Charlie Koiner, 89, Silver Spring
I was born at Montrose Road and Rockville Pike, where Mid-Pike Plaza is now. In the 1920s and ’30s, my family had 33 acres there, with 10 acres just for alfalfa. My family farmed and hunted rabbits and squirrels—potpie, that was good eating.
We went to school at what’s now a historic building, Montrose School. There was a blackboard on the wall, inkwells in the wood desks with initials carved in the top, and a coal stove. One big boy came early and got it started up in time for school. We’d put coal in periodically and bank it at the end of the day. Every November [there] was a 50-cent oyster supper and games, and people would raffle quilts they’d made, and that money went to hot soup for us kids all year.
White Flint Mall used to be a nine-hole golf course in the 1930s. I’d go on Sundays and caddy. I could make $2 and was tickled to death. Anything to pick up a little money. I bought my first auto in 1940, a year after high school, and paid $400 cash at Rockmont Chevrolet in Rockville.
Around 1942, the Corby estate near Edson Lane and Old Georgetown had 139 acres. The Corbys also owned the Strathmore mansion. They were in the bread business, and Wonder Bread had bought them out. Charles Corby had died, and [his wife, Hattie] had remarried Mr. [George Calvert] Bowie. I went to work for them and managed Timberlawn Farm for 35 years.
I raised beef cattle, managed the swimming pool and plants and horses, and farmed everything for the family, and kept all I wanted. They had an irrigation system—I don’t know of anyone else who had one—so when everyone else had corn a foot high, at the estate it was 5 or 6 feet high. Bowie was in real estate—he built those three high-rises on Grosvenor Lane with the blue balconies—and in the mid-’40s, the Montgomery County fairgrounds needed lumber. Bowie thinned the woods, put it all through a sawmill and sold 200,000 feet of lumber to the county for the fairgrounds.
When I married Helen, we moved from my parents’ farm into a house on the Bowie estate. They rented the main house to the Shrivers from 1961 to 1979. When [Sargent Shriver] was running for vice president [in 1972], the Secret Service had a trailer out there. Before and after JFK was killed [in 1963], John-John and Caroline [Kennedy] would come out to visit their cousins, ride horses, swim in the pool. I’d take the tractor and sleigh and drive them around in the snow. John-John didn’t want to be in the sleigh; he would climb up on the tractor with me.
My family had two dogs that Caroline named Hairdresser and Beauty Parlor—not names we kept! One day when Eunice [Shriver] was out, the kids ran over yelling for me to help. They’d been playing under a stair-lift sort of elevator—just one story up, no shaft. I ran in and saw [Bobby Kennedy’s son, Max,] was caught underneath it. There was no time to get my tools. I grabbed a crutch left from some injury of Mark [Shriver]’s and jammed it under there and pried the thing up, and the boy slipped out. He was blue! His face was blue! He went to Suburban Hospital unconscious, but turned out OK.