An Uncommon Common Man

Charles A. Bangert, Jr. was the kind of fellow you don’t come across every day, possessing qualities you don’t always find in one person. He was down to earth, accomplished, meticulous, organized, humble, good-natured, good-humored, and kind. Charlie was an engineer, corporate manager, craftsman and artist, and most important, a mensch (person of integrity and honor).

He and his wife Lu were nextdoor neighbors for some years. By the time we got to know them, Charlie had long since retired from the corporate life, 43 years as an engineer and general manager with the General Electric Company. Charlie was highly successful, smart with his money, and well traveled but never put on any airs.

About those travels, their home was filled with art treasures, bronze Chinese figures on horses, fragile ceramic pieces, that sort of thing — displayed on glass tables and elsewhere. Lu and Charlie raised three kids, welcomed grandchildren and other toddlers. It’s a wonder those precious artifacts were still intact.

The first memory I have of Charlie, though, was when I noticed a sleek, jade colored model car in their home. In 1937 he won the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild award of $5,000 (about $80, 000 in today’s money) for his futuristic car design. It paid for his education at Ohio State University. Some 55 years later, as he recounted the competition, he was as excited as he must have been the day he won the award at age 19. He was proud in a good way, not showing off.

Popular Mechanics December 1937
Charles A. Bangert, Jr. (rear left)

He had a youthful, creative, curious and interested outlook that was a balance of art and science. His paintings often reflected a scientific knowledge of perspective and light that he would playfully distort to engage the viewer. He had a dry wit.

Charlie had talent coming out of his pores. After his technical professional life, he spent his retirement picking up on his artistic side. He studied art, joined the Philadelphia Sketch Club, and built fine wood furniture by himself. Lu, his wife of 68 years – a woman as warm, enjoyable and great to talk to as her husband – said he built at least one new piece every year, usually in consultation with her, something that she would like or need him to build.

About that furniture, there were numerous pieces, always of museum quality with custom, cast brass fittings of his own design and special woods (he loved tiger maple) with pellucid finishes–from his own recipe, not straight out of a can.

One day Charlie showed me his basement workshop. I had fully anticipated a gleaming array of machinery, tools and gadgets befitting a “This Old House” TV production. In that clean, spare basement there was only one tool. A combination radial arm saw, drill press and whatever you could possibly need tool. And that’s all Charlie needed to work his magic. Astounding.

Come to think of it now, that was Charlie Bangert, an astounding, all in one combination kinda guy.

I just found out he passed away in Florida last November at 93. Since I never expected to be writing about our friend I don’t have any of his own words to share. But his family, creative legacy, and jade colored model car live on.

Oh, there was one other item on Charlie Bangert’s long list of accomplishments. Lu told me on the phone the other day, “He had a good life.”

Joseph G. Brin is an architect, fine artist and writer based in Philadelphia.

“Model Building As A Hobby”
Article by Charles Bangert, Jr. 1939

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