Walt “Diff” R Diffenderfer
Walt “Diff” R Diffenderfer, age 91, of Bethany Village, Mechanicsburg, and formerly of New Cumberland and Elizabethtown, passed away on Saturday, April 21, 2018. Diff was born on Sunday, December 5, 1926 in Harrisburg to the late C. Walter Diffenderfer and Adeline (Glatfelter) Diffenderfer. In addition to his parents, Diff is preceded in death by his sister, Jacqueline Hollinger.
Diff’s survivors include his wife of 67 years, Carol Mae (Norton) Diffenderfer; his three children: Randall “Randy” Diffenderfer and his wife, Maryann Cooney, of Bloomfield Hills, MI, Bronwen “Wendie” Grazier and her husband, Martin, of John’s Island, SC, Jan Diffenderfer and his wife, Barbara, of Escondido, CA; his eight grandchildren: Mark Diffenderfer of Michigan, Katherine Pereira and her husband, Luiz, of Pennsylvania, Silvia Diffenderfer of California, Lindsay Grazier of the United Kingdom, Laura Ortiz and her husband, Jean-Paul of Michigan, Matthew Diffenderfer of Washington, Rhianna Grazier of the United Kingdom, Anne Diffenderfer of Wisconsin; his great-grandson: Luiz Pereira of Pennsylvania; and his three nephews: Thomas Stouffer of Virginia, Larry Stouffer of Georgia, Philip Stouffer of Louisiana.
He came into this world in Harrisburg Hospital as the second child and only son of C. Walter and Adeline Diffenderfer. Because his father strongly objected to having a Clarence Walter, Jr., his mother decided to outmaneuver him and call her son Walt R, little realizing what problems that would cause throughout his life: like being listed as Walter when he gave his name as Walt and always having to argue for no period after the R. Even Bethany Village didn’t get it right for a long time.
He grew up in an area midway between Middletown and Elizabethtown, where his parents owned and operated a nonalcoholic roadhouse famous for their BBQ sandwiches. It was a popular hangout for girls and boys from as far away as Lebanon. They came to dance and eat and play ping pong and the pinball machine. His sister and the girls who came there taught him to dance a killer jitterbug. He also became a whiz at ping pong and a master of pinball. During his last years in high school, he spent his long lunch hour helping out at a little restaurant near the school, earning a little money, getting lunch, and returning to school smelling of fried chicken.
He graduated from Elizabethtown High School in 1944, where he was awarded a Rotary Club scholarship for “having achieved the Highest Scholastic Average among the boys of the Senior Class.” He won an appointment to the United States Naval Academy, but his hopes were dashed when his physical turned up a deficiency in vision he hadn’t been aware of. So he joined the Army, training in Electrical Engineering for two terms at Virginia Military Academy, maintaining a high average. He moved on to the Signal Corp, from which he was honorably discharged in November, 1945.
Sometime in the late ‘40’s, his parents bought a property at 811 Wesley Ave, Ocean City, NJ, and he spent his free times there, indulging in his love of the ocean and the beach. This was the era of college girls knitting and he found an easy way to meet girls who muddled their stitches. Earlier, he had broken a hand and learned to knit as therapy. At the time, he hadn’t foreseen what a social asset it would be -- it impressed the girls!
He would be connected again to the beach when Randy and his wife Maryann bought houses in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, just a street back from the ocean and on the beach. His son Jan and his family live in Escondido, California, close to beaches, too, so wherever we’d go, beaches were not far.
He completed his college years at The Pennsylvania State College, where he started in Chemical Engineering courses, taking every math course offered. He was surprised to learn at graduation that he had a B.A. and not the B.S. he expected. What had happened was that somewhere at the start of his years at Penn State, a Kuder Preference Test top-rated him as a candidate for a future in Education. He happily switched his curriculum into Education; he’d disliked the Chemical Engineering anyway, the Saturday morning labs and strong odors were hard to take. Besides, the Education courses allowed him to have a social life. Those ed. courses founded the change from B.S. to B.A.
