Lee Wehle, 90, formerly of Narberth, a civil engineer for the state Department of Transportation, died Monday, Nov. 23, at Blue Bell Place after a bout with pneumonia.
Mr. Wehle led a life full of what he liked to call "ordinary adventure."
He attended school in New London, Conn. On May 23, 1939, he was in math class when students began flocking to the windows and cheering. Steaming past them down the Thames River was the Falcon, a former minesweeper on its way to reach 59 sailors trapped aboard the submarine Squalus, which was disabled on the ocean floor off Portsmouth, N.H.
"It was a sight he never forgot," said daughter Ellen. Of the sailors, 33 were saved using a previously untried diving chamber tethered to the Falcon. Twenty-six others in the flooded torpedo room could not be saved.
As a young man, Mr. Wehle was drawn to the water. He spent several years as a merchant seaman on the Great Lakes aboard ships carrying iron ore and lumber.
"The hardest part was wintering over, once the seas grew too rough to sail. Alone in a strange city, time passed slowly unless you were lucky enough to winter in Chicago, where every sailor liked to be," Mr. Wehle told his family.
He liked to relate stories of the lively Chicago nightlife, where the clubs stayed open until dawn.
Along the way, Mr. Wehle taught himself to play the piano, flute, cello, violin, concertina, and French horn. He also was interested in vaudeville and amateur theater.
"I played the Palace," he told family, with a big grin.
Actually, he once volunteered at the Palace during a famous mime's show. The mime called Mr. Wehle onstage and then stole his hat. The crowd laughed as he tried to get the hat back.
Mr. Wehle met Margaret Barry while living in Los Angeles. The two married and in 1967 settled in the Philadelphia area, where they raised three sons and a daughter. His wife died in 1991.
When Mr. Wehle worked as a civil engineer for PennDot, he specialized in road safety and went to examine accident scenes. His job was to recommend changes in the road's gradient or other aspects to prevent future wrecks.
In retirement, he really hit his stride, his daughter said. He moved to Lansdale and was a familiar sight on borough streets, riding his bike to the shops even into his 80s.
He was known as "a great conversationalist" at Blue Bell Place, his residence for the last few years.
Besides his daughter, Mr. Wehle is survived by sons Donald, Michael and John; four grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.
A celebration of life is to be at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 15, at Blue Bell Place, 777 Dekalb Pike, Blue Bell. Burial was private.