Tree dedicated to the 84-year-old woman who makes Greencastle bloom
Marie Eshleman, hospitalized last spring with COVID-19, hasn’t regained her sense of taste, but she thanks the Lord for restoring her energy.
Residents of Greencastle and the surrounding area are beneficiaries of that energy as the 84-year-old is the volunteer force behind the beautiful flowers in front of the post office, on Center Square, around the Greencastle-Antrim Veterans Memorial and Monument outside borough hall, at the Pennsylvania Welcome Center on Interstate 81, at Ebenezer Church and elsewhere in the community.
As the season progresses, she’ll be seen weeding, dead-heading, pruning, planting and watering, usually accompanied by her right-hand woman, Jan Hirneisen. When the time comes, they’ll dig up all the bulbs to be stored over the winter at the wastewater treatment plant.
“Marie is an integral part of Greencastle’s local fabric,” Borough Manager Emilee Little said. “Without fail, she tirelessly works to add color and vibrancy to borough buildings and landmarks, sometimes around the clock. She is the epitome of volunteerism and community service, and a shining example of the difference one person can make.”
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Eshleman was honored with the surprise dedication of a tree on North Carlisle Street by the Borough of Greencastle on April 4.
“From this day forward, this is your tree,” said Donna Zimmerman, borough secretary.
A plaque at the base of the tree – a lilac, a hardy tree with fragrant blooms in early spring – cites “her tireless dedication to the beautification of the Borough of Greencastle.”
The evening of the presentation was an example of her devotion. She returned home and unloaded three flats of pansies bound for the welcome center 10 minutes before hurrying off to meet with Little and Bob Manahan, Greencastle public works director, on Center Square.
She thought they were going to talk about flowers for this summer’s triennial Old Home Week celebration. Focused on the discussion, she at first didn’t notice Mayor Ben Thomas Jr., other borough employees and friends sneak out of hiding at ELM Shoes and follow them to Carlisle Street.
“Oh, dear me,” she said as the mayor caught up with her.
“Marie Eshleman has and continues to be a steward of our Greencastle community with flower and plant beautification projects and green thumb care,” reads a mayoral proclamation, which also refers to her service to the Rescue Hose Co. and its former ladies’ auxiliary, the former Greencastle-Antrim Lioness Club, area churches and other organizations.
“Now, therefore, be it resolved, that on behalf of the citizens of Greencastle I honor and celebrate Marie Eshleman for your love of community and beautification stewardship that is observed daily by our residents and visitors.”
Tears fell from Eshleman’s eyes and she was quick to point out that crying is liquid prayer.
“It got me through COVID. I didn’t get my taste back, but I got energy so I can keep on working,” said Eshleman, who had a fever of 105 degrees, blood clots in her lungs and pneumonia, but is grateful she did not have to be put on a ventilator.
In the winter, when she doesn’t have flowers to tend, Eshleman is known as “the mac and cheese” lady at Whitetail Ski Resort.
Keeping busy and being around people is her therapy, according to Eshleman, who still acutely feels the loss of her husband, Don Eshleman Sr., 10 years ago.
“I’m doing what he wants me to do,” she said, again with some liquid prayer.
During the evening, she recalled she was trimming the hedge that went the whole way around the yard on her family’s farm between Upton and Lemasters one day when her future husband came by and asked her to go to the movies.
“Mother always had a row of zinnias from seeds and some gladiolus. She loved flowers,” Eshleman said, noting as a farm family they also had a vegetable garden and there were flowerpots on the porch.
She and Don married in 1958, after writing every day while he was stationed in Greenland for a year with the Air Force. They lived in Georgia while he finished his service, then moved back to Greencastle in 1959.
“I didn’t have flowers because I had three boys,” Eshleman said.
More than 30 years ago, after her sons were older and she had more free time, Eshleman was walking by the Greencastle Post Office when she noticed just a few evergreens growing out front and got permission to plant some geraniums. She branched out to Center Square and then the Welcome Center, where a big sign recognizes her work in the beautification area.
Hirneisen recalled a time they were thinning plants at the welcome center and visitors commented on the flowers. Eshleman gave them boxes of plants and told them to drive through downtown Greencastle to look at the flowers.
At the tree dedication, Eshleman opened her flip phone to show Manahan a photo of a large concrete planter with cascading flowers she saw on a bus trip to Cape Cod that she thinks would look nice in Greencastle. Manahan is accustomed to her enthusiasm, noting his crew was out with picks and shovels in mid-January to plant bulbs under Eshleman’s direction.
Eshleman, who also did silk flower and arrangements for weddings for many years, is self-taught.
“I just did what people wanted, plain and simple … I’m just plain and simple with planting,” Eshleman said.
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 email@example.com