In cars or buggies, Staley enjoyed his ride through life

May 07, 2006|By MARLO BARNHART

Holding a black-and-white snapshot of a nursery graduation in the late 1940s at the former First Brethren Church in Hagerstown, Donna Sweeney Staley pointed to the small boy in the back row and a little girl squinting at the camera, standing just in front of him.

"That's Sonny and that's me," she said. "We'd known each other since those days."

Sonny - Donna's husband of 41 years - died April 27 at the age of 61.

Donna said they were older children when she and Sonny again crossed paths. That time, an egg brought them together.

Sonny used to go with his mother when she delivered eggs to the Sweeney home, Donna said. At first, he waited out in the car, but then, when he was about 14, Donna said that all changed.

"All of a sudden, Sonny started coming in - I guess he was checking me out," Donna said.


When they reached dating age, Sonny called and invited Donna to a church event at First Brethren, the church they both attended.

Donna said she accepted, even though she really didn't want to ride in Sonny's parents' old station wagon. But as it turned out, he showed up in a rather classy car - a signal to her of Sonny's lifelong love of historic cars and hot rods.

They were married in 1965.

"I was 19, and Sonny was almost 21, but even so, his father had to sign for him since he wasn't 21 yet," Donna said.

Sonny worked at Better Homes Inc., then went to Pangborn, where he worked for three months until he was drafted. Sonny served two years in the U.S. Army, most of it in Virginia instead of Vietnam.

"We first lived with Sonny's parents," Donna said.

That house still is visible out the window of Donna's current house on Beaver Creek Road. "We built this house in 1970," Donna said.

Neighbor Joanne Physioc said she always will remember Sonny's childlike enthusiasm about life.

"He always wanted to conquer things," she said.

When Sonny first got interested in horses and buggies, Joanne said, Sonny hooked up his horse, Brownie, with an old harness to a little cart and took it down the road. Over the years, he built several of his buggies himself.

Joanne said her daughter, Polly, had a horse named Dee, while the Staleys had Brownie. When Brownie came to the Staleys, he was underweight and had been underloved.

"Brownie must have thought he'd gone to the Hilton," Joanne said.

She remembered one time when she and the Staleys took Brownie and Dee up Dual Highway to Burger King, where "we hitched them to a pole and ate our breakfast," Joanne said.

Tammy Staley, the couple's only child, said she remembers the time her father taught her mother to drive one of the carts.

"The first time, she ran it up a tree and turned it over," Tammy said.

After Sonny retired from Pangborn, where he worked for 34 years, he turned to masonry work.

"It was hard, hard work, and he started getting really tired," Donna said.

After his illness was diagnosed last year, Sonny told his wife that he had a final wish.

"He was born next door, and he said he wanted to stay here at home," Donna said.

She was able to grant his wish.

"We took rides every day, and he was able to stay at home," Donna said.

Describing their marriage as a give-and-take proposition, Donna said she and Sonny did everything together.

"We talked all the time, and got along most of the time," she said.

Older sister Winola Ridenour was 18 when her baby brother was born. As he grew up, he became her troubleshooter in many things.

"Sonny and I helped take care of our father until he died," Winola recalled.

Her memories included how much Sonny loved Christmas, especially his last one.

"He was so happy because he was still here for Donna," Winola said.

Family and friends will gather today at 2 p.m. at Beaver Creek Christian Church to celebrate Sonny's life.

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