John Bevans "Punkey" Foard III

Co-founder of Valley View Farms in Cockeysville who introduced the store's famous Christmas shop more than four decades ago

March 31, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

John Bevans "Punkey" Foard III, the co-founder of Valley View Farms who later introduced Christmas decorations and water gardens to the business, died March 21 of a heart attack at St. Clair Medical Center in Port-of-Spain Trinidad and Tobago. He was 75.

Mr. Foard, who lived in Parkton, was vacationing in Trinidad and Tobago when he was stricken with the fatal heart attack.

Born and raised on his family's farm in Hydes, he was a graduate of Staunton Military Academy in Virginia, and earned a bachelor's degree in 1955 from Rutgers University's College of Agriculture.

He served for four years as an Army Ranger and, after being discharged with the rank of lieutenant in 1960, returned to the family farm.

In 1962, he and his brother, William C. Foard, decided to open a roadside vegetable stand on York Road in Cockeysville.

"We started with spring onions, spinach and eggs," Punkey Foard explained in a 1986 interview with The Evening Sun.

"But that was in April of 1962. April 13, 1962. And we didn't have any produce off the farm but spinach. And the spring onions we got from a neighbor, and the eggs we got from the farm. And from there, we sold vegetables. We purchased things from the produce market," he said.

"Our dad was opposed to us opening on Friday the 13th, but we had to because that was the Friday before Easter, and we wanted to sell cut flowers," he said.

The brothers eventually switched from selling fresh produce and began focusing their business on garden plants, shrubbery and trees.

Mr. Foard said in the interview that they sold no garden supplies from November through February, and in order to keep the garden center going, took a chance in the fall of 1965 after a man contacted them asking if they would be interested in selling imported Christmas balls.

"I told him we didn't have any money. And believe me, we didn't have any money. So I told him to come out here, and he and I would pick out some Christmas balls," Mr. Foard said in the interview.

"After spending 15 minutes selecting balls, I didn't know what the hell I was doing," he said.

Thinking the man had selected an inventory of $100 or $200, Mr. Foard was amazed when the inventory arrived accompanied by a bill for $1,100.

"My brother nearly blew his mind," he said.

Further complicating matters for the brothers was the fact that they had nowhere to store the ornaments in their little 30-foot-by-30-foot building, which was really a shed. They hastily built a small addition with scrap wood.

"And we put the stuff there, and thank God, we sold almost all of it. And that's how we got into the Christmas business," he explained.

Mr. Foard, who was vice president of Valley View Farms, explained in the interview that the Christmas business eventually grew to include not only balls but lights, artificial trees, garlands, candles, cookie cutters and lawn ornaments, and accounted for one-third of the garden center's annual gross receipts.

Since Mr. Foard had been crazy about Christmas since he was a child, his brother, who was Valley View president, put him in charge of the entire Christmas operation, which meant he was also responsible for decorating the store and grounds with seasonal decorations and lights.

Mr. Foard was joined in this work, which commenced shortly after Fourth of July and was completely finished by the end of September, by other Valley View employees.

"Well, we had a typical brother relationship and didn't always see eye-to-eye. I'm a financial conservative, and he's at the other end," said William Foard, with a laugh. "But when we started into the Christmas business, Punkey just loved that."

For Valley View shoppers, Punkey, who was given the nickname by his mother, was a ubiquitous presence as he raced around the outdoors York Road complex aboard a speedy golf cart with his name painted on the side.

Mr. Foard was also in charge of the garden center's work force, many of whom were teenagers and young students.

"Punkey could be tough on 'em at times," said his brother, who lives in Phoenix, Baltimore County.

"A lot of the kids were 16 and 17, and thousands of them over the years have come through here. He could be tough because he expected a lot out of us," said Carrie Engel, a veteran Valley View employee.

"If you started at 7 a.m., Punkey expected you to be there at 7 a.m., and with a smile on your face. And if you were in trouble with Punkey, he'd let you know," said Ms. Engel with a laugh.

While stressing a clean-cut look and a willing cheerfulness to serve customers, Mr. Foard also instructed his workers that they were to escort customers, not merely give them directions.

New hires were also required to attend a 40-hour class in which Mr. Foard instructed them in vegetables and vegetable gardening, Ms. Engel said.

"While he could be tough, Punkey was a very kind and generous man," Ms. Engel said.

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