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In His Will, Former N.j. Mayor Gives Fruitful Farewell

In His Will, Former N.j. Mayor Gives Fruitful Farewell

By Ellen O'Brien and Joshua Klein, Special to The Inquirer

POSTED: October 05, 1989

The obituaries have all been written. The testimonial dinners are over. The political record is complete.

William G. Rohrer, former South Jersey mayor, former banker, former political powerhouse, now deceased, has nothing left to gain, nothing left to lose.

Rohrer, who had served as mayor of Haddon Township for 36 years, died of a heart attack on Sept. 22. He was 79 and had been ailing for the last few years from the effects of several strokes, arthritis, diabetes and heart disease.

But in the dry, formal language of the law, Rohrer said his longest, fondest goodbye to his home town and his favorite charities this week. And his will presents an image of a man who was busy all his life, fund-raising, promoting and bankrolling projects - and who somehow manages to be busy still.

Rohrer founded First People's Bank of New Jersey, and he owned about 350,000 shares - worth about $13 million - in the bank at the time of his death, along with more than 100 real estate properties throughout South Jersey, according to his longtime attorney, Thomas Bantivoglio.

His will, probated Tuesday, sets up a trust fund worth millions to help support local nonprofit groups and South Jersey branches of national organizations.

He also left hundreds of thousands of dollars to an unfinished library project in Haddon Township, to area hospitals, foundations, churches of various denominations - even to the local Little League - as well as to family members and friends.

"He was a very generous man," Bantivoglio said.

Rohrer bequeathed $600,000 to Haddon Township "solely for the establishment of a free public library in the township," a new library he had not brought into the township in the 36 years he was mayor, and that he evidently "saw as something unfinished," said the township's present mayor, William J. Park Jr.

Rohrer asked in his will "that the library be designated the William G. Rohrer Memorial Library," and promised an additional $150,000 for a multipurpose room displaying "the many plaques and other honorary awards which I have received."

Rohrer also left $30,000 for the township Little League, and $40,000 to the Bancroft School for the handicapped in Haddonfield - "a heavenly gift for us," according to school president George W. Niemann. He said Rohrer once helped the school when it was looking for a loan; First People's Bank provided the lowest rates of any institution the school approached.

Rohrer left $35,000 each to the Camden County Leukemia Society and Camden County Planned Parenthood Association, and $60,000 each to the county chapters of the American Diabetes Association and the Arthritis Foundation.

He left $100,000 to the Masonic Charities of New Jersey and $200,000 more for a new wing at the lodge's Masonic Home in Burlington Township.

In Camden, Rohrer bequeathed $50,000 to the Cooper Hospital Foundation - where he had served as a trustee from 1978 to 1987. In 1980, he had chaired a fund-raising drive that brought in $1 million for the hospital's cancer therapy program.

He also left $100,000 to the Bible Presbyterian Church of Collingswood, which is run by the conservative minister the Rev. Carl McIntire and which stands across the street from the home where Rohrer was raised, where he lived with his first wife, Floretta, when he was younger, and where he returned when he was old and sick.

And he left $75,000 each to the Grace Baptist Church of Westmont, the Calvary Baptist Church of West Collingswood and the Emmanuel United Methodist Church of Oaklyn. He left $25,000 to the Rhoades Temple United Methodist Church of Haddon Township - the last, apparently, because he liked the sermons its pastor preached.

"He attended all those different churches," said his daughter, Linda Rohrer.

"Many people don't know the personal side to him. He was very traditional and very romantic," she said.

Rohrer left $500,000 to Linda Rohrer, who now heads the William G. Rohrer Inc., property-leasing company.

He left $200,000 to his daughters Eileen Rohrer and Wilma Abrams. He did not bequeath any money to his daughter Carol Moss.

He also left money to friends and other relatives, including $50,000 to an adopted daughter, Laura Rohrer, and $100,000 to his first wife, and $50,000 to his second wife, Mimi Rohrer, from whom he was recently divorced.

Linda Rohrer said that all the children had received gifts of property and partnerships in various Rohrer-backed concerns while he was living.

Of his bequests, the centerpiece in Rohrer's will was his $750,000 contribution to the library, a pet project that was not completed when Rohrer left office - by which time he had already set up a private scholarship trust that provides annual tuition help to local high school graduates.

"He's always been an education buff," Linda Rohrer said. "He went to night school at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. . . . He believed very, very strongly that you don't get anything unless you have a college degree."

Linda Rohrer became involved in recent efforts to donate a piece of property for the library before her father died, and when the Democratic- controlled Township Council hesitated to accept terms of the project, she said, she kept the news from him - even clipping articles about the controversy out of the newspapers he read each day.

The proposed library recently got the boost it needed, when the Camden County Board of Freeholders voted to fund a 10,000-square-foot county facility somewhere in the township.

"I had no idea, no idea whatsoever, that any provision was made," Mayor Park said of the $750,000 bequest. "It certainly will help us accomplish a really needed project. . . .

"I never really knew him in a personal way. I guess he was always 'mayor,' or 'businessman,' or 'banker,' " Park said of the man he succeeded as mayor.

Why Rohrer was determined to bring a library to town, he said, "I honestly don't know. . . .

"Sometimes, you know, maybe you feel that there are some things left undone."

1989 Oct 5