Joseph Gardiner

Retired owner of a mechanical contracting firm fought in World War II and kept horses on his Carroll County farm

  • Joseph M. Gardiner
Joseph M. Gardiner (Baltimore Sun )
April 12, 2011|By Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun

Joseph Michael Gardiner, a retired owner of a mechanical contracting business who was a World War II combat veteran, died of diabetic complications March 28 at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, Fla. He was 84 and lived in Taneytown.

Born in Baltimore and raised in Riviera Beach, he attended St. Rose of Lima School and the Jacobsville Elementary School in Pasadena. He left Glen Burnie High School at 16 to work at the Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard to help support the family. He later earned a GED.

Mr. Gardiner owned a high-spirited horse named Champ or Champion, which he kept in the grape arbor of the family's Rivera Beach home. Family members said the horse was purported to have bloodlines traced to Seabiscuit. His sister, Mildred "Babes" Zamostny, of Pasadena, recalled that the horse would jump the fence and just go — and the family would scramble through the neighborhood to catch him.

"He loved that horse," said his youngest sister, Margaretta "Midge" Bruce of Riviera Beach. "At dusk he'd play the guitar to him."

Mr. Gardiner enlisted in the Army when he was 17. He was assigned to an infantry unit and became a scout in the Ardennes-Alsace area during World War II and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He remained in service after the war and dispatched trains for the Army. He received a commendation for marksmanship.

His daughter, Pam Maher of Baltimore, said her father was reluctant to speak about his Army service, but told of how a grenade exploded near his convoy. "The residual blast sent his troop airborne, and was so ferocious that his clothes blew off," she said. "While the troop raced for cover, he found refuge in a German farmhouse where they graciously welcomed and clothed him. They enjoyed his company so much that they asked if he'd marry their daughter. Instead he came home with a large portrait of the young lady and a promise to return." In 1971 he made good on that promise and returned to visit the family.

"Joe was a very generous man," said his sister Midge. "He asked our mother to send him bags and bags of candy, which he delighted in handing out to the German children."

When he returned from the war, he operated a bulldozer at Harundale in Anne Arundel County. He helped construct new homes that were being sold to returning servicemen and other buyers.

He also worked on the construction of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. He had a night job that required him to keep bilge pumps working to keep water out of the concrete foundations laid during the day.

He enjoyed sharing the holidays with his family, and took pride in creating a beautiful Christmas garden: "Christmas was Dad's favorite time. He spoiled us rotten," said his son, Michael Gardiner of Reisterstown. "He made a giant train set that filled half the basement. He had a string that when pulled, the train whistle would blow and smoke would come out of the engine."

Mr. Gardiner purchased a used 1957 Corvette and raced it. He appeared in the September 1959 issue of Sports Car Illustrated. He raced at Marlboro and Cumberland in Maryland and at Sebring in Florida.

"He was poetic, writing his own verse in the cards he gave me. When I'd have lunch with a friend he'd surprise me by arranging the delivery of a dozen roses to my table, or I'd find a little gift in the pocket of my coat," said his wife of 50 years, the former Jimmi Lou Hess.

Mr. Gardiner became an owner of Heer Brothers mechanical contractors on West 20th Street. Among his many projects was air conditioning the Pimlico race course clubhouse.

"He enjoyed travel, fine restaurants, nice cars; the things that were missing from growing up during the Great Depression," said his daughter, Pam, who lives in Baltimore. "On Sunday he'd often create a Caesar salad with fresh crushed garlic, egg yolk and mashed anchovy fillet. He'd season and then marinate steaks in bourbon (usually enjoying a dram or two in the process) before grilling them. … He enjoyed life to life with gusto."

She said he realized one of his dreams in 1972 when he purchased a 52-acre farm in Carroll County where he raised horses and a few heifers. "He only rode Western, and always wore Tony Lama cowboy boots and a 10-gallon hat," said his daughter. "Not surprisingly, he was a fan of Western films, particularly Tom Mix and John Wayne."

Mr. Gardiner owned Lucky, a retired race horse. He and the horse fell on a ride one day, and Mr. Gardiner was flown to Maryland Shock Trauma by helicopter for treatment. The accident cost Mr. Gardiner the sight in his right eye. He remained undeterred and, after a lengthy convalescence, continued to ride Lucky.

Mr. Gardiner typically returned to his farm after work in Baltimore. He tilled the garden, mucked a stall, repaired a fence attired in blue jeans, cowboy boots and a bandana tied around his neck.

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. May 14 at Messiah United Methodist Church, 25 Middle St. in Taneytown.

In addition to his sisters, wife, son and daughter, survivors include four other sons, David Gardiner of Downington, Pa., Matthew Gardiner of Mount Airy, Scott Gardiner of Taneytown and Adam Gardiner of Littleton, Colo.; another daughter, Mary Bargteil of Severna Park; two other sisters, Catherine McMahon of Summerfield, Fla. and Anne "Micky" Hannon of Pasadena; and nine grandchildren. He was previously married to Marcella Lorraine Ward.

Jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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