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Bonaventure von Paris, 91, executive of family's moving, storage company


Bonaventure E. von Paris, a retired moving and storage company executive whose career with B. Von Paris & Sons and its successor company, Von Paris Enterprises, spanned more than 70 years, died in his sleep Monday at Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville. He was 91, and a former resident of Kingsville.

"His career with the company went from the era of horse-drawn wagons to modern-day air-ride moving vans," said a nephew, Arthur G. Feeney, president of Von Paris Enterprises. "He loved the business because he was born into it and it was his family's heritage."

Mr. von Paris - who was known as Bonny - was a third-generation member of the well-known Baltimore moving and storage family.

He was born and raised in the house in the 400 block of S. Highland Ave. in Highlandtown that for many years was also the office for Von Paris & Sons. The moving business was established by his grandfather, Eligius von Paris, with a single horse and wagon in 1892.

"He was 5 years old when he started working as a stable boy at Highland Avenue and Bank Street, where the company kept its horses and wagons. He then went out on the trucks as a helper during the 1920s," Mr. Feeney said.

One of the vintage trucks that Mr. von Paris worked on as a youth, a black 1919 Selden, has been preserved and is used by the company for special occasions.

While attending Mount St. Joseph High School in Irvington, where he graduated in 1932, Mr. von Paris worked full time in the business with his father and brothers.

"He'd be excused early from school so he could catch the streetcar and go to a job to help his father," his nephew said. "And during the Depression years, when the company was lucky to have one or two jobs a week, he'd go out and prospect for work."

During World War II, he served as a master sergeant with the 5th Army in North Africa and Italy. He remained in the reserves, attaining the rank of captain.

Returning to the company in 1946, Mr. von Paris traveled throughout the nation studying innovative moving methods to help the company deal with the postwar boom of the late 1940s and early 1950s.

He pioneered not only new types of storage buildings, but also material-handling methods and warehouse design and construction.

In 1947, Mr. von Paris was named president of B. Von Paris & Sons, a position he held until becoming chairman of the company's board and subsidiary companies in 1963. He retired in 1977 but returned to an active role in 1985 when he became chairman of Von Paris Enterprises. He retired again in 1990.

During his tenure, the company expanded its operations from two moving vans and a single warehouse to a multimillion-dollar operation with nearly 100 trucks and storage facilities in Baltimore, Annapolis, Timonium and Hyattsville.

Mr. von Paris enjoyed the challenge of complicated moving projects.

"He'd go in and look at the whole project, study the existing and new building, and put his past experience to work. He was able to do a job as economically competitive as possible, and that's an art form," the nephew said.

Mr. von Paris served on the board of the Maryland Motor Truck Association for 22 years and was its Man of the Year in 1987. Earlier, he served as president and board member of the Movers and Warehousemen's Association of Maryland, and also on the board of the Movers and Warehousemen's Association of America.

"Bonny was the institutional memory and historian of the industry and the [Maryland Motor Truck] Association," said Walter C. Thompson, who recently retired as president of the trade group. "He had such a fantastic memory, he could tell you how long it took him in the old days to do a move from Baltimore to Bel Air."

His charitable interests included the Exchange Club of Highlandtown and the Boy Scouts of America. He was a founding member of the Hillendale Country Club and a member of the Maryland Golf and Country Club. He was also a season ticket holder to performances of the Baltimore Opera Company and a longtime communicant of St. Stephen Roman Catholic Church in Bradshaw.

His wife of 47 years, the former Bernice L. Cheezum, died in 1997. That year, he married the former Paula Peach duBreuil, who died in 1999.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Our Lady of the Angels Chapel at Charlestown, 711 Maiden Choice Lane.

Mr. von Paris is also survived by three brothers, Joseph H. von Paris Sr. of Woodlawn, George H. von Paris Sr. of Ellicott City and Eligius B. von Paris of Cockeysville; two sisters, Margaret W. Muller and Anna T. Wachter, both of Westminster; two step-grandchildren; and four step-great-grandchildren.

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