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Donald E. "Donnie" Palmer Jr.

June 25, 2011|By JANET HEIM | janeth@herald-mail.com
  • Donald E. Donnie Palmer Jr. gets a hug from his wife, Joanne E. Palmer, in this picture.
Submitted Photo

Sundays are remembered by Donald "Donnie" Palmer's three children as a day for "going down to the country" with their father.

The drive was enhanced with country music — the older kind — and might include a stop to pick up ice cream when they visited Donnie's "people" in Williamsport, said Rodney Palmer, Donnie's oldest son.

Donnie kept his vehicles in immaculate condition, and a spin down Hopewell Road might mean washing the car down by the stream, as many others did. A bucket and towel were stowed in the trunk, just in case.

Rodney remembers his dad's Studebaker, a new 442 Oldsmobile, coupe-style cars, a Ford Bronco and a Chevy van sporting a painted-on hot-air balloon. Donnie also took Rodney along as a youngster to the Mason-Dixon Dragway when he raced cars.

Donnie was known for his talents in auto-body repair and paint restoration, as well as restoration of antique cars. He worked at several body shops in the area before opening Donnie E. Palmer Body Shop more than 35 years ago.

"You might as well say genetics. His dad did it all his life," Joanne Palmer said of her husband's career choice.

Son Eric, the youngest of the Palmer children, worked part time with his father, doing some sanding and minor body repair. He remembers learning to drive in his father's 1970 Mustang.

Donnie was owner/operator of his shop, first located in Pinesburg, then at Rodney's Williamsport garage on Falling Waters Road, a business that grew by word-of-mouth, Joanne said.

Rodney said he had the pleasure of being able to watch and photograph his father at work doing recent restoration jobs.

Donnie did paint restoration jobs for several NFL players, including Dan Wilkinson of the Washington Redskins and other teams, and Fulton Walker, who played for the Miami Dolphins and Los Angeles Raiders.

"He was a very talented person. Nothing was too hard for him to try," said Joanne, who described her husband as a perfectionist.

"Donnie was a craftsman. He was a very unique person," said Joanne's brother, Jerry Cole.

Donnie and Joanne Cole met at a teen dance club in Hagerstown. Joanne was from Detroit, but moved to Hagerstown when she was about 12 with her mother, after her parents divorced.

After they met, Donnie made a practice of coming from Williamsport for the club.

Joanne remembers how Donnie enjoyed listening to Elvis Presley. She added that the Frank Sinatra song "I Did it My Way" always reminded her of Donnie.

"The music has played in my mind since I have lost him," she said.

Joanne said there are no wedding pictures because the couple eloped in 1956. Asked how old they were when they married 55 years ago, she said "too young."

"But it seemed to work," Joanne said. "We had our ups and downs. It wasn't perfect, but you have to stick together and make it work."

The Palmers lived in several places, usually in Hagerstown's South End, before settling on Guilford Avenue. The house in which they lived for about 50 years was selected in part because of the garage in the back for Donnie.

"He instilled in me a very strong work ethic," said daughter Krista Daniel of Hagerstown. "He did what he loved."

Donnie also loved hunting, whether with a rifle or bow and arrow. He enjoyed the thrill of mushroom hunting, and Krista remembers the delicious results when her father cooked up his harvest afterward.

While the boys didn't share their father's interest in hunting, Rodney enjoyed his father's involvement in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.

Rodney remembers going to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico along with a fellow Scout. Donnie had paid for the other boy to go since his family couldn't afford the trip.

"He had a heart of gold and would help anyone who needed it," Rodney said.

Donnie and Eric had a shared interest in baseball. Donnie coached Eric's teams at National Little League, and they often cheered on the Hagerstown Suns at Municipal Stadium.

Trips up to the BMX track in McConnellsburg, Pa., with Donnie and Jerry's son Scott also were good memories for Eric.

Donnie also liked watching NASCAR, golf and other sports on TV.

Joanne said the couple lost their first child to cancer, then Rodney was born in 1957, followed by Krista in 1965 and Eric in 1971. There are six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

In addition to his talents with cars, Donnie knew his way around the kitchen. He was famous for his fried chicken, made with a mix of seasonings he wouldn't share even with Joanne, then deep fried to restaurant-quality perfection.

"It was a secret recipe," Joanne said. "He would chuckle to himself and he would never tell me."

Krista said her father used to make her soft-boiled eggs when she was little. She remembers his own touches, like scraping the toast to make toast sprinkles on the eggs.

"When he did things, he had his own special way of doing it," Krista said. "It was the same with his work."

He was known for his deer bologna and jerky, made using his own recipe.

Donnie had heart surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore in 2003 and had returned to his work routine as much as possible. After a recent spell of extreme heat, Donnie came down complaining of being hot, then wasn't able to get up off the couch.

"I had no idea the day they took him in the ambulance to the hospital that it would be his last day on earth and neither did he," Joanne said. "It was a shock to me. It's unbelievable that he's gone."

Rodney said the day before his father died, something told him to stop by to visit. He and Donnie spent an hour talking, for which he is thankful.

"He wasn't one to talk about his feelings, but it was definitely known that he loved his family and grandchildren," Eric said. "You knew it and felt it."

Krista said Donnie's mother used to make fruitcake and orange gumdrop cake for the holidays, a tradition Donnie looked forward to. Knowing of Donnie's love for fruitcake, Rodney already had purchased one at a Berryville, Va., monastery as a Father's Day gift, but Donnie didn't live to celebrate Father's Day this year.

"He was just very kindhearted," Krista said. "He would do anything for anybody."

"He was a wonderful father and husband. I can't say anything negative," Joanne said. "He tried to make a lot of people happy. He put other people before his self."

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