Nevertheless, he graduated, ready to teach. With his diploma in hand and his hopes high, he started job hunting. He soon learned that Kuder tests only point, they don’t promise. A teaching certificate for high-school math was not the path to solvency. The best offer was a post in Bristol, PA, at a salary of $2100 a year. Since several friends he’d tutored in engineering math reported jobs at $5000 a year and up, he realized he’d made a serious mistake in majors. His teaching degree led him to substitute teach at Cedar Cliff where he was popular with both students and teachers. He also did a lot of private tutoring even to children of the ones he’d tutored.
Several go-nowhere jobs later, he finally applied for a government position and started in late 1950 at New Cumberland General Depot, where he stayed until he qualified for a management position at the Naval Supply Depot in Mechanicsburg, PA. In 1966, he joined Electronic Data Systems and remained there until his retirement in 1991.
What can be said of a man who was so many things to so many people? He was son, brother, husband, father, teacher, leader and all-time best friend. He was a modern Renaissance man. He was good at a lot of different things. He could walk into a math class and teach it or go into his garage and set up his woodworking tools to build something excellent and useful. He could rewire a failing lamp or wire a house. His car had a strange noise? He could usually fix it. Computerized cars ended that interest.
His community was important to him, he never failed to vote. He was especially fond of its beautiful pubic library. He supported its projects, its bake sales, helped where needed for social events, ran its free movie showings, manned a table in several of the Apple Festivals, oversaw the production of Library Tales for a number of years, assisted in setting up the Friends’ jewelry sales, and as long as he was able, was Mr. Fixit for minor problems. He also served a term as President of Friends of the Library.
He enjoyed sports. In high school he lettered in baseball and football and never lost interest in either. He favored the Nittany Lions for football and the Phillies for baseball. He enjoyed a brisk game of volleyball and he was a stalwart player. At a company picnic once, he sprained his ankle playing volleyball. Undaunted, he settled his injured foot in a bucket of ice and kept on playing. Clumsy, but still in there.
He enjoyed fishing vacations with old friends, especially the ones in Canada, but he was equally at home in local areas, where he instructed his boys in the art. His final fishing trip was a deep-sea one that was dismal: the ocean was rough, seasickness felled most of the group, and no one caught anything. After that he gave his fishing gear to his nephew Larry.
He was passionate about mind games: word puzzles, newspaper contests (a prize winner in several sponsored by the Patriot-News, and a frequent winner in national number puzzles—another interest ended by the computer age), Sudoku. Board games and card games delighted him (his bridge skill earned him master’s points). He particularly loved games on the computer, where his first Apple allowed him access to Castle Wolfenstein and the Leisure Suit Larry games. Fiercely competitive, he played to win, never throwing a game to assuage anyone’s vanity. Family games often grew heated and were not for the fainthearted.
He loved theater: acted in plays, did a comic ballet bit with Adams School of Dance, sang with the chorus in a local production of Menotti’s The Telephone. He enjoyed working with the Mechanicsburg Little Theater, which was just getting started in a former one-room schoolhouse. It was a primitive setting, for in those days there was no back-stage. An actor who made a stage right exit and had to reappear at stage left, had to scramble out a window, sprint around the back of the building, and climb through the window at the other side. Diff designed and built the steps to make those windows accessible. I’m sorry he never got to see how lovely it is now.
We loved the Hershey Theater and its wonderful road companies that brought Broadway to us. It was London, though, where we indulged in theater: musicals, dramas, comedies; we were gluttons, several times doing as many as three shows on Saturday. Two musicals he loved were The Buddy Holly Story and Mama Mia, the latter so much that he bought the CD in the lobby, something he’d never done before or ever did after.
Above all, he loved traveling. Stateside, we did quite a few states, including Hawaii, but never made it to Alaska, though we had hoped to drive the Alcan Highway one day. We covered Eastern United States and part of the Midwest, and drove to Florida on several occasions, a stellar trip being to Cape Canaveral for the 1969 rocket launch to the moon. Foreign travel outside North America included England, Wales, Scotland, Singapore, Borneo, Malaaca, Thailand, Hong Kong, Macau, Barbados, and Saudi Arabia. He especially loved the beaches of Barbados when Wendie’s and her family lived there. They revived his memory of his days at Ocean City.
