Karl Altau

January 3, 1925January 3, 2013
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Karl Altau of Waynesboro, Virginia died on 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 Pärnu.

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 into 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 Södertälje from 1948-1951. From 1956-1986 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 Pärnu, 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 2:00 pm on Tuesday, January 8. Following burial, the family will receive friends at a reception at the Purple Foot in Waynesboro at 5:00 pm 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

Arrangements entrusted to the Waynesboro Chapel of Reynolds Hamrick Funeral Homes.


  • Graveside Service Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Karl Altau

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Jim Johnson

January 19, 2013

I worked with Karl at Benger Lab from 1974-76. He, Chuck Goodrich, Earl Chittum, Richard Harlow and I had a lot of fun in the Lycra research group and did a lot of good work together. Karl always impressed me with his knowledge, capabilities and patience with a younger engineer. After being transferred to other DuPont sites, I kept in touch with Karl through his book sales and have a number of books from him on my shelves. He was always a strong advocate of Estonian independence, and I thought about him when my wife and I visited Tallinn in 2011. Memories of his kindness, good humor and winning smile will remain with me always.

January 11, 2013

May the many happy memories of your active father comfort you in these sad moments. From the photos and the description of his life, it is clear that he lived fully, gave much and left our world a better place. Maria Pedak-Kari. Gaithersburg, Maryland.

January 9, 2013

We are so sorry to about your loss. We enjoyed having him as our neighbor.

Chris & Lisa Bodkin

Peter Mattejat

January 7, 2013

Mr Altau will be greatly missed. He was a gracious person and always had a great story to tell. His colletion of books had to rival the local public library! I'm glad to have known him.

Ann (Newnham) Lloyd

January 7, 2013

More than 50 years of memories of Karl and his family are special to me. He was a friend of my parents, and Cal and I always enjoyed visiting with him and Virve whenever we were in Waynesboro. He was a wonderful tennis partner, as well as a formidable opponent. Cal and I will always remember this remarkable man. Our sincere condolences to the family.

Elizabeth & Milton Davis

January 7, 2013

We greatly enjoyed meeting him and found him very interesting. Sorry & God Bless.

A. Altau

January 7, 2013

Tere, Vava Karl ma armastan siind! Aitah sa olid ni hea ja kallis mulle. Upisin palju sinu kast. Ma igatsen su jargi iga paav. Musi kalli -Aliisa

January 7, 2013

Karl, My condolences to you and your family. John Armstrong.

January 6, 2013

We are glad to have known you, Karl. You enriched the stamp club many times over.

Modris and Elaine Kucs

January 6, 2013

Many fond memories of talking with Karl while waiting in line at library book sales.
Dave Taylor, Charlottesville