Mike Hoover, Chambersburg, forges special bond with Greencastle, Ireland
Mike Hoover's frequent trips down Interstate 81 from Chambersburg to Exit 5 take him past the historical marker that says Greencastle, PA, was named for Greencastle, Ireland.
He loves history, researched the connection two years ago and thought "Wow-ee!"
Like many travelers, his plans were delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but Hoover is now on a 3 1/2-week trip to Ireland that's focused on Greencastle.
The 66-year-old has never lived in Greencastle, PA, but he's a familiar sight on the Greencastle-Antrim School District campus.
A big part of his voyage is making a transatlantic connection between the two communities and their students, highlighted by a formal presentation Sept. 22 at the Greencastle, Ireland, Community Center.
On the run
Hoover is a 1973 graduate of Chambersburg Area Senior High School, where he was a standout runner. Hoover said he started with 5Ks and 10Ks before working his way down to the 1,500 meters. A stint in the Navy took him to ports in England and Scotland, but not Ireland.
For 30 years, Hoover lived in Southern California, where he ran for Athletes in Action, a track and field ministry team, came close to an Olympic time in 1980 and worked in sports ministry for many years before becoming office manager for an architectural firm.
He's active with local running clubs and coached track at Greencastle-Antrim Middle School under Matt Hurley for three years, working with today's top high school distance runners Weber Long and Claire Paci.
That's one of the roles he's had in the G-A School District since moving back East in September 2014 to help his father, who has since passed away.
"I had to find some way to support myself," said Hoover, who was hired for the custodial staff after attending a G-A job fair. He's now a traffic monitor, keeping an eye on buses, bikes and parents dropping off their kids, as well as part of the district event staff. He's a substitute bus aide and van driver in Greencastle and a substitute custodian in Chambersburg schools.
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A history buff, Hoover is familiar with several monuments dedicated to Irish brigades at Gettysburg. The avid road-tripper recently went north through New York and New Hampshire and, in Vermont, stayed at the Trapp Family Lodge run by the family made famous in "The Sound of Music."
He's a music fan and sees parallels between the lodge and the Austrian musical family and Leo's Tavern in County Donegal, home of the the musical Brennan family, which includes Enya, Ireland's No. 1 solo artist.
"I love music, but I can't sing worth a hoot," said Hoover. He explained taverns are social gathering places with separate bars and restaurants, where patrons enjoy long meals and music.
"Star Wars" is high on Hoover's list, too, and some filming was done at Malin Head, Ireland. He intends to visit the tavern there where Mark Hamill, other actors and the crew would eat lunch.
With nearly a month in Ireland, his plans to visit lots of cathedrals, old churches, castles and beaches.
"I'm going to be doing a lot of walking," said Hoover, who also is considering bike rentals and may do a running clinic in Greencastle.
'Part of Greencastle'
Before he left, he said it rains a lot in Ireland ... "that's why it's called the 'Emerald Island.' It's green."
The anticipated precipitation panned out and his early touring has come between raindrops, with visits to numerous sites, including the ruins of Northburgh Castle, also known as Green Castle, and the Greencastle Coast Guard Station.
Greencastle is a small fishing village so it doesn't have a mayor or town council. Hoover is bearing gifts from its namesake Pennsylvania community that he will give to the director of the community center or the maritime museum during the Sept. 22 ceremony.
With his ties to Greencastle schools, a wooden key that was the idea of social studies students at G-A High School and designed and made by the STEAM department was carefully packed in his luggage.
The social studies contribution also includes a copy of "Conococheague : A History of the Greencastle-Antrim Community, 1736-1971," by the late Greencastle historian and school superintendent William P. Conrad. The book has been a source of information and inspiration for members of Rho Kappa, the social studies honor society, as they research the community's Hometown Hero banners.
"We wanted to have part of Greencastle go with him," said social studies teacher and Rho Kappa adviser Meagan Brockway.
He also tucked in letters from G-A third-, fourth- and fifth-graders bound for pen pals at the Greencastle Primary School; a note of greetings to the citizens of Greencastle, Ireland, from the citizens of Greencastle, PA, by Mayor Ben Thomas Jr.; photos of local scenes by Harold "Marty" Zimmerman III; and Old Home Week swag including a cap, shirt, program and video from the 2019 pageant "Hometown Memories."
Shawn Hardy is a reporter with Gannett's Franklin County newspapers in south-central Pennsylvania — the Echo Pilot in Greencastle, The Record Herald in Waynesboro and the Public Opinion in Chambersburg. She has more than 35 years of journalism experience. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org