Longtime 32nd Street Farmers Market vendor dies at 82

"The 32nd Street Farmers Market sadly announces the passing of Frank Buttion," read the announcement from vendor Cindi Umbarger to the Waverly market community April 6.

Known for his pride, passion and variety of peppers, Buttion, of Rosedale, a vendor at the north Baltimore market for more than 20 years, died April 4 of complications from liver cancer, said his wife, Sandra. He was 82.

"He was the kind of person we're proud to have in the market," market master Marc Rey said.

Buttion was so well-known and respected that many vendors assumed he was a founding member of the 33-year-old Saturday market, the only one in Baltimore that's open year-round. In fact, he wasn't an original member, said Rey and Sandra Buttion, but he was an early member, who applied around 1987, when the growing market had 15 to 20 vendors.

Specializing in peppers and tomatoes, Buttion also sold everything from corn to beets.

"You name it, he grew it," Sandra Buttion said in an interview before funeral services Tuesday at the CVACH/Rosedale Funeral Home in Rosedale, near where Frank Buttion grew up.

"He just planted beets the Sunday before I took him to the hospital."

Sick as he was, Buttion was at the market three weeks before his death, sitting in the back of his truck while his son, Michael, helped customers, according to several vendors who attended the funeral services and interment at the Holly Hill Memorial Park cemetery.

"He was known for his peppers, all different colors," said fellow vendor Earl Martin, of Rosedale, whose father, William Martin, was a founding vendor at the Waverly market, located at the intersection of Barclay Street, East 32nd and 33rd streets, East University Parkway and Merryman Lane.

"And 15 varieties," chimed in vendor Robin Bartenfelder, who attended the funeral services with her husband, former Baltimore County Council member Joe Bartenfelder.

"My father and (Buttion) were best friends," said Robin Bartenfelder, 45, who knew Buttion since she was a little girl. "He was a perfectionist and a mentor to a lot of farmers."

Buttion was a former construction worker and crackerjack carpenter, who built his house.

"He just got tired of construction work and decided to go into farming," his widow said.

"He was a wonderful guy," said Martin, 47. "I wish I could take his brain out of his head and put it mine."

"I never thought he was as old as he was," said Joe Bartenfelder, himself a farmer, who ran unsuccessfully for county executive in 2010. Bartenfelder said he often ran into Buttion at a wholesale market in the county.

"He would call everybody hoss," Bartenfelder recalled.

The last time they ran into each other, about a month ago, Buttion asked Bartenfelder how he liked being out of politics, and Bartenfelder asked Buttion about his illness.

"He looked great," Bartenfelder said. "He said, 'Hoss, I got that stuff licked.' He was ready to plant for spring."

"He was a man who loved the outdoors — up in the morning, eat breakfast and out the door," said the Rev. Steve Smith, of Faith Baptist Church in Joppa, delivering a eulogy at the funeral, which was attended by about 75 family members and friends..

And Smith said Buttion always had doughnuts for anyone who came by his farm.

"He believed hard work would extend your life, and he expected to work 'til he was 100."

"He took pride in his peppers. He took a great deal of pride in what he did," said Rey, the 32nd Street market master, who visited Buttion at his home.

Rey said the farmers market board will decide how best to honor Buttion and that vendors will probably take up a collection to donate to the American Cancer Society, in lieu of flowers. The family has asked that memorials be made in Buttion's memory to the American Cancer Society, 8219 Town Center Drive, P.O. Box 43025, Baltimore, MD 21236-0025, according to a death notice in the Baltimore Sun on April 7.

"We had a big card that we all signed for his wife and son," Rey said.

"The 32nd Street Farmers market has lost another one of its hardworking farmers who made it a great place to shop," Umbarger, of Woolsey Farm in Churchville, wrote in her group email.

"He made his mark," Sandra Buttion said.

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