Karl Altau of Waynesboro, Virginia,, died on Thursday, January 3, 2013, on his eighty-eighth birthday following a short illness. A resident of Waynesboro since 1956, Altau was born in the Estonian seaside resort of P"rnu.
As an 18 year old in 1943, during the German occupation of Estonia, he escaped to join an Estonian voluntary regiment fighting in the Finnish Army against the Soviets. He served there from November 1943 until September 1944 and participated in defensive actions on the Karelian Isthmus near Viipuri and the Vuoksi River.
Following the war, and invasion and occupation by the Soviet Union, Altau was not able to return to his home and family until 1980, and subsequently returned many times after Estonia regained independence in 1991. In September 1944, he left for Sweden, where he was to spend the next six years. He attended an Estonian high school in Sigtuna, Sweden, where he was to meet his future wife Virve. In Sweden, he graduated in 1949 from the Stockholm Technical Institute with a degree in chemical engineering, and then continued his studies at Auburn University (receiving an M.A. in organic chemistry in 1953), and Kansas State University, where he earned a doctorate in organic chemistry in 1956. His doctoral dissertation was on "The Consequences of Solvent Extraction on the Structure and Behavior of the Starch Granule." In Sweden, he was a chemist at Separator in Stockholm and Astra in SĀ"dert"lje from 1948 until 1951. From 1956 until 1986, he was worked at Benger Lab at E.I. Du Pont de Nemours in Waynesboro as a research chemist in the area of synthetic fibers. He had four patents and published a number of scientific articles, and was a member of the American Chemical Society.
With his wife, Virve (formerly Tarning), whom he married in Auburn, Alabama, in 1952, they were involved for many decades in the antiquarian book trade, focusing on American history and illustrated children's and sporting books and pamphlets, amassing a collection of over 25,000 titles, including hundreds of reference works.
He was also actively engaged as a stamp collector and belonged to the American Philatelic Society and a local Augusta County stamp club.
Among other interests, he followed sports closely, particularly tennis, and remained an avid Auburn and Kansas State football fan. He was a passionate tennis competitor over the years, participating in countless local tournaments, and played until he was 81. He loved the sun, going to the pool, reading, traveling, and enjoyed life to its fullest. Besides his wife of 60 years, Virve, Altau leaves two sons, Karl Stephen and Rolf Ilmar, along with their families, including three grandchildren. He is the son of the late August and Irina Altau of P"rnu, Estonia. His sister, Virginia, still lives in his hometown, along with his sister-in-law, Maimu and her family. A brother, Olaf, preceded him in death. A graveside service will be held at Riverview Cemetery in Waynesboro at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, January 8, 2013. Following burial, the family will receive friends at a reception at the Purple Foot in Waynesboro at 5 p.m. that evening. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that charitable donations be considered with the Friends of the Waynesboro Public Library or a charity of one's own choice.
Those wishing may share a memory or an online condolence by visiting www.ReynoldsHamrickFuneralHomes.com. Arrangements entrusted to the Waynesboro Chapel of Reynolds Hamrick Funeral Homes.
This obituary was originally published in the News Virginian.