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John E. Ewald

October 06, 2012|By JANET HEIM | janeth@herald-mail.com
  • Barbara and Jack Ewald cut the cake at their wedding on June 16, 1962, with flower girl Cheryl Cernitch to the right.
Submitted photo

John “Jack” Ewald’s life was full of interesting coincidences and connections through his work as a Methodist pastor and his community involvement.

There were many times when things seemed to come full circle, said his wife, Barbara Ewald.

Things such as Jack’s connection to Hagerstown. He was born in Hagerstown and lived there for the first decades of his life, later served the congregation of St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church at two different times, then returned to Hagerstown three years ago.

Two of the Ewalds’ children were born in Hagerstown.

Jack was baptized at John Wesley United Methodist Church, where his family was involved, as they were in every church they attended, Barbara said. 

The only child of Edward and Anna Ewald, Jack and his parents moved to Cumberland, Md., for Edward’s job with Potomac Edison when Jack was 10. Jack met Barbara Cross, who was a year younger, during his senior year of high school.

They went to rival high schools — Jack to Allegany High School and Barbara to Fort Hill High School. Both attended what then was Frostburg State College. Barbara put her career on hold and earned her bachelor’s degree in education as a full-time student at the University of Maryland, College Park in 1976.

She said it was their youth pastor who thought they would “make a good team” and started setting up situations through which they would meet. His intuition was correct.

“I can’t imagine a better match for either of us,” Barbara said.

In 1962, five years after they met, they married. Jack completed his bachelor’s degree at American University in Washington, D.C., and graduated from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington.

Jack and Barbara celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in June in Rehoboth Beach, Del., with their three children and six grandchildren. While the children were growing up, summer vacation always meant a trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C.

“Mom and Dad taught me to be a beach bum. A day at the beach meant when the sun rose, we’d put our feet in the sand and we didn’t leave until the sun set,” said oldest child John D. Ewald of Fulton, Md.

The anniversary celebration had extra meaning for the family because Jack had been diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia about 10 years ago, while Jack was serving his last parish in Potomac, Md., near Washington. The diagnosis was “kind of a shock,” Barbara said, coming not long after Jack’s 60th birthday. 

“His motto was to live life as if he were perfectly healthy and he did a good job of that,” Barbara said. “We got a lot out of those years.”

Jack’s leukemia progressed and his health began failing rapidly in the last year and a half.

“We were able to go to the beach one last time. It was his favorite spot,” Barbara said. “On his Facebook posting, he wrote that he didn’t feel like he was sick. He kept himself together for that, then he went downhill after that.”

Jack’s ministry took the couple, and later their family, to different parishes in Maryland, including Flintstone, Hagerstown, Hyattsville, Mount Airy and Potomac. He retired in 2006 after nearly 50 years of ministry.

Social justice issues were a hallmark of Jack’s ministry. In the late 1960s, while at St. Andrew’s in Hagerstown, he was instrumental in the founding of the Community Action Council, Barbara said.

Through his involvement in CAC, he had lots of meetings, visited families in trouble and took groceries to those in need, in addition to his parish responsibilities, Barbara said.

While in Hyattsville, Jack was one of the organizers of Second Mile House, a safe haven for runaways.

He was involved in a demonstration against a Cumberland candy store because it wouldn’t serve black customers and many demonstrations in Washington against the Vietnam War, yet supported the troops, Barbara said.

“He was a great model and role model of service to the community, family and faith,” said John, who is superintendent of schools for the Laurel School District in Delaware and whose wife and father-in-law are pastors.

Despite the “24/7 job as a pastor”, Barbara said family always came first. Jack’s staff knew there were times in the office when the only thing they could interrupt Jack for was a phone call from one of his children.

“The kids always knew a death or emergency could take him away,” Barbara said. “No one ever complained.”

Barbara was an elementary school teacher and for a period, had a fairly long commute to work. With a flexible schedule, Jack made sure the children got off to school and was waiting for them when they got home, went on field trips and had dinner waiting for the family when Barbara got home from work.

Son David Ewald of Annapolis said his father even attended a father-daughter dance with David’s daughter when David was too sick to go.

“As kids, he went to every event,” David said. “He was the same way with the grandkids — games, plays, Grandparents’ Day.”

He said Jack was a quiet man, but insightful and always knew when to step in.

“He was just always there for us. He was always very patient — never short, never hurried, never rushed. He was always at our games in high school. Even with the craziness of his work schedule, he was always there,” said daughter Michelle Hurwitz of Hagerstown.

Jack had many hobbies, but John said he came to realize that most of the things that Jack was interested in were related to the family.

“We were his hobby,” John said.

Jack and Barbara traveled extensively and enjoyed their vacation house in The Woods, a golf community near Hedgesville, W.Va.

The Ewalds rented in Hagerstown for a year, then in 2010 moved to the Greenwich Park development, near their daughter and her family in Fairway Meadows in Hagerstown.

“He helped take care of the grandchildren. He was a very big part of their lives,” Michelle said. “The last night, he and my oldest daughter were talking about what homework she had.”

They appreciated their proximity to the John R. Marsh Cancer Center and Dr. Kass.

In April 2011, Jack was hospitalized at Johns Hopkins Hospital for seven weeks.

“It broke my heart that he was in and out of the hospital so much,” Barbara said.

Jack was offered experimental treatment, but the couple agreed that was not what they wanted.

“Our plan was to live each day the best as we could, never dreaming he would live to celebrate 50 years. It was a team effort — faith, family, doctors and him,” Barbara said. “It was a journey the entire family was involved in. His death was very much like his life.”

Jack loved music and at his funeral, three of the grandchildren sang and played guitar and violin to John Lennon’s “Imagine,” a favorite of Jack’s, changing the opening lyrics to “Imagine there’s a heaven.” Two of the grandchildren read letters to their grandfather.

“His service was very sad, but because he planned it and because we’re all people of faith, it was wonderful,” John said. “It was a nice goodbye and celebration of his life.”

Editor’s note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs “A Life Remembered.” Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today’s “A Life Remembered” is about John E. Ewald, who died Sept. 23 at the age of 71. His obituary was published in the Sept. 25 edition of The Herald-Mail.

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