John C. Kozenski Jr., a Meyer Seed Co. manager known for his extensive knowledge of flower and vegetable raising, died of cancer Aug. 29 at Good Samaritan Hospital. The Glen Burnie resident was 56.
Mr. Kozenski, the retail manager for a long-established seed firm on Caroline Street near Fells Point, gave advice to the hundreds of customers who sought his assistance with their garden plots. He also compiled the annual Meyer Seed catalog, a sales publication awaited by local vegetable and flower growers.
Mr. Kozenski was also the longtime president of the Anne Arundel County Fair.
“Johns was so well informed,” said John Pohlemus, a Bolton Hill resident. “I had a farm in New Jersey for 38 years and John and I really got along. He was so well informed. It never ceased to amaze me just how much he knew.
"I needed a certain fungicide that I knew would be hard to come by. John said, ‘We have it,' and went into the back room of the store and came out with a package, covered in dust. Then he said, ’Thank goodness I don’t have to put this on the inventory list for another year.'”
Mr. Pohlemus, who has a garden plot in Druid Hill Park, said, “He knew the inventory like a computer and could talk with authority about the dangers of certain chemicals."
Born in Baltimore, Mr. Kozenski was the son of Peggy Litzenberger Peffley and her husband, John C. Kozenski Sr. He was a 1982 graduate of Andover High School in Anne Arundel County.
As a young man Mr. Kozenski worked for the Glen Burnie Farmer’s Co-Op and in 1988 joined Meyer Seed, a Baltimore firm established in 1909.
After being diagnosed in recent years with pancreatic cancer, he underwent chemotherapy and radiation, and worked at the store until two weeks before his death.
“Sometimes I know [my customers] by name,” he said in a 2006 Sun article. “But usually I know them by what they order.”
His knowledge of gardening and farming made him well known in those communities.
“Anytime you had a question, you went to John. I never heard him say, ‘I don’t know,” said Steve Humeniuk, Meyer Seed controller. “Johns gave his all to the company and to his volunteering. And he was patient. People would come in and ask, ‘Why are the leaves wilting on my plant?' or 'I planted a package of seeds and only half came up’.”
Mr. Kozenski also ordered the seeds for his retail operation — he had a wall of small drawers housing his seed inventory. He made up packages for customers who wanted an ounce of zinnia or carnation seeds.
He had bins for onion sets and garlic, ornamental bulbs and dahlias. He also sold live rhubarb, potato, kale, cabbage, tomato, melon and pepper plants in the early spring, after the danger of frost passed.
He was quoted in The Baltimore Sun earlier this year about possible food shortages during the coronavirus pandemic.
“John Kozenski ... said that despite reassurances from federal authorities that the nation’s food supply system remains strong, some customers “are starting to worry that grocery stores might not have anything in them in a few months. Sales of vegetable seeds ... are running about 25% ahead of a typical spring.
“We’re getting a lot of parents who are coming in with their children now that they’re home from school because of the pandemic. It’s a win-win situation: Our kids stay active. Everyone wants to be outside because it’s spring and it’s beautiful. You can garden while still maintaining social distancing, and growing your own food is so rewarding.”
Leslie Stewart, a retail assistant at Meyer Seed, who worked alongside Mr. Kozenski, said, “John’s fame was word-of-mouth. He could give a wealth of information on any gardening subject. He was open and understanding and kind and generous.”
In addition to his work in Baltimore, Mr. Kozenski was a volunteer at the Anne Arundel County Fair and had been its president for the past 18 years.
“He had a love for the fair in his heart. We both took off full weeks from out regular jobs when the fair rolled around,” said Sharon Gertz, the fair manager for 35 years. “When the fair was running, he was the one who turned the lights out at 1 in the morning.
“John was an agricultural person who believed in the fair’s mission to teach children about farming, growing and animals. He came to us as a volunteer one year and it seemed like he never went away. The fair becomes a part of your life.”
Mr. Kozenski met his future wife, Debbie Wolford, at the fair. They married on the grounds during the summer solstice. He told his wife he liked that date because he wound not forget it.
“John loved giving back to the community and working with the other volunteers. He was a people person,” said John Faber, of Harwood, a fair volunteer. “He was always willing to help the 4-H and Future Farmers of America teens and children. With what he knew about farming and agriculture, he could have been a farmer himself. He had an amazing knowledge of plant diseases and pests and he would communicate with a wide group of persons throughout Annapolis and on to Baltimore and Washington.”
Survivors include his wife of 12 years, who works in sales for well-drilling supplies, and his mother, who lives in Glen Burnie; his stepmother, Mary Kozenski, of Ferndale; two sisters, Lori Gray of Pasadena and Betty Edwards of Glen Burnie; and a brother, Bill Reese of Pasadena.
A memorial service will be held at a later date.