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Awnings his business, Niner a caring family man

July 17, 2005|by MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail will run "A Life Remembered." The story will take a look back - through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others - at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Herbert Elmer Niner Jr., who died July 8 at the age of 84. His obituary appeared in the July 11 editions of The Morning Herald and The Daily Mail.

marlob@herald-mail.com

Growing up as one of two daughters of Herbert Elmer Niner Jr., Peggy Warden said she remembers well his gruff voice and "air of sternness." But she also smiled as she recalled he rarely meted out any punishment.

"Daddy was a very kind and gentle man, permitting almost anything we asked," Peggy said. "He could aggravate us to no end, yet generously gave us his heart."

Until January, Herb had been in relatively good health for a man in his 80s, according to his younger daughter, Susan Eccard.

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"After he had a hip replacement, Dad began to decline," she said.

Sometime later, a feeding tube became necessary, but he seemed to be doing OK, Susan said. On July 5, she took him to the doctor's office and he was excited about his progress, but he died three days later at the age of 84.

A day after the funeral services, Herb's daughters and their families gathered with Herb's widow, Elizabeth, to remember and celebrate his life.

"We were married 63 years," said Elizabeth, who was nursing injuries from a recent fall.

Elizabeth said that before his service in the U.S. Army Air Corps in Italy during World War II, Herb had worked at an engineering company in Frederick, Md., and then at Fairchild and Jamison.

"Then in 1953, he bought an awning company and re-named it the Niner Awning Co.," she said.

That business, which was started in 1927, was at that time in the alley that ran along the former Herald-Mail building, now Prison Ministry Outreach, in the first block of Summit Avenue.

It remained there until 1978, when the business moved to its current location at 427 E. Franklin St., according to son-in-law Wayne Eccard.

"I first started working there part time," Wayne said.

Married to Herb's youngest daughter, Susan, Wayne operated the business with Herb since 1973.

Wayne described his relationship with his father-in-law as energetic, both in business and their personal lives.

"When I started in the job, I did everything in the labor part of the business," he said. "He was a good man, a good father to his daughters and a good boss."

In the early years of the business, Herb was in charge of sales and Elizabeth kept the books.

"Mom, who had gone to Hagerstown Business College, did that while raising two kids and keeping up the house," Peggy said, noting she also worked in the office during the summers from the time she was in middle school.

After about 20 years, Elizabeth wanted to retire from doing the bookkeeping and Susan took over.

"I also work for a bank full time, so I did the books from home," Susan said.

Sometimes, Herb voiced his displeasure when he couldn't find something in the office, but Susan held her ground and continued to do the books from her home.

Herb's office desk was legendary, Peggy said. "It was always piled high," indicating with her hands that it was about a foot above the surface.

"Once I tried to straighten things up on that desk and he said he knew where everything was," she said. Many times, she said, he would come in and reach into the middle of the pile and find what he was looking for.

The Niner family home was on Club Road until Peggy and Susan were grown. Both girls remembered their father teaching them how to ride bicycles and play golf, croquet and badminton in the yard.

"As dad got older, I got better at golf. But he always insisted that he had one shot less than us when we played together," Peggy said.

Summer was special for the Niner family, with either a trip to a theme park or resort area always on the agenda.

"They would usually be parks with a nursery rhyme theme," Peggy said. "We'd go the last week before school started in the fall."

There also were trips to Florida and the Poconos, the girls recalled.

"Mom and Dad rode the rides with us ... sometimes," Peggy said.

For the past five years, Herb was actively involved with the Hagerstown Traffic Committee.

"He was very vocal in his opinions and he never missed a meeting," Elizabeth said.

That devotion and dedication showed up in all areas of Herb's life, his family said.

"He passed his determination for success on to all of us, expecting us to be the best that we could be in all that we did," Peggy said.

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