On or around Independence Day I like to write about freedom, patriots, our military or veterans; this year I didn’t.
John R. “Jack” Hershey, Jr. passed away on June 27 and was memorialized on July 2; I was honored to attend the memorial service. But Jack’s passing put me in a funk. I don’t know why, it just did.
Jack and I were friends — oh, I wasn’t his best friend, yet over the past 10 to 15 years I was proud to declare Jack as a friend. And like literally thousands of others I always felt that Jack considered me a friend. That’s just the way Jack was. I remember one of his birthday celebrations — Jack and Anna literally rented Fort Ritchie for the day, where hundreds of his friends were welcomed to fete Jack on achieving another milestone.
I was awed as I stood for a few minutes and watched Jack greet each of his guests with a hug or a handshake and each guest, for at least that moment, knew they were Jack’s best friend. Jack knew how to make friends and also how to be a friend.
Many of those best friends can tell far more stories about Jack than I can tell, but one in particular comes to my mind. Jack owned several pieces of rental property and on one occasion he rented a store front to a fledgling entrepreneur.
The renter was from out of town and didn’t know much about the area. So Jack wanted to do a big grand opening for the business and he invited several local dignitaries — the “A” list — to attend. Me, I was on the “B” list in my role as executive director of the Greater Hagerstown Committee.
Comes the day of the grand opening and several of us “B-listers” were standing around drinking punch and eating cookies when we notice that none of the dignitaries were present. Totally undeterred, Jack hustles those present to the front of the store, makes the introductions of the new and proud owners and then looks over at me and says: “Art, come over and say a few words of welcome to these new business folks.” Uhhhhh, well who could ever refuse Jack Hershey, so on behalf of the dignitaries who didn’t show, I gave my standard “elevator speech” about economic development, business success and jobs.
Still undeterred, Jack calls out one of my business cohorts, Brien Poffenberger, to come forward and welcome the folks to our community for the Chamber of Commerce. Two B list speeches made a new business owner feel extremely happy and welcome, and also made Jack a new life-long friend.
As was related to me by many attending his memorial service, “Jack had a way (a good way) with people.”
I could write for hours about Jack Hershey, but I want to relate Jack’s passing to Independence Day, at least as it surfaced in my mind when I heard Jack had passed on.
Fifty-six men signed the Declaration of Independence, actually on July 2, 1776 (the Declaration was approved on July 4), and in so doing pledged everything, even their own lives, to make this country free. That’s pretty heavy duty stuff!
Those 56 were the true patriots of our country. As I sat in the memorial service for Jack Hershey, I reflected on the passing of those 56 patriots who on that same day, July 2, 236 years earlier stood around a table and possibly signed their lives away to make America a freer and better place in which to live.
No, I’ll not make Jack into a national patriot. However, if you consider our local community and those who would sign and pledge to make it a better place in which to live, many of us would have listed Jack among the ready, willing and able signers.
The author Thomas Harris in his best-selling 1988 novel “The Silence of the Lambs” penned one of my favorite quotes. The individual speaking was the arch villain Hannibal Lecter and he was talking to the book’s heroine, Clarice Starling.
Clarice, who was trailing Lecter, asked Lecter if he would “come after” her. Lecter responded: “... Clarice, the world is a better place with you in it”.
As I have reflected on the passing of several of our community’s best and finest, on July 2 of this year, I once again looked up and quietly paraphrased Harris: “Jack, the world was a better place, with you in it.” We’ll miss you.
Art Callaham is a community activist and president of the Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees. He is married to County Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham.