Historical Figure: Russell Waesche
The most famous or publicly accomplished person who was born in Thurmont likely was Russell Waesche. Notably, Russell’s father, Leonard Randolph Waesche, joined the Catoctin Furnace as its bookkeeper in 1882 then became the business manager in 1887. He became general manager of the Monocacy Valley Railroad in 1897, which connected Catoctin Furnace to Thurmont and which the elder Waesche helped establish a decade earlier. Russell’s mother, Mary, was a daughter of George and Phoebe Foreman, who bought the Match House on West Main Street in 1847 and for whom Foreman’s Alley was named, which now is called South Altamont Avenue. Foreman heirs sold the property in 1904 after Phoebe’s death in 1902.
Russell graduated with the Thurmont class of 1902 then attended Purdue University in Indiana for one year before switching to the US Revenue Cutter School, which at that time was located in Curtis Bay, Maryland; some years later Waesche would play an active part in combining the Revenue Cutter service with the Life Saving service, to create the United States Coast Guard in 1915. Early in his career he served in posts around the United States as well as in Washington, DC. Waesche received his first command assignment in 1911. He served in Washington, DC during World War I then patrolled the seas during Prohibition to prevent distribution of alcohol through ports. After numerous other command roles, Waesche became the first Coast Guard officer to achieve the rank of vice admiral and admiral and served as the eighth Commandant of the United States Coast Guard between 1936 and 1945.
Waesche retired from the Coast Guard on January 1, 1946 after nearly 40 years of service and died only ten months later, on October 17, 1946, of leukemia. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Just weeks after Waesche’s retirement, the secretary of the US Navy awarded him the Distinguished Service Medal, and in March 1946 President Harry Truman nominated him as one of the country’s top ten war-time generals and admirals who served during World War II.
Fun fact: After Russell left Thurmont, his parents bought the house at 108 Park Lane in 1907 from Martha Rouzer, widow of John H Rouzer, and the property stayed in the Waesche family until 1964.