On October 18, 2019, a wonderful man, much loved by an extensive range of people, left us. His passing will have a profound impact on the greater Emmitsburg community for decades to come. His name was John S. Hollinger and his life’s journey touched many—in fact, many who likely never knew his name. Like his father, he managed the former Sperry Ford dealership in town, which at one time was the third oldest Ford dealership in America.
His family, including his late wife, Theresa, were fixtures in and around all of Northern Frederick County and southern Adams and Franklin Counties in Pennsylvania, too. And, just like his dad, John J. Hollinger served as Fire Chief of the Vigilant Hose Company (VHC), Emmitsburg’s local volunteer fire department. Both John and his dad later went on to also serve as presidents at VHC.
John owned residential rental properties that, for decades, provided affordable housing for hundreds of families and individuals. In fact, if not for his generosity, some of those folks could have been among the homeless that we hear so much about these days. No matter what one’s station in life, John treated everyone with respect and dignity. He was always willing to listen and to help whenever he could.
He collected anything and everything about the history of Emmitsburg and its inhabitants; plus, he once had one of the most amazing collections of old Ford parts that existed anywhere in America. Amazingly, a great many of those parts were brand new because rather than turning them back in for credit yearly, he, like his dad, simply kept them in an old building on South Seton Avenue. That building is as distinguishable as any in town due to the wording still visible, “Emmitsburg Motor Car Company.”
Some years ago, many of those vintage parts were sold at auction. When he sold off those parts, some 30 years ago now, people from all across the country came, hoping to find a new or slightly used part, unlikely to be found anywhere else.
John faithfully spent his mornings at the VHC fire station—the “fire hall” as many old-timers called it. His recall of area history was nothing short of amazing. John, often affectionately referred to as the “real” mayor of Emmitsburg, made it a daily practice to drive the streets and alleys of town, looking for things that needed repair. His efforts helped town officials, as well as area business owners and organizational entities, by alerting them to things needing attention of great importance, many of whom were unaware of the unsafe conditions or infrastructure issues that needed to be looked into. He read all area newspapers daily, cover to cover, including the Frederick News-Post, Gettysburg Times, The Catoctin Banner, Emmitsburg News-Journal, Record Herald, and others, to stay on top of the news that helped his beloved VHC fire company stay abreast of changing times and keep in step with timely events.
For over 70 years, John’s fingerprints were on nearly everything the VHC did, as he served on its board of directors for decades, as well as on nearly every major committee in the organization, while also staying close to evolving technologies in the field of emergency vehicles.
But, it’s his impact on people for which he will be most remembered. Several of his sons carried on the family tradition of community service with the VHC. One son, Steve, has faithfully served as company treasurer for some 35 years.
Back in the 1980s, John bought VHC’s ‘Old Engine 63’ (a 1945 Ford American pumper, which had served the community for nearly four decades) and set about restoring it. Old 63 has been on display for years now at the Frederick County Fire Museum on South Seton Avenue in Emmitsburg. Visitors from far and wide have treasured seeing it. For a great many years, that old engine proudly carried Santa Claus to the town’s annual holiday celebrations, arriving with lights and sirens ablaze to the amazement of youngsters and even their parents who once saw the identical spectacle back when they were kids.
In his last days with us, he graciously donated Old Engine 63 back to the VHC, where it will be lovingly cared for. A little-known fact is that John’s great-grandfather, also John S. Hollinger, a respected orchardist in this region, once ran a business in Chicago that was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 (each October, National Fire Prevention Week commemorates that event from American history).
The VHC has always had a commitment to “it’s most important service”: Fire Prevention. So, it can be said that knowing the dangers of unwanted fire has long been in the DNA of the Hollinger family. The men and women of the VHC humbly and proudly salute our friend, Chief John S. Hollinger, and all that he did for our community. He is greatly missed.
Photo shows John J. Hollinger in the driver’s seat of the 1930 Engine, which was Emmitsburg’s first motorized Engine and which is now owned by the Rocky Ridge VFC.