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Olympic organizer Phil Wolff dies at 95

February 4, 2011
By CHRIS KNIGHT, Enterprise Senior Staff Writer, and The Associated Press

SARANAC LAKE - Phil Wolff, whose local contributions ranged from the Olympics to a downtown park, has died. He was 95.

Stephen Wolff said his grandfather collapsed and died Thursday at his second home in San Diego, though he did not specify the cause of the death. Philip Wolff also had a home on Kiwassa Lake in Saranac Lake.

Wolff was the oldest living licensed bobsled driver, founder of the Lake Placid Winter Olympic Museum and a member of the 1976 and 1980 Winter Olympic bid committees.

Article Photos

Phil Wolff stands with Shirley Hosler at Saranac Lake’s Memorial Day ceremony in May 2010 in Riverside Park, which he designed in 1937.
(Enterprise file photo — Nathan Brown)

In 1978, he was appointed chief of staff of the Lake Placid Winter Olympic Organizing Committee, a position he held until its closure in 1987, volunteering his time during the last three years of that assignment. He also served as chief of the security committee for the 1980 Winter Games.

In a 2002 interview with the Enterprise, Wolff said the 1980 Winter Olympics were a success "because every scheduled game went off on time and was completed.

"There were no protests as to judging or timing, and athletes' accommodations were second to none," he said. "This was the premise that we bid on - that we could provide the best accommodations for athletes. The athlete was number one here."

Wolff was instrumental in the Lake Placid Winter Olympic Museum being awarded the 2005 Olympic Cup by the International Olympic Committee. More recently, Wolff played a key role in getting Lake Placid's 1932 and 1980 Olympic bobsled track named to the National Register of Historic Places. Wolff spoke at a ceremony to mark that designation, which was also attended by Gov. David Paterson, in June of last year.

"Phil made a lasting impact by preserving the Olympic history of two Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid," said Scott Blackmun, chief executive officer of the U.S. Olympic Committee. "He built relationships acting as a conduit between the local community and the Olympic Family."

"Phil had an undeniable love for Lake Placid and the Olympics," said Jon Lundin, spokesman for the state Olympic Regional Development Authority, which operates the Olympic venues in Lake Placid and Wilmington. "He had a passion for the spirit of the games, and for the spirit of Lake Placid."

Keela Rogers of Lake Placid, president of the Lake Placid Winter Olympic Museum's board of directors, said Wolff was a tireless advocate for the museum.

"He was probably the single person responsible for getting us the Olympic Cup from the International Olympic Committee," Rogers said. "He did so much for the museum. It didn't matter how long it took or how many people he had to bother, but he made it happen."

Jim Rogers, Keela's husband, said Wolff worked hard to preserve and protect historical artifacts from the 1980 games.

"After the games, some people were trying to take everything they could get their hands on," he said. "He tried to make sure the historic stuff stuck around."

Wolff was also a businessman who, with his wife Elsie, ran a greenhouse in Ray Brook and a florist shop in Saranac Lake, which operated for 40 years.

Wolff was a graduate of Cornell University. He had a degree in landscape architecture, and during college he designed and built Saranac Lake's Riverside Park in 1937.

Wolff also was elected town justice of the town of North Elba in 1960 and served for 16 years, performing many marriages, including those of his children.

Dick Kibben, a neighbor and friend of the Wolffs on Kiwassa Lake, said Phil Wolff was a good mechanic who restored a Model T touring car that's now at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake. Wolff was also an avid golfer, Kibben said, and played the sport well into his 90s.

"He was one of my golf partners," Kibben said. "We played nine holes at Ray Brook every Wednesday. He had a beautiful golf swing. Last year was the first year he didn't play. The way I'll remember him is as a really keen, deep thinker and analyzer of things who was very much interested in the whole world around him."

Born in Buffalo on Oct. 19, 1915, Wolff made his first visit to Saranac Lake in 1928 and fell in love with the Adirondacks. After Wolff graduated from Cornell, he and Elsie Hughes married in 1940. He served in the Army Corps of Engineers in the South Pacific from 1943 to 45 and was among the troops sent to occupy Japan, visiting ground zero in Nagasaki just six weeks after it was destroyed by an atomic bomb. He received the Purple Heart, Silver Star and other citations before returning to Saranac Lake and served an additional 17 years as an Army Reserve officer, starting an Army Reserve unit at Paul Smith's College.

Wolff served as president of Saranac Lake Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club, and was a member of the North Elba town board, chairman of the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival Committee, and a member of the Northwood School board of directors.

Inducted into the Lake Placid Hall of Fame in 2002, Wolff also was a founding member and treasurer of, which began in 2006 as an advocacy group against high property tax assessments. He is survived by his wife, three children, and four grandchildren.

A funeral was being planned in Saranac Lake during the summer, the family said.


Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or



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