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Thomas D. “Tom” Fenley
2023-12-11

            Thomas D. "Tom" Fenley grew up in rural Rhode Island on a farm without

electricity. After high school, he enlisted in the Navy and proved to be a quick learner as a ship radio and electronics technician during WWII. He served for 3 years on the USS Mt. Olympus, the Mighty 'O', under the command of Vice-Admiral "Ping" Wilkerson.

             As one of the first to go ashore in Tokyo after the Japanese surrender, he and his friends had the fortune to spend some time touring the island on Harley Davidson motorcycles that they had stowed aboard ship. He enjoyed lifelong friendships with his shipmates.

            Following the war, he enrolled in Brown University and earned a degree in Physics. During this time he also found he had a knack for not just building race cars but driving them as well. Racing was never his intention; he started building engines and modifying cars in his parent's barn as a means to earn money while going to college. He built a 'modified stock' race car for a customer who then couldn't find a driver. So, Tom tried his hand at driving and soon was winning in races and championships throughout New England.

            When his classes at Brown wrapped up, he packed up and headed south to Augusta, where he joined the DuPont team in building the Savannah River nuclear site. By 1950, the Cold War had begun and President Truman had authorized the acceleration of Plutonium and Tritium production along the Savannah River. 

            While in Augusta, Tom's racing continued with success as he and the likes of Cotton Owens traded championship points across the south and he even had a go at the famous Daytona Beach races in 1952.

            In 1957, Tom transferred north to a DuPont facility in Parlin, NJ, and he moved his racing exploits back to New England. Racing success came quickly at places like Stafford Springs Speedway, in CT, and Saratoga Springs in NY.

            For Tom, the early '60's was the dawn of a new era; he met a southern belle from Richmond, VA, and soon married his life partner, Anne. He also left DuPont and joined what today we would call a startup company; Shepard Labs. At Shepard, Tom embarked on the task of developing the first high speed printer for the recently invented computer. The design, using a tuned hammer concept, never made production as, like most modern day start-ups, the venture ran out of capital before they could bring a product to market. Following that adventure, he took a position at Moore Products Company in Springhouse, PA, as an R&D engineer, developing products for the process controls.

            Around the same time, Tom hung up his racing helmet and chose another hobby; farming.  First they settled on a small farm in Perrineville, NJ, and then, in 1966, they moved, with the first three of their six children, to a larger spread in Perkasie, PA, where they proceeded to raise a herd of cattle.

            By the early '70's, Tom had decided farming wasn't quite challenging enough and decided to add entrepreneur to his resume when he left Moore Products to take on an established tool, die and machining business in Philadelphia. Tom and Anne settled into a routine for the next 15 years, adding three more children to the family, raising cattle and navigating the trials of owning a business.

            Tom entered retirement with the same high energy. Intent on sailing the world, he bought and fixed up a large sailboat. While their sailing adventures never extended beyond the Delaware and Chesapeake Bays, challenges with keeping the battery charged while they sailed spawned yet another career as Tom spent the next 20 years developing and patenting a unique means to control motors and generators which eventually would be applied toward the burgeoning world of hybrid and electric automobiles.

            As if his life wasn't busy enough, Tom filled in the gaps with other hobbies that have become legendary. He loved to bird hunt with his two beloved Weimaraners.  He rode motorcycles during his military service and again later in life. He often took his driving skills to the road, seeing how quickly he could travel the 30 miles between the shop and farm. There's a curve on Hilltown Pike that his children still refer to as 90 MPH curve and trips to visit his family in Rhode Island were often interrupted by Connecticut's finest. 

            He rode horseback with his daughter and was known to ride right into the house on occasion. He taught his children how to fix all things mechanical and, when things didn't go right, how to swear like a sailor. He had a soft heart for all types of animals and his home was always open to the strangest rescues from the usual dogs and cats to raccoons, squirrels, hawks, snakes and even a tarantula for a time.  In retirement he and Anne also traveled the country with a travel trailer, often with a stop in Texas to visit his brother, George. On one particular trip to Alaska, they again stopped in Texas because, you know, Texas was on the way home from Alaska.

            After a century well lived, Tom passed away peacefully at home with his family by his side on Monday, December 4, 2023. 

            He was the husband of Anne B. (Loving) Fenley.  The couple had celebrated their 61st Wedding Anniversary on April 29, 2023.

            Born in Providence, RI, he was the son of the late George Anthony and Mildred Irene (Brown) Fenley.

            Surviving with his wife are six children, Katherine Keebler and her husband Thomas, of Upper Black Eddy, PA, Edward Fenley and his wife Yinan, of Ashburn, VA, John Fenley and his wife Sarah, of Perkasie, PA, William Fenley and his wife Cathy, of Palm, PA, Andy Fenley, of Fleetwood, PA, and Scott Fenley and his wife Julie, of New Britain, PA; and 13 grandchildren.  In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by two brothers and a sister.

            Memorial Services will be held privately at the convenience of the family.

            In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Pennsylvania Wounded Warriors, Inc., 1013 Mumma Road, Suite 203, Wormleysburg, PA  17043 or www.pawoundedwarriors.org OR to the World War II American Experience Museum, 845 Crooked Creek Road, Gettysburg, PA  17325 or www.visitww2.org.

Arrangements are by the Suess-Gahman Funeral Home, 606 Arch Street, Perkasie, PA. www.suessfuneralhome.net


 

 

 

 

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