Remembering Johnny Janosik— A Story of Integrity, Perseverance and Hope
On July 1, local business owner, family man and friend, Johnny Janosik, passed away at the age of 90.
Over the years, Johnny went from an impoverished boy living in a small Virginia town, to a successful businessman and well-known philanthropist in Delaware.
WBOC’s Steve Hammond sat down with Johnny years ago in a ‘Discover Delmarva’ segment. Here is an account of Johnny’s life.
In the 1930s, the four Janosik children were living in a tar paper shack in Hopewell, Virginia, with no plumbing. The children were either hot or cold, and hungry.
Their father, an immigrant from Czechoslovakia, was a hard-worker, however, when he stopped working, he couldn’t make payments on the family’s possessions, including a house and car, and ultimately lost it all.
Johnny’s mother was a Polish immigrant with a limited education, making him the man of the house at age 11. While scraping for food, earning change and staying in school, Johnny managed to stay positive.
“We hunted squirrels, rabbits and then went duck hunting down the creeks,” Johnny said. “Now a lot of kids hunt today with their dads but we hunted to eat.”
Johnny and his brother Billy pushed slabs on a saw at the saw mill for a wage of 10 cents.
Eventually, Johnny’s parents separated. The girls of the family stayed with their mother and the boys of the family stayed with their father. Johnny recalled feeling abandoned by his mother but also learning a valuable lesson of survival; to get by and to stay ahead.
Not only did Johnny understand the importance of hard work, he also understood the importance of education. Johnny said his parents taught him and his siblings to chase the ‘American Dream.’
As Johnny watched Hopewell’s economy plummet, workers loosing jobs and his siblings quitting school, he decided to plot his own course.
“The hardest thing that I ever had to do was go to school because we could have just as easily not done anything, just like the kids today that are left like that, they don’t know where to go,” Johnny said. “And just by what’s inside of you, I was determined I was going to go to school.”
Vision of Greatness
Johnny saw greatness in his future.
In the summer of 1942, at age 16, Johnny boarded the only bus in Hopewell and took a trip to Laurel, Del.
“I started out I think with five dollars,” Johnny said. “The bus trip and the hotel room one night, I was down to $2 and I didn’t eat from the day all through the night until I got to Laurel because I didn’t know what I was faced with.”
Johnny accepted an invitation to stay with a family friend. He got a job at a cannery down the street and for the first time, started making real money. At the end of the summer Johnny had earned $92 and felt like a millionaire. The summer was over and he knew it was time to return to Hopewell, but after just two weeks back in Hopewell, Johnny left for good.
“The Lord kept saying, do something,” Johnny said. “Don’t let it happen to you, what had happened to the rest of the family. And I was so unhappy going back home, I decided, I’m going to come back.”
By age 18, Johnny was on his second journey with the U.S. Navy for World War II. While Navy officers spent their weekends on the town, Johnny was pressing their uniforms for a dollar a piece.
While on the USS Louisville in 1944, a suicide bomber hit his ship, devastating the whole crew except for Johnny and one other. Although badly injured, Johnny was happy to still be breathing.
“It was a miracle to me we were both alive,” Johnny said.
From then on, Johnny figured he must be here for a reason and nothing would keep him from accomplishing whatever it was.
Mary Louise Hedges
After coming back from the Navy, Johnny met Mary Louise Hedges. Mary Louise recalls Johnny asking her on a date, thinking he was much too old for her, and laughing.
Confused, Johnny wondered, ‘How could she not say yes?’
“So then he asked me again and I said yes, so we went to the movies,” Mary Louise said. “I thought he was handsome and I don’t know, you know, it was just one of those things… I guess it was love at first sight maybe.”
Mary Louise was studying nursing while Johnny worked as a TV repair man for RCA.
As TVs became more prevalent, prices began to fall and RCA was the highest priced model. As sales dropped, production slowed, shutting down Maryland and Delaware service centers. In 1953, Johnny relocated to Easton and then to Salisbury. While many people might look at this as a negative, Johnny saw this as opportunity to leave and start his own business.
Starting The Janosik Business
In August and September of 1954, Hurricane Hazel came through Delmarva, knocking all the chicken houses and antennas down off of the roofs. Johnny had just started his first business and received 400 antenna and service calls, calling it a ‘jump start.’
While on a call, Johnny and his assistant were removing a 40-foot antenna from a roof. They cut the guide wires, pushed the antenna towards the ground, the steel melted, sparks flew and the antenna hit a power line. Johnny and his assistant were lucky enough to just miss being electrocuted.
By 1955, mobile TVs had too much work to handle. Johnny decided it was time to partner with a former manager from RCA and moved the buisiness to Salisbury, increasing the business to 21 dealerships and 13 servicemen, handling up to 100 calls a day.
When Johnny’s partner eventually wanted out, they agreed on a buy out and Johnny brought the business back to Laurel.
Mary Louise answered the phones and kept the books at Johnny’s TV.
During the summer of 1958, Johnny had another close call. While crossing an intersection on Route 13, a tractor trailer driver fell asleep at wheel, missed a stop sign and hit Johnny. Johnny recalls laying on windshield with glass everywhere. After suffering three broken ribs, three chipped vertebrae, a crushed arm and a face filled with glass chips, Johnny earned himself 21 days in the hospital.
