Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Drivers keep watch for waving man

Blaring horns usually mean frustrated drivers. But at the corner of South Market Street and Clarke Place from 7:30 to 8 a.m. each weekday, they just mean hello.
Orville K. Johnson, 79, has stood at this intersection almost every morning for more than 20 years, smiling and waving at traffic.
"I don’t know their names, but I know their faces, and they remember me," Johnson said. "Sometimes I walk down Market Street in the summer, and people come up to me and say, ‘Man, let me shake your hand!"
The tradition started when Johnson would walk his German shepherd, Gunda, near the Maryland School for the Deaf. Children on school buses would wave at the dog and Johnson would clap his hands to make Gunda do tricks for them.
After Gunda’s death, Johnson continued the tradition with Nova, another pedigreed German shepherd. When Nova died in the early ’90s, the "most famous dog in Frederick" and her master made front-page news. Even without Nova by Johnson’s side, however, morning drivers made it clear they wanted him to keep on waving. He’s been there ever since.
"It’s good for my ego," Johnson said. "See, that’s what’s good for me. When you come out and look forward to people waving and blowing their horns. Laughter’s good for you."Waving and walking the block each morning is also good for his arthritis, he said. But Johnson’s life is more than his morning routine.
He served seven years in the Army before spending 23 years as a professional chef in the nutrition department of the National Institute of Health. When his arthritis forced an early retirement, he took hospitality classes at Hagerstown Junior College and opened his own business, O.K. Johnson Catering, with his wife.
He is a proud father and grandfather, and he owns a mint-green 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix.People who get to know his face sometimes stop and give Johnson gifts, such as cookies, jellies, apple butter and the wooden crucifix that hangs around his neck. When his dogs died, people tried to give him free puppies.
"I’m even out here on holidays," he laughed. "Especially Christmas and Thanksgiving, ’cause I know I’m gonna eat on those days!"
He is only absent when it rains or snows. In the years since he began his ritual, he has learned every detail of his surroundings.

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