Mr. Sponseller became a consultant for construction of the EuroStar Channel Tunnel, known as the Chunnel. He and his wife moved to London for three years.

When the two returned stateside, they traveled the country to Elder Hostels, teaching about railroad history and singing classic train songs. "He did the program, and my mom did audiovisuals," his son said.

Mr. Sponseller was a member emeritus of the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association.

The Sponsellers moved from Wayne to Devon in 2005. After his wife died of cancer in 2010, Mr. Sponseller moved to Shannondell in Audubon.

His Catholic faith and upbringing was the foundation on which Mr. Sponseller built his life. He was active in St. Katharine of Siena Church in Wayne, often staying overnight with his wife in the church hall to make sure the area's poor and homeless, who were lodged there, received sympathetic and proper attention.

"He wasn't pretentious," his son said. "He was extremely humble."

Mr. Sponseller had many interests, including working in the yard and garden, playing bridge and golf, singing, traveling, and applying his engineering skills on the home front.

His true passion, however, was time spent with others. He and his wife made friends widely, and entertained them at their home.

"When he and my mom were living in London, they made friends who came and stayed with them in Wayne," his son said. "It definitely opened up my eyes: Family is important, but friendships are, too."

Surviving, besides his son, are daughters Nancy Carroll, Janet Focht, and Carol DeLaney; another son, John; 17 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren; a brother; and two sisters. Another son, Michael, died from complications related to AIDS in 1991.

A viewing will be held Tuesday, July 29, from 9 to 9:50 a.m. at St. Katharine of Siena Church, 223 Midland Ave., Wayne, followed by a Funeral Mass at 10 a.m. Interment is in Calvary Cemetery.

Contributions may be made to Calcutta House, 1601 W. Girard Ave., Philadelphia 19130. The organization provides housing and other supportive services to patients living with AIDS.



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