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Remembering Judge William J. Stoner

George Wireman

Thurmont has always been proud of its citizens and taken great pride in the fact that a number of them have attained great success in many fields of endeavor. Each success has brought with it many rewarding experiences and special recognition, not only for the individual, but for the community as well.

I recall one individual who made a great impression upon me. He contributed much to our community in spite of his handicap....blindness. His name...William J. Stoner.

Most of the citizens in Thurmont in his day knew him as Judge Stoner, for he was a Justice of the Peace, and a darn good one at that.

William Stoner was a native of Thurmont, born in 1881 and raised on a farm located on the outskirts of the community.  Bill received his primary and elementary education in Thurmont and at the age of 17, he decided to expand his knowledge and took a business course in Baltimore. After several years of business schooling he returned to Thurmont to work on his fatherís farm. At the age of 22 he married a local girl, the daughter of Daniel R. Rouzer who operated a dry goods. It wasnít long after his marriage he left the farm and went to work for his father-in-law.

Bill Stoner became very active in the community and it was in 1919 he was elected treasurer of the Thurmont Board of Commissioners and served in this capacity for five years.  In 1924 Stoner became President of the Board of Commissioners and remained in this position until 1928 when he refused to accept the office because of  other duties.

In September of 1935 Bill was back on the Board of Commissioners as President, to fill an unexpired term. In this same year he became the town magistrate, or the Justice of the Peace, as it was known back then.

It was around 1931 when Judge Stoner noticed that he was losing his eyesight. One afternoon during a conversation with Judge Stoner, he informed me that as his eyesight  grew worse he went to the Wilmer Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Not long after the visit to the clinic he had an operation. How well I remember his words: "I was pretty sure that the operation was forthcoming, but I took it on the chin. You know George", he said. "The thought of going blind was much worse than the actual blindness."

One afternoon during a visit to Judge Stonerís office, I suggested that he should consider getting a seeing-eye dog and was quite surprised at his remarks..."I have a friend that has one and it was a great help to him. I guess I would like to have one, but the way I look at it, the blind soldiers and sailors need them more than I do."

Judge Stoner would often add a touch of humor to his handicap by saying..."I am just a country Justice of the Peace. I do the best I can with what I have.  I ask no favors or pity.  I would be very happy if I could inspire some soldier or sailor who was blinded in the war, to carry on and not be discouraged. I know first hand, how they feel at first, but they must remember that there is much in life that canít be seen."  That was Judge Stoner. I remember those words as if they were spoken just recently.

Regarding his humor, I recall one afternoon seeing Judge Stoner about to cross the street on his way to the post office.  I got hold of his arm and helped him across the street. As we crossed the street I said to him, "Judge, this is your seeing-eye dog."

He knew at once who I was for he recognized my voice. "Can you bark? " When we got to the other side of the street I barked once just for the fun of it. As we entered the post office, he squeezed my arm and said, "Thank you, youíre a good dog George."

On many occasions I would find myself helping him across the street and would be invited into his office for a friendly chat. His office was in the basement of his home. His desk was in a dark corner under a deep window sill that was covered with flower pots and begonias.  His wife Gertrude looked after the flowers and kept the office clean.

Judge William J. Stoner wasnít much for politics.  However, he was a Democrat and took great pride in the fact that he was voted on for town offices 21 times and was elected 20 times.  He once told me, "I never was one to play the game of politics. I never campaigned or asked for a vote."

Everyone who was brought before Judge Stoner in that small court room in the basement of his home, respected his judgment and decision, whether they won or lost the case.

Judge Stoner never considered himself something special, but to all who knew him he was indeed a very special individual. He is remembered for his many contributions to community life.  In my association with Judge Stoner, I learned a very important lesson...in spite of blindness there is so much in life that just canít be seen, even by those of us with good eyesight.

Read other historical articles by George Wireman

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