George Dorian Wendel was born in Chicago in 1928 and in 1952 received his bachelor's degree in political science from Loyola University there. That same year he married Mary Collins, who later aided him in his research efforts, and the young couple moved to St. Louis, where they lived in public housing while Wendel finished his master's and doctoral degrees at Saint Louis University. He joined the faculty of the political science department at the University in 1956.
In 1968 he founded the Center for Urban Programs at the University, serving as its director until 1992 and overseeing major research contracts with the United States Department of Labor, the Brookings Institution, Princeton University, and the Danforth and Ford Foundations. In 1990 the Center's academic degree programs were combined with other public policy degree programs into a new Department of Public Policy Studies.
Wendel was an associate of the Governmental Studies program of the Brookings Institution from 1976 to 1983 and participated in research under Richard P. Nathan on federal public service employment and community development block grant programs. For Brookings he also helped to prepare a case study analyzing the impact of federal funding on St. Louis at its high point in 1978; the study was published as _Federal Aid to St. Louis_ in 1983.
From 1978 to 1983 Wendel was associated with Eli Ginzberg and the staff at Conservation of Human Resources of Columbia University to evaluate the impact of a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant to improve the quality of ambulatory primary health care delivered through municipal health centers. This research produced a book co-written with Edith Davis and others entitled _Health Care for the Urban Poor: Lessons for Policy_ (Totowa [NJ]: Rowman, 1983). Another Wendel publication with Ginzberg and others was _Local Health Policy in Action: The Municipal Health Services Program_ (Totowa [NJ]: Rowman, 1985).
From 1981 to 1984 Wendel worked with the evaluation research network established by Richard P. Nathan at the Princeton Urban and Regional Research Center at the Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University. He assessed the impact on Missouri of President Ronald Reagan's domestic policy for a book called _Consequences of Cuts_, published by the Center in 1983. In 1993 and 1994 Wendel was a research associate of the Urban Institute in Washington, D. C., which undertook a historical study of the federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program in cities around the country. Wendel studied the City of St. Louis, the City of St. Charles, and East St. Louis, Illinois for this endeavor.
From 1995 until shortly before his death Wendel served as a research associate in two urban research projects at the State University of New York-Albany's Nelson D. Rockefeller Institute under Richard P. Nathan, for which he investigated working and middle class minority-majority neighborhoods in urban areas and the participation of East St. Louis, Illinois in the federal empowerment zone and enterprise community renewal initiative. Wendel aided the Rand Corporation in the research for its "infamous" report _St. Louis: A City and Its Suburbs_, prepared for the National Science Foundation in 1973. He was also one of a team of consultants to a task force of the General Accounting Office of the United States that published a report on housing abandonment in St. Louis, Detroit, and Philadelphia in 1978.
Shortly before his death, Wendel and co-investigator Robert A. Cropf were commissioned by St. Louis Mayor Freeman Bosley Jr.'s advisory committee (headed by G. H. "Bert" Walker III) to design a "strong mayor" form of government for the city in an effort to make its executive structure more efficient. Wendel helped to found the National Council of University Institutes for Urban Affairs, now the Urban Affairs Association, and was on the governing board from 1972 to 1978. He was president of the Saint Louis University chapter of the American Association of University Professors in 1966 and of the Missouri Political Science Association in 1968. He served as a special consultant on planning to the City of St. Louis (1968-1977), technical consultant to the St. Louis City and County Plan Commissions and the St. Louis and East St. Louis (Illinois) Model City Agencies, and was the first chairman of the Citizens' Forum of the Regional Council of Governments for the St. Louis metropolitan area. He was also the first chairman of the St. Louis County Supervisor's Committee on Neighborhood Preservation and Development and in 1978 was appointed to a five-year term on the State Campaign Finance Review Commission. He was on the boards of the Human Development Corporation (the anti-poverty agency in St. Louis) and the St. Louis chapter of the Interracial Council for Business Opportunity. From 1964 to 1988 he provided political analysis for election coverage on KMOV-TV, CBS in St. Louis, and from 1989 to 1996 served in a similar capacity for the CBS-owned radio station KMOX.
Wendel, a resident of Clayton, died on May 23, 2000 of unexpected complications from lung surgery. He was 72. Survivors included his wife Mary and four sons: George Jr. of Dallas; William of Cambridge, Massachusetts; Peter, a law professor at Pepperdine University in California; and Paul, an obstetrician and gynecologist in Little Rock, Arkansas. There were also 14 grandchildren. The family set up a scholarship in his memory at St. Louis University High School. University president Lawrence Biondi, S. J. called Wendel's commitment to his students and to the campus and civic communities "inspirational," and "Bert" Walker, chairman of Citizens for Home Rule, one of Wendel's last initiatives, pronounced him "a legend." "For more than 40 years," Walker stated, "he has been considered one of the foremost authorities in the United States on city government and urban affairs." Wendel was renowned for his "authoritative and cut-to-the-quick speaking style" and for his willingness to face controversy, as when he alleged vote fraud in the city's 1991 school board elections. James F. Gilsinan, dean of the College of Public Service at the University, eulogized him in terms reminiscent of the urban environment he loved: "[H]e was like the gruff waiters and counter men who worked in the now disappearing saloons and delis of the urban core. He would tell a funny story, proclaim an opinion, or loudly cajole those who might have contrary views, all in an attempt to move St. Louis, and urban areas generally, forward. . .. George saw himself as an urban pathologist. ... His gloom and doom predictions were not always embraced by the purveyors of the latest city improvement schemes, but his carefully researched data and thoughtful analysis caused generations of government officials at both the local and national levels to seek his counsel." Mary Collins Wendel explained her husband's impact upon his students: "Many former students have contacted me about how he affected their lives. He always tried to be available to advise, to encourage, and to stimulate the students to think about problems of old industrial cities." During the 1998-99 school year the Student Government Association bestowed upon Wendel its eponymous George D. Wendel Civic Leadership Award, an honor that, said his wife, made him "extremely proud." Mary Wendel also noted that her husband was instrumental in helping to keep the University in the city when its administration was considering a move to the suburbs. "He felt SLU was an anchor for the stability of the city."
Wendel was the author of_Metropolitan Reform in St. Louis_ (NY: Holt, 1961) along with Henry J. Schmandt and Paul G. Steinbicker. He also produced numerous articles, conference papers, and reports.