All his life he carried the ideals of his days as a member of Boy Scout Troop 34, Elizabethtown, where he earned several dozen badges in skills, like First Aid, Cooking, and Camping, he would find useful in his later life. Swimming and fishing ranked high in things he liked to do. Having grown up in a restaurant, his Cooking badge was a shoo-in. He achieved the rank of Eagle Scout.
He loved camping, from his early days at World’s End with his family, his Boy Scout activities, and on to his adulthood when he could share its pleasures with his wife and children. Eventually that interest broadened into tenting, and that led to a folding tent-trailer that took us, after a number of exciting side trips, to Yellowstone National Park, where bears invaded the restroom on one occasion and broke up our picnic on another. He also designed our tours of eastern United States, as well as one into Canada on a two-week journey all the way to Prince Edward Island, where we visited the Anne of Green Gables property. We camped on the other side of the island and enjoyed a feast of lobsters right off the fishing boats and savored the breads bought from roadside ovens.
He was a collector of sorts, from the previously mentioned stamps, to miniature Toby jugs, art from local artists, and tools old and new. He got into coin collecting when Randy, our oldest, showed an interest, but never found any of the rare buffalo nickels or a 1909-S VDB penny. During his boyhood he collected stamps, but when none of his children shared his enthusiasm, he put his albums into one of our yard sales that gave great joy to a youngster who spotted them. His love of music fostered an eclectic assortment of performances on 78’s, 45’s, LPs, and a few CDs. Big Band recordings, popular comedians like Stan Freberg, Bob Newhart, Bill Cosby, and Jonathan Winters, as well as vocalists like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Harry Belafonte, and Frankie Laine, and groups like The Kingston Trio and The Limelighters were there, as well as vocalists and groups right up to the time music became heavy metal and lost its singalong appeal.
He had a formidable sense of humor, was almost unbeatable in joke-telling marathons, loved playing simple tricks, indulged in gentle teasing, and sometimes set up “treasure trails” for his children and grandchildren to navigate in order to find presents. He was fond of parties where he could indulge in whimsical, sometimes outrageous and often prize-winning costumes. We won prizes at the Harrisburg Bal Masque on two occasions.
Anyone who knew him couldn’t deny he loved animals. As a result, his children were privileged to own a legion of pets: white mice, gerbils, tropical fish, hamsters, rabbits, birds, cats and dogs, and even two frogs who lived for a time in the bathtub. He taught Pippi, our small poodle, tricks which she then used to wheedle treats from him at the table. N’Gisti, our Abyssinian kitty, chose him for her own, often swatting his newspaper aside so she could get into his lap. He was a pushover for pets.
He was the complete family man. Though not given to sentimental words, he loved his wife and children and showed it through his hugs and support of them, his patience, his encouraging of their efforts and dreams, and his pride at their successes. He made sure his kids did their homework, even joining the PTA to keep a close eye on their educational environment. He was especially pleased that they finished college and married and produced his eight beautiful and brainy grandchildren, all college graduates (twins Mark and Katie, Silvia, Lindsey, Laura, Matthew, Rhianna, and Anne) He thoroughly enjoyed the first wedding, Katie’s, but was physically unable to attend Laura’s. Last year, he was delighted to welcome our first great grandchild, Katie’s son, when he was able to meet him and shake his little hand.
The Scout’s oath says “a Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent."
Diff was always a Scout. Our Scout.
All are welcome to join Walt’s family at his gathering of family and friends on Friday, April 27, 2018, from 11:00 a.m. until time of service at 12:00 p.m. and a committal ceremony with military honors at 12:40 p.m. all at Myers - Buhrig Funeral Home and Crematory, 37 East Main Street, Mechanicsburg, PA 17055; with Rev. Dr. Brand W. Eaton officiating. Diff’s family invites everyone to join them for a time of food and fellowship at the café next to Myers – Buhrig following the service. Cremation was private.
In lieu of flowers, contributions in celebration of Diff’s life can be made to the New Cumberland Library, 1 Benjamin Plaza, New Cumberland, PA 17070, www.CumberlandCountyLibraries.org/NCU_Support.
Diff’s family has entrusted his care to Myers – Buhrig Funeral Home and Crematory in Mechanicsburg, (717) 766-3421. Read Diff’s full obituary, view his memorial video and portrait, and sign his official guest book at Buhrig.com.