William John Fanning loved the outdoors and the holidays, and he loved sharing them both through his Christmas tree farm.
He loved his Catholic faith, and, “Above everything else, Bill loved his family,” said Christine “Kristy” Fanning, his wife of more than 22 years. “He always had time for his children. Everything he did was for us.”
And even at 71, Bill loved to work — on May 8 he was coming home from a landscaping job in Towson when he was sideswiped by another driver on I-795 and killed.
Bill was originally from New Jersey, according to Kristy, a 1965 graduate of Cherry Hill High School, but college brought him to Westminster, and what was then Western Maryland College, now McDaniel. He was strong and energetic to a degree that belied his 5-foot-4 frame, playing baseball and becoming captain of the college football team, an experience he would later tell Kristy helped him when digging trees on the farm.
Bill earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s degree in special education, which led to his working for the Maryland Development Disabilities Administration, where he and Kristy met; they would later marry in 1996.
In 1984, Bill opened Feldhof Farm, a Westminster Christmas tree farm he would tend on nights and weekends while working the state, according to Kristy, and an opportunity to combine his passions.
“He really enjoyed not only working with plants and trees, but he loved people, period,” she said. “He enjoyed sharing his wealth of knowledge about plants and trees with people.”
Generations of customers would come to the farm to pick out their trees, or the ornate wreathes he would craft by hand around the holidays, and Bill kept up with them all.
“He loved seeing families grow up at the farms. He was seeing second- and even third-generation people,” Kristy said. “They just became friends and he would talk about that year after year, mentioned people by name; this one has gotten married, now they had a baby.”
Bill dug all his trees on the 15-acre farm by hand, Kristy said, working with an energy that lead to her calling him “the energizer bunny,” and which led to a property now covered with the fruits of his labors.
“We are very blessed to look out the window and know everything we see, he planted. He touched everything here,” she said. “It just makes our hearts happy to know there is a little piece of him all over the place and it’s things that are growing.”
But in years of working for the state and at home, Bill’s top priorities were never in doubt, according to Kristy — she, and their three daughters, came first.
“He was very present in the lives of each of his daughters,” she said. “He went to every parent-teacher conference, every game, every performance. They were paramount, always.”
Even after the tragedy and the shock of the accident, Kristy said Bill still seems present to them.
“He was always just there,” she said. “We still feel that, so he’s seeing us through.”