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'Limo Lady' thinks pink on the road to fight cancer

Business owner driven to honor sister's memory

By Loni Ingraham, lingraham@patuxent.com

5:33 PM EDT, October 17, 2011

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The pink stretch limousine with the long black eyelashes on its headlights is fueled by equal parts cheers and tears, according to Cub Hill resident Joanna Fridinger.

"It's my therapy," said Fridinger, who runs The Limo Lady limousine service. "It's so much fun to see people's reactions; they just smile and laugh."

But she also uses the distinctive pink vehicle to fight cancer, in memory of her older sister, Janice Horner, who fought the disease for more than five years before it killed her.

The pink limo has been a big hit for weddings, parties and other events.

Fridinger donates 10 percent of the rental proceeds to the Cancer Institute at St. Joseph Medical Center, in Towson. And on Oct. 27, she'll team up with Bateman's Bistro, in North Plaza, for a fundraiser that will also aid the institute.

Fridinger, 54, taught school at Immaculate Heart of Mary for 14 years before she left in 1997 to work part-time for a limousine service. She and her husband, Marty, who was a Baltimore City police officer at the time, had three young daughters, and it was too hard for her to get time off from work to keep up with their plays and concerts and activities.

"They're only going to be young once," she told Marty, who supported her decision.

Fridinger got lost on her way to the limo job interview in Perry Hall, but they hired her any way.

To make sure she didn't get lost after that, her husband would get home from work at midnight and go out with her on the routes she'd have to take the next day.

That lasted a week before he took her to Readings and Greetings and purchased all the county ADC map books and said, "Here you go, we can't keep doing this."

When it got to the point where she was not only driving for the company — and never getting lost — and also answering the phone and handling the administrative duties, she decided to strike out on her own.

The family traded in its old Ford van for a used Lincoln town car. But they didn't have any money for advertising, so she incorporated in 1999 under a name that would put them high in the Yellow Pages listings: All Around the County Transportation Services.

It worked. After six months they took out a home equity loan to buy a used stretch limo and she was able to double the pay of her highest paid employee. That was Marty — who worked for free.

"He's been so supportive," she said.

They added to the fleet later. Technically, the name of the company remains All Around the County Transportation Services. But in a male-dominated industry she was often referred to as "the limo lady," so she now does business under that name.

A family's fight

Fridinger still laughs and cries when she talks about Janice, who died Jan. 26, 2010.

"Janice had never married," Fridinger said. "She was my older sister by four years. My three daughters were the apple of her eye. She was the typical spoil-the-kids kind of aunt, always there for their assemblies and tournaments.

"She was such a giving person," she said of her sister. "She was close to so many people. She couldn't go anywhere without giving somebody something.

"When my grandson was little, he called her 'Aunt Beer' because she'd always bring him the root beer he loved."

Fridinger can still remember that day at the hospital in 2006 after the doctor had performed a hysterectomy on Janice and found a tumor.

"It doesn't look good," he told her. "It may be cancer."

"I was devastated," Fridinger said. "She was my best friend. My mom and dad had passed away. It was just Janice and me."

The diagnosis turned out to be Stage 4 endometrial cancer. "When the doctor told her, Janice looked up at him matter of fact and asked what she could do to get rid of it.

"Janice and I made a pact at that point. She would take care of getting rid of the cancer and I would have all the emotions. 'Blubberbutt,' she always called me. She knew I was good at that.

"And I did a very good job."

Janice kept working as a procurement officer for the Maryland State Police, but she started radiation treatments." I would go with her," Fridinger said. "We didn't want her to be alone."

"She made light of the cancer; she referred to it as 'a minor inconvenience,' "Fridinger said. "We had a ball picking out wigs, but she rarely wore one. She wore all these different color knitted caps a friend had made her, to go with her different outfits."

"She was an amazing lady. She was always positive, optimistic. She wasn't going to let it get her down, even as I'd hear her retching in the bathroom.

"Our daughter Melissa was her godchild, and she had asked Jan to be the maid of honor for her wedding. Jan arranged her chemo so it would be on the best week for the wedding."

Her sister was so sick she couldn't make the rehearsal dinner, but the nurses at the infusion center got her to the ceremony.

"One of my chauffeurs walked her down the aisle," Fridinger said." I remember her standing at the altar and she was so weak she was leaning on it to hold herself up. My husband and I were ready to jump up at any moment."

The chemo stopped worked less than four months after that. The cancer was overwhelming.

"We initiated home hospice care in January of 2010," Fridinger said. "We did the best we could to make her comfortable. We set up her bed in the family room so she wouldn't miss anything.

"She passed away at 1 a.m. on a Tuesday. She was finally out of pain. We were all there. I think she would have liked that."

The family decided on cremation. Since they had no cemetery plot, Marty suggested she keep the ashes "so where you go she can go." The thought pleased her.

Night out to fight cancer

The idea of using a pink limousine to fight cancer came from a friend who owned a limo company in Raleigh, N.C., who had had gone down the same road with someone she loved.

Fridinger found a used stretch limousine in good shape, and had it shipped to Missouri to be outfitted and painted.

She found the eyelashes on the Internet when she was surfing to find ways to "pink-ify" the interior, she said.

On Thursday, Oct. 27, the Limo Lady and Bill Bateman's Bistro, 8810 Waltham Woods Road, North Plaza, will team up for Fridinger's latest effort to fight cancer. On that night, patrons who present a designated flier in person — on by smart phone to a server — will trigger a donation by Bateman's of 10 percent of their check to the Cancer Institute at St. Joseph Medical Center.

That includes carry-out and bar service, but it applies only to Bateman's at North Plaza. The flier can be obtained at St. Joseph Medical Center or downloaded at http://www.billbateman.com or http://www.StJosephTowson.com/Giving.

Patrons who are St. Joseph Medical Center employees won't need the flier; they will be able to just show their badges.

The "Dine Out for a Cause" benefit will feature guest bartenders, guest servers, a silent sports memorabilia auction and the drawing for a raffle — the prize is three hours of limousine service, a $100 Bill Bateman's gift card, a $50 Geresbeck's Market gift card and "a basket of cheer."

Tickets are on sale now, and are $2 per chance, or $5 for three chances. The winning ticket holder doesn't have to be present when the drawing is held.

It didn't take much thought to choose the Cancer Institute at St. Joseph as the recipient of the proceeds.

During her sister's battle, "the nurses and doctors had become like second family," Fridinger said. "I'm just giving back to the institute."

"It's funny," she said. "My sister couldn't go anywhere without giving something, and even though she's not here anymore, she's still giving."