F.W. KNECHT III
Advocate of YSU mourned by many
The funeral will be Monday.
BOARDMAN -- F.W. Knecht III, a prominent businessman who was known for generously giving his time to many area organizations, died of cancer Wednesday in St. Elizabeth Health Center. He was 66.
Knecht, who went by Bill, was the owner of Wendell August Forge in Grove City, Pa., which opened in 1923 and is the nation's oldest and largest operating forge.
His impact extended much further than the business world, however. Many organizations in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys, including Youngstown State University, relied on him for his energy and enthusiasm.
"Where there was a need, Bill was willing to give back," said Dr. H.S. Wang of Eyecare Associates, who served on YSU's board of trustees with Knecht. "This is a loss, not just for YSU, but for the community."
Jim Winner, chairman of Winner Holdings in Sharon, Pa., said he was with Knecht when he died.
"He was my very best friend, outside of my family," he said, "We've traveled the world together. We've laughed together, cried together, prayed together."
Winner said he and Knecht frequently took business trips to Asia, where they enjoyed shopping for antiques and art.
"He was the most honorable person I've ever known, a kind Christian gentleman. His last words to me were: 'It won't be long, we'll be together again on the other side.' It was sad, but a little bit joyous too, because there was no fear."
Knecht, of Boardman, bought Wendell August in 1978 from the August family, and turned it into a multimillion-dollar manufacturer of intricate hand-made metal giftware it is today.
Using tons of aluminum and bronze annually, the company is widely known for creating and engraving individually hammered collectibles.
In 1995, as the company embarked on plans for retail facilities throughout the Midwest and South and for expanded direct mail operations, he announced the appointment of his son, Will, as company president, and turned the operation of the company over to him.
After that, the elder Knecht continued to serve as the company's chief executive.
He previously worked as a salesman for IBM Corp., where he specialized in educational sales. In 1974, IBM named him to its Golden Circle, which designated him as one of the top 100 sales representatives in the country.
In 1999, he was elected to the board at YSU, where he was known as an ardent supporter and advocate of the university, said David Sweet, YSU president.
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"He was always thoroughly prepared and was continually seeking ways to improve the institution. His loyalty, wisdom, generosity of spirit and incomparable enthusiasm will be greatly missed," Sweet said.
Joseph Nohra, fellow YSU trustee, said Knecht brought vision to the board.
"He had so many ideas in his head. Every day he thought about what would be good for YSU," Nohra said.
He called Knecht "one of the most outstanding human beings I have ever met."
"Whatever you can find about goodness in the dictionary you can use to describe Bill Knecht," Nohra said. "A Bill Knecht comes around only once in a lifetime. We're fortunate."
Dr. Wang said Knecht was known to question YSU administrators like a prosecutor and would always give a well-prepared presentation of his point of view.
Away from the board meetings, however, he enjoyed praising people and interacted with people with respect, Dr. Wang said.
C. Reid Schmutz, YSU Foundation president, called Knecht a valuable community asset. Knecht was on the foundation's board.
"He contributed greatly to the success of both the YSU Foundation and the university," Schmutz said.
Knecht was a 1960 graduate of YSU with a bachelor's degree in foreign languages.
He received YSU's Distinguished Citizen Award in 2001, the university's highest honor. That same year the F.W. "Bill" Knecht III Scholarship, was established at YSU. He also served as YSU commencement speaker in August 2001 and was awarded an honorary doctorate degree of humane letters.
A former president of the YSU Penguin Club, he was named Penguin of the Year by that organization in 2003.
In January 1999, he was inducted into the Youngstown State University Athletic Hall of Fame as a contributor.
Knecht received many other honors as well. In 1992, he was recognized as a regional finalist for Inc. Magazine's Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
Other awards include: 1995 Distinguished Citizen Award from the Boy Scouts of America French Creek Council, 1996 Distinguished Citizen Award from Thiel College in Greenville, Pa., and 1996 Great Communicator Award from the Youngstown Hearing and Speech Center.
He has been president of The Youngstown Club, Boardman Civic Association and Boardman Board of Education.
He was on the boards of Penn Northwest Development Corp., Mercer County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Mahoning Valley Historical Society and Rockwell Springs Trout Club.
He also was a member of the Dover Club, Duquesne Hunting and Fishing Club, Tippecanoe Country Club and Four Square Club.
Besides his wife, Connie, he leaves his son, Will; daughter, Deborah Fetter; and six grandchildren.
Calling hours are from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday at Zion Lutheran Church on Canfield Road in Youngstown, where he was a member. Services will be at 4 p.m. Monday at the church. Arrangements are by Davis Funeral Home.