But that wasn’t the last of Johnny’s bad luck. Two years later, while painting window sills, Johnny’s ladder slipped, he fell 20 feet and split his head on the pavement. Despite a fractured skull and a broken collar bone, he pulled through and eventually, things would start to look up.
Early 1970s Success
Mary Louise took advice of a friend to include furniture at the family’s appliance store and business began to pick up. The family had found their niche and furniture became the foundation of their business.
Laurel’s downtown wasn’t doing well at the time and in the mid 1970’s, the couple made a drastic move to Route 13.
“In nine months it went from almost a million dollars in sales to 300,” Johnny said. “I had a crash program, I had to do something. I traveled from Bridgeville to Salisbury, trying to find a place on Route 13 because I knew I had to get out from downtown or I wouldn’t be here in a year.”
This move was one that wouldn’t be profitable until after the recession of the early 1980’s. Johnny was 54 when the store hit rock bottom and sales completely stopped.
On the brink of bankruptcy, the family sold watermelons, wood stoves and more, doing whatever was necessary to keep employees working. Johnny’s employees were equivalent to extended family and he helped his employees through the years, taking an interest in them and their families. Johnny believed wealth was not just in dollars and cents, but in people’s lives.
When the Route 13 Market opened, both Johnny’s venture and the market created hundreds of jobs and provided food and health care.
Johnny, the Philanthropist
Not only was Johnny a successful businessman, family-man and friend, he was a philanthropist.
For quite some time, Johnny had an early morning routine where nearly everyday, he would volunteer his time at The Good Samaritan Thrift Shop. Johnny would listen to messages and make calls in an effort to connect people in need with the necessities of life.
In addition to his daily help at the thrift shop, every Christmas, he would join more than 100 volunteers to ring bells, raising money for Hope House. This was just one of his do-goods at Hope House.
If he wasn’t helping at the thrift store of Hope House, Johnny was using his store to serve as an operation center to coordinate furniture donations for those burned out of their homes. Johnny also set up the Janosik Family Charitable Foundation to benefit local libraries, school programs and special education needs.
Johnny joined the Laurel Redevelopment Corporation and spearheaded fundraising by making calls to donors, with a goal to help Laurel prosper. Later on, Johnny and three of his employees planned and built the Janosik Park.
Johnny’s vision was to offer a hand up, not a handout.
“Helping somebody else, is my tuition in life because I’ve been so blessed with not only overcoming adversary, half a dozen miracles, if you wanna call it, I’m still alive,” Johnny said. “Why shouldn’t I recognize what somebody else has done that for me, why shouldn’t I pay back and pay my tuition?”
Remembering Johnny Janosik
Johnny is most survived by the quote, “If you want an hour of happiness, take a nap. If you want a week of happiness, take a vacation. But if you want a lifetime of happiness, help someone else.”
When Laurel’s Mayor John Shwed thinks of Johnny, he automatically thinks of his scholarship, his large impact on education and his help in the Hope House project.
“Johnny was a very solid individual. He came from very humble beginnings. He was a man of solid integrity, as he went through all his success and business, he never lost sight of where he came from. He always had a real way to give back and help people in need. He would do just about anything he could for someone who needed help.”
John wasn’t the only one who felt this way.
Don Dykes, executive director of the Laurel Chamber of Commerce, met Johnny when he was 11-years-old. After spending time with Johnny in the 1950s, Johnny became a lifelong mentor to Don, and a forever friend. When we asked Don to put Johnny’s impact on Laurel into words, he couldn’t.
“It’s not enough. I don’t know that I have all the words. He was a good man with a big heart and just helped so many different people. Sometimes when you’re alive, people don’t really know. They say ‘Oh they know Johnny Janosik, he has that big store and blah blah blah,’ but they didn’t know Johnny, the man, sometimes… what he did just as a human being and he was an inspiration to me for sure.”
Funeral Arrangements, Thursday, July 7
A mass of Christian Burial will be held on Thursday, July 7, 2016 at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, 532 East Stein Highway Seaford, Delaware 19973 at 11 a.m. Interment will follow in Odd Fellows Cemetery Laurel, DE. A celebration of life will also be held from 3-6 p.m., with food and fellowship at the Laurel Fire Department Hall, 205 W. 10th St. Laurel, DE 19956.
In lieu of flowers contributions are suggested to the: Good Samaritan Shop, P.O. Box 643. Laurel, DE 19956.
Arrangements are in the care of the Hannigan, Short, Disharoon Funeral Home, Laurel, DE.
To read the full obituary, go to www.hsdfuneralhome.com/obituaries/John-Janosik/#!/Obituary.
Reaction During ‘Discover Delmarva’ Segment
Beverly Hastings, Johnny Janosik Furniture Galleries
“Their family is mine… they make you feel like you’re apart of the business and you’ve helped it grow.”
Robert Venables, Delaware state senator
“When I needed some help in that situation, I called John. Within ten minutes, from wherever he was, he was here to this house and when I told him what I needed, temporarily, to get me where I needed to be, he never hesitated a second. You can’t buy friends like that.”
Donald Dykes, Good Samaritan organization
“He’s a giving man, a strong business man, that side of it. But the same side people don’t see is he’s a giving person, again like I said, I’ve never asked him yet, for something he said no.”
To view the full ‘Discover Delmarva’ segment, go to www.wboc.com/story/32362130/life-legacy-of-johnny-janosik.