Johnson M. Fortenbaugh Sr., 79, Shore auto dealer, Realtor

August 08, 1998|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Johnson M. Fortenbaugh Sr., former owner of an Eastern Shore automobile dealership and a Realtor, died Tuesday of heart failure at his Oxford home. He was 79.

Mr. Fortenbaugh, a resident of Oxford since the mid-1940s, lived in the house that had been built by his great-grandfather, Tench Tilghman Bartlett.

"He always wanted to die in his great-grandfather's house," said his son, Johnson M. Fortenbaugh Jr. of Chestertown. "He got his wish."

Mr. Fortenbaugh worked for Noble Motor Co., Fibreboard Products and Metra-Tech before establishing Fortenbaugh Volkswagen in 1966. He sold the business in 1974 and was a Realtor until his death.

Born in West Baltimore, Mr. Fortenbaugh was reared at 1526 Hollins St., next door to famed journalist H. L. Mencken.

"He read a lot of Mencken and admired him. I think they shared some of the same values," said the younger Mr. Fortenbaugh. "During World War II, Mencken wrote several letters to [my father] while he was serving in the Navy."

In 1946, his father was the respondent in a celebrated and somewhat comical lawsuit that Mencken brought regarding the family dog, Skippy, a terrier. In the suit, Mencken claimed that the dog "barked incessantly," disturbing him and seriously interfering with his literary production.

Said Mr. Fortenbaugh's son: "Several years ago, I took my father for a visit to the Mencken House, and he enjoyed telling the docents" the story.

Mr. Fortenbaugh was a 1937 City College graduate and worked for the Western Maryland Railway and Glenn L. Martin Co. before enlisting in the Navy in 1943. He served with amphibious forces in Galveston, Texas, and was discharged at war's end with the rank of quartermaster.

In his memoir, "Oxford Summers," Mr. Fortenbaugh recalled the idyllic days of the early 1930s, when he traveled by steamboat to Oxford to visit his grandparents.

An avid reader of Maryland history, he was a founding member of the Oxford Lions Club and was a former member of the Talbot Country Club, Tred Avon Yacht Club and Oxford Museum.

A memorial service was held yesterday at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Oxford.

In addition to his son, he is survived by his wife of 52 years, the former Doris Zapf; two daughters, Jennifer F. Post of Claverack, N.Y., and Laura J. Fortenbaugh of New York City; and four grandchildren.

Pub Date: 8/08/98

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