In Memoriam John N. Lauer 1939-2018

Washington, DC – Members of the Hungarian American Coalition (Coalition) were deeply saddened to learn that John N. Lauer passed away on February 23, 2018. He had just turned 79, and by anyone’s measure, lived a full, adventurous, and impactful life. During the last eight months of his life he waged a heroic battle against cancer. He died at home, surrounded by his loving family.

In Memoriam John N. Lauer

John delivering his speech as Honoree of the Coalition’s ninth annual Gala Dinner 
on May 8, 2013, at the House of Sweden in Washington, D.C.

John was a devoted family man, outstanding business executive, philanthropist, community leader and role model to many.

He was born in 1939 in Washington, DC to Clarence and Louise Lauer and was the beloved big brother of Ann Lauer Kennedy. As was typical in that era, he grew up living within several blocks of most of his relatives. As many of the men fought in World War II, the women of the family raised the children together. John was an active Scout and athlete at Northwestern High School, and served in the Army Reserves between 1956-1963. He attended the University of Maryland where he received a B.S. in Chemical Engineering in 1963. That same year he married Edith Kish, who had emigrated in 1957 from Hungary. They began their 54 year-long marriage in Kingsville, Texas and subsequently moved to ten other locations in the U.S. and Europe where John pursued his career.

They had two daughters: Kriszta Lauer Nagy (Robert) of Plano, TX, and Andrea Lauer Rice (Barton) of Roswell, GA; two beloved grandchildren – Nicholas and John Patrick. John was the cherished uncle to many nieces and nephews and godchildren.

In 1969, John earned an MBA from Texas A&M University, in Kingsville, TX. 

He had a long and distinguished business career beginning at Celanese Corp. as a young chemical engineer where he was known as a troubleshooter. In 1987, John was a top executive when the company was bought by the German Hoechst AG. Two years later, he moved to Cleveland, OH to serve as President and COO of BF Goodrich. In 1997, he became President and Chairman of Oglebay Norton Company, where he created a unique performance-based executive compensation plan. After joining the Diebold Board of Directors in 1992, he served as the Non-Executive Chairman from 2005 until his retirement in 2013.

During this time, John served on several non-profit boards including the Visiting Nurses Association, The Cleveland Opera, and The Moreland Courts Condominium Association. He was an avid supporter of arts and culture throughout his life. In 2000 he was a co-founder of the University of Maryland College Park Foundation for the benefit of his beloved alma mater, eventually serving as its Chairman. He remained a devoted member and was an active leader of the Board for many years of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon National Fraternity.

In 2016, he joined the Board of The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, as a liaison with the University of Maryland.

Because of his strong commitment to higher education, in 1997 he established The John N. Lauer Banneker/Key Scholarship at the University of Maryland to provide merit-based awards for outstanding students who pursue science.

Due to his wife’s Hungarian background, after the fall of communism in 1989, he gained thorough first-hand knowledge of Hungary, Romania and Slovakia through dozens of visits to the region. Named an Honorary Hungarian in 1993 by Hungarian Ambassador Pal Tar, he was an active supporter of many Hungarian causes and organizations, primarily the Coalition.  In one of his interviews he said: “Since the Coalition’s founding, I have been an avid and enthusiastic supporter of the mission and many of the excellent projects of this organization. With interest and pride, I have encouraged the efforts of my wife Edith and daughter Andrea as they have actively participated in HAC’s many accomplishments, which have positively changed numerous lives in the Carpathian Basin, in the Hungarian American community, and, on occasion, have been able to inform government policies and direction.  The Coalition’s success has been the best possible return on investment.”

In 2013, The Coalition honored John for his tremendous contributions to the Hungarian American community at the annual Gala. The celebration included a surprise performance by the University of Maryland marching band – a first at the House of Sweden.

John Lauer’s thorough knowledge of Hungary, Romania and Slovakia was gained while accompanying Edith on dozens of visits to the region in the past 40 years. In 1971, the Lauers traveled to Hungary, the first-ever visit for John and an emotional return for Edith after her family’s escape in 1956. In 1977 they undertook an adventure-filled first trip to Transylvania, Romania, where observation by the feared Securitate was commonplace, and their Hungarian hosts often faced police interrogation about meeting foreigners. In the years after the fall of communism in Hungary, their trips to the region increased significantly. During those visits, John Lauer met and befriended such outstanding Hungarian writers and leaders as András Sütő, László Dobos, Béla Kató, Sándor Sára, Miklós Duray, Bishop Kálmán Csiha and others.

The Lauer Family’s Pannonius Foundation began sponsoring and mentoring dozens of Hungarian students and assisting the development of various Hungarian cultural and educational institutions in the Carpathian Basin.  Beneficiaries in Transylvania include Gabriella Nádas’s Godparents’ Program for the Reformed Kollégium of Kolozsvár, where the Lauers have supported the studies and have kept in contact with dozens of “godchildren,” as well as funding for Sapientia University.  In Slovakia, John undertook the moral and financial support of Madách Posonium Publishers and its Posonium Literary Awards, which over a 10-year period lauded 55 outstanding Hungarian writers whose work had never been honored before.

John Lauer was an avid fisherman, hunter and enthusiastic world traveler with a special interest in Mayan civilization and culture, the American Civil War and the European battlefields of World War I and II. He published extensive travelogues of his trips and had a keen interest in ancestry. He loved the opera, was a gourmet chef and a voracious reader. He was happiest when surrounded by family and friends, and was actively involved in the education and accomplishments of his grandsons. All those whose lives he touched, especially the young people in the US and Europe, have been inspired by his example and will keep his memory alive.

The Lauer family is grateful to the doctors and nurses of the Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Center and Hospice of the Western Reserve for their outstanding care.

A Memorial Service will be held at The Cleveland Institute of Music at 4:30 PM on Saturday, March 17. A Celebration of Life will take place at the University of Maryland Memorial Chapel at 10:30 AM on Saturday, April 14.

On Sunday, March 4, the 550-year old Reformed Church in Kolozsvár, Transylvania, dedicated its morning service to John, remembering his visits and support of the school over more than two decades.  The Director of the Reformed Kollégium, Árpád Székely, delivered the eulogy which was followed by a musical performance by the Kollégium’s choir.  A video of the event can be seen at the following link:

Last week, the Hungarian newspaper in Bratislava, Slovakia, wrote of John’s great interest and support of Hungarian culture in Slovakia.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to UMCP Foundation, Inc. 4603 Calvert Road, College Park, MD, 20740 – please note “Lauer Banneker/Key Scholarship” on check or go to; or to the Sigma Alpha Epsilon National Fraternity, 1856 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60201- 3837 with “John N Lauer Excellence in Leadership Award” noted on check; or go to  The SAE Foundation’s Annual Dinner in Maryland paid homage and held a minute of silence in his honor.

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