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John Donovan "Johnny" Price

September 11, 2010|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI
  • John Donovan "Johnny" Price smiles for this picture taken when he was about 12 years old.
Submitted photo,

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs "A Life Remembered." Each story in 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 John Donovan "Johnny" Price, who died Aug. 30 at the age of 69. His obituary appeared in the Sept. 1 edition of The Herald-Mail.

For young people in the Fairplay area in the 1950s and '60s, the Fairplay Carnival was the biggest thing around.

That's why John Donovan "Johnny" Price would park his light blue Pontiac Bonneville convertible across from the bingo stand and settle in for the evening. From there, he and his friends had a clear view of the entertainers on stage and the locals walking by.

And that's probably where, friends and family say, Johnny first noticed E. Patricia "Patsy" Norris. Johnny was four years older than Patsy and she was not allowed to date before she was 16. But her house was a popular gathering place where friends were welcome.

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"We had parties for everything," said Patsy, now 66, of Boonsboro. "If a canary died, we'd have a party."

Johnny got in on those parties, playing badminton, pingpong, pool or Monopoly. Soon, he became like part of the family. Patsy's mother joked that he was an adopted son. She even wrote a poem about it. Johnny settled into the role of family friend and played it cool with Patsy.

"I had a crush on him for the longest time. He was handsome. Blond hair, blue eyes," Patsy said. "He would just come to our house, sit or watch TV. I used to look out my bedroom window and watch him take other girls home from dates."

Johnny took Patsy to her prom because she didn't have a date. But after that, they continued to date other people. Once they even double dated with other people. Johnny and his date sat in the back seat of the car, and Patsy and her date sat in the front. At one point, Johnny put his hand on the back of the front seat and Patsy grabbed hold of it. The two sat holding hands with each other while their dates sat at their sides. Still, they didn't officially date each other.

Finally, on Patsy's March 9, 1964 birthday, Johnny decided to make his move. Another guy was driving Patsy home from work. But Johnny was waiting at her house, determined to take her out for her birthday. Patsy's sister Darlene tipped her off.

"I told the other guy he didn't have to come in," Patsy said. "I told him I'd had a crush on Johnny for a long time and he was waiting for me."

That night was Johnny's first official date with Patsy. Five months later, on Aug. 15, 1964, he married her.

Johnny grew up on a dairy cattle farm, the second youngest of nine children.

"He liked everything about the farm but the milking part of it," Patsy said. "And he didn't like to work by himself."

Patsy's brother, Chester "J.R." Norris, 59, of Williamsport, was a lifelong friend of Johnny's. J.R. said Johnny left the family farm in 1965 and spent several years trying to find satisfying work. He tried sales and bill collecting before taking a taking a job driving trucks for garment manufacturer Claire Frock Co. in Thurmont, Md. Johnny briefly returned to farming, but eventually settled on trucking as a career. He found his niche at D.M. Bowman Inc., where he worked for 27 years until he retired at 65.

Johnny and Patsy had three children -- Teresa Mills, now 44, of Clear Spring, Kimberly "Kim" Baker, 43, of Williamsport, and Mark Price, 42, of Fairplay.

Kim joked that driving gave Johnny "a lot of time to think and come up with crazy ideas."

One such idea came to fruition in the form of an outdoor kitchen. Johnny had built his family's home in 1979. Friends and family soon after started spending holidays camping at his home. They would bring tents and campers and congregate for spirited gatherings around a campfire on the lawn. While trucking along and daydreaming, Johnny dreamed up a way to enhance the outings. He decided to build a sort of shanty in the yard.

"It was like a mini, old-time building, with a jug of water, a pump for washing dishes. We kept pans and utensils there. It looked like a porch, like a 10-foot-by-10-foot deck," Kim said. "He built it just for fun. The grandkids would play there and make mud pies."

Meanwhile, Johnny always had a penchant for the Old West and Native American folklore. He enjoyed the works of Zane Grey, Louis L'Amour and John Wayne. Family members guess these things, in part, inspired his idea to erect an 18-foot replica of a Sioux teepee on a ridge overlooking his home.

"He came home from a trip and said, 'I was thinking,' then -- bam! -- (the teepee) was there," Kim said.

As Johnny grew older and gained a few pounds, he declared himself chief of the "potbelly" Indian tribe. He continued to host campouts, roasting mountain pies and hot dogs -- or tube steaks, as he called them -- over the fire.

"He was always caring and he loved to have fun," said Mark Price, Johnny's son.

In July 2009, Patsy said the couple took "the vacation of a lifetime." They traveled to California and back, visiting 25 states, including western towns and state parks.

Johnny was a member of Harvest Baptist Church. Throughout life, and facing death, he drew strength and joy from his faith, J.R. said.

"The last things he said before being hooked up to a ventilator were, 'You've got to take the bad with the good,'" J.R. said. "Then, he said, 'Rejoice in the Lord always.'"

Johnny passed away one week later at the age of 69.

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