RUSKIN — For years, the Rev. John Bartha approached the pulpit in cowboy boots.
Diabetes put him in dress shoes, but he never took himself too seriously.
Maybe it was his military service, his time serving as a Marine in Vietnam. Maybe it was his rural Kentucky upbringing, or his work at a steel mill. Whatever it was, the man known simply as "Johnny" was a down-to-earth guy.
"He preached but was never 'preachy,' " said friend and fellow Methodist pastor Bill Corristan.
The Rev. Bartha died Saturday in an accidental shooting at his Ruskin home, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office reported.
Investigators believe he was attempting to clean his .22-caliber pistol when he accidentally shot himself in the chest, perforating a lung, a Medical Examiner report states.
He moved to Tampa after leaving the military in 1968 and joined Oak Grove United Methodist Church on Waters Avenue.
He loved fast cars and riding around in his red Dodge Dart. He also loved Jesus and did not waver in his faith, Corristan said.
The Rev. Bartha became a minister after attending Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky.
He returned to Florida and over the decades, moved around the state, working at various Methodist churches. His three children were young when the family landed at Emmanuel in Bradenton in the late 1980s.
The congregation at Emmanuel loved this family-focused minister, said the Rev. Charlie Rentz, the church's current pastor and a longtime friend. The church's numbers grew steadily.
When Rentz told his congregation about their former pastor's death at Sunday's service, people were shocked. After the service, dozens approached Rentz to talk.
"One man credited Johnny with saving his marriage," Rentz said.
The Rev. Bartha most recently ministered at Ruskin United Methodist Church. He and his wife, Wanda, lived in the parsonage and hung a U.S. Marine Corps flag outside.
He loved fishing and was looking forward to retirement.
He recently became a grandfather, twice over. His granddaughters are ages 1 and 2.
And though he moved many times, he rarely lost touch with close friends.
Bob Stuart, a friend from Palm Coast, hadn't seen the Rev. Bartha recently, but got a call from him in November. The minister wanted to wish Stuart well as he recovered from pancreatitis.
"He got the word somehow," Stuart said.
The Rev. Bartha made another well-wishes call, in December, after Rentz underwent surgery.
"He said he was thinking about me and praying for me," Rentz recalled. "That was not uncommon for Johnny."
Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at (813) 226-3433 or [email protected]