Family has warm memories of 'Sonny'

October 08, 2006|by MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail publishes "A Life Remembered." This continuing series takes 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 Walter D. "Sonny" Bromley Jr., who died Sept. 28 at the age of 72. His obituary appeared in the Sept. 30 edition of The Herald-Mail.

Every spring for many years, Louise Bromley Wyant took great pleasure in driving out of Smithsburg and gazing toward the mountain.

"Everywhere you looked, it was so pink and beautiful," she said, remarking on the buds adorning the Bromley Orchards fruit trees that dominated the vista.

Louise and her brother, Walter D. "Sonny" Bromley Jr., who died Sept. 28 at the age of 72, grew up in Edgemont, Md. They were the children of Walter D. Bromley Sr. and Katherine Bromley, founders of the family orchard business.


Between 1980 and 1985, when the Bromley Orchards in Smithsburg and Zullinger, Pa., were operating at their peak, there were eight farms totaling 1,100 acres.

"We would produce 100,000 bushels of peaches and 250,000 bushels of apples every year," said David Bromley, Sonny's oldest son.

From that high point, the business declined and dwindled over the years.

"The packinghouse burned, and we even didn't tell Sonny," Louise said.

That fire on Aug. 18 destroyed the building that once had been the hub of the Bromley Orchards operation in Smithsburg.

Still, the good days were more on the minds of Sonny's family as they gathered to share their memories of the man.

Ann Bromley Stevenson is Sonny's former wife and mother of their four children, David, Dean, Diane and Dana. Ann and Sonny were married from 1958 to 1989.

"We stayed friends through the years," she said.

At the time of his death, Sonny had been at the Fahrney-Keedy Home near Boonsboro for two years.

As Sonny's health failed, Ann participated in his care until his death. Retired from Fahrney-Keedy in 2000 as assistant director of nurses, Ann went back to work part time as a staff nurse to care for Sonny, as well as other residents there.

"He was always such a vital man," Ann said. "It was very frustrating for him because he never thought much about illness - he was too busy with the business to take care of himself."

Louise said she and her brother worked from sunrise to sunset on the family's 30-acre peach orchard with their mother while their father held down a job in Frederick, Md.

When Walter Sr. came home at night, he gave orders for the next day - and in no uncertain terms, Louise said. Sonny later adopted that demeanor, too, speaking sternly and very distinctly.

"Sonny looked after me," Louise said, noting she was the youngest. "I also remember that I used to go along on Sonny and Ann's dates."

Ann laughed and said that was because her mother thought she was too young to date, so she was glad that Louise was sent along as a chaperone.

After she was married, Ann said one of her jobs was transporting the migrant workers to their jobs in the orchard.

The four Bromley children also worked once they were old enough.

"I worked in the orchard, and considered it a privilege," David said. "We not only learned about the fruit industry, but about life in general, responsibility, respecting other people's property and treating all people with respect."

Daughters Dana Baer and Diane Giffin said they, too, learned responsibility - at first, for preparing meals at home.

"I also enjoyed serving customers in the fruit stand," Diane said. "There, I learned to make signs and to make change."

Dana, on the other hand, preferred the assembly line, doing inspections and packing.

Both girls remembered that every family vacation or outing inevitably involved riding around looking at other orchards, meeting fruit growers or checking out tractors, old and new.

Ann and Diane agreed that the Bromley family was backwards - all of their vacations were in the winter because of the orchard work.

Most summers, Bromley Orchards employed 85 people in the field, and about 25 or so in the packinghouse.

Sonny's oldest granddaughter, Meagan Bromley, 16, said she enjoyed spending time with "Pappy" from an early age. She recalled one Christmas when Pappy arranged a family hayride.

"It was really dark and cold," Meagan said. "But Pappy loved it."

Sonny's Oct. 2 funeral drew many friends and acquaintances, including Sonny's former baby sitter, Florence Kaetzel, who now is in her 90s, Ann said.

The family is planning to have a memorial gathering for Sonny in the future so people can come and celebrate his life, Louise said.

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