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The life of Robert (Bob) Mark Burdner

Robert Hankey

(5/15) It was a life that almost never was and a family tree that almost ended on Feb. 5, 1885. That was the date of the Emmitsburg Blizzard during which three men on the Emmitsburg Railroad almost perished. One of those men was Bob Burdner’s father, Theodore Burdner, the train’s fireman.

Bob was born in 1887 into a devout Catholic family and received his education through the local Catholic schools. Bob provided community improvements as a steam boiler installer from 1912 through 1913. He worked with Luther Kugler and others on various jobs in the area including: St. Joseph Catholic Church, Slagle Hotel, the Catholic school house and Donald Forbs Motters station.

Bob married and had seven children. Sterling and Patrick died before the age of six from common childhood diseases and a daughter died shortly after birth. His only surviving son (deceased at 78), Joseph, married and had a son, Joseph Jr., who lived his entire life on Long Island after returning home after World War II. His oldest daughter Margaret married John Shryock of Taneytown. When she died at age 86, she left two daughters, Bonnie and Patty. His youngest daughter Roberta married Marlin Hankey of Gettysburg. Before she died at 58, she left two sons, Robert and Donald, and a daughter, Diane. His middle daughter, Delores, is the only surviving child still living in Emmitsburg.

Bob Burdner owned and operated an automotive garage from the west end of Main Street. According to his son Joseph, this business did not last, primarily based on his father not having bought a lift to enable him to have remained competitive with other local garages. Bob then moved to other efforts to include work on the construction of Camp David followed by finishing his working career, nearly to his death in 1965, with the then St. Joseph High School.

Bob was a good citizen having devoted 25+ years to the Knights of Columbus where he led that organization as the Grand Knight. Bob also was a member of the Emmitsburg Fire Company when that company’s means of responding to fires was contingent upon the ability of the firefighters to run as fast as heck to get the pumps to the site of the fire.

Bob was an accomplished brewer and vintner. It was said that young men from miles around all found their way to Bob’s house to get some of his homemade beer. His son-in-law, Marty, stated that it was the best beer that he ever tasted. One of his grandsons recalled how a lot of priests while on “retreat” in town would find their way to his house to sample his wine, noting that the older priests would allow him to fill their cups to the brim while the younger priests would start raising their glasses shortly after he began to try to fill them. His grandchildren also remember crushing grapes in a large wooden basket for their grandfather. His grandson wishes that his grandfather had taught him how to make the beer.

Back then, like many other men, Bob installed the electrical wiring and plumbing in his home. During these times, people were self-sufficient, hard working folks. A grandson remembers his grandfather stopping at St. Joseph Church every day on his way home from work to say some prayers. Never a lengthy prayer session, his grandson once asked what he was praying for; and the response was that his grandfather was giving thanks for having been able to work hard that day and for the well being of his family.

Do you know of an individual who helped shape Emmitsburg?
If so, send their story to us at: history@emmitsburg.net