MY STORY PROJECT: Heroes From Our Town series featuring Dale Gearhart’s story.
This is Dale L. Gearhart story who is a pillar of the Greencastle community and school district. His portrait and story are nominated by his beloved granddaughter Ashley Baer Hopchak. Tag someone in this post to nominate their story and portrait painting for be featured in this series.
As a 1953 high school graduate of Greencastle-Antrim High School, my beloved grandfather, Dale Gearhart, would go on to become a well respected elementary school principal for 15 years and the middle school principal for 11 years within the Greencastle-Antrim School District. As his granddaughter, I see that his teaching journey exemplifies his personality, which is full of compassion, generosity, and love for those who come in contact with him. And to me, that is a hometown hero.
He was raised on a beautiful country farm in Shady Grove, Pennsylvania. Being the eldest of 5 children, leadership, discipline, and hard work were instilled in him. His father, Lowell, who was a driven farmer, pastor, and high school teacher for 45 years, and his mother, Helen, who was a skillful and loving homemaker strongly encouraged him to go college and get a teacher’s education. Graduating from Shippensburg State Teachers College (known today as Shippensburg University) with his high school sweetheart and now wife, Helen Koons, by his side in 1957, he began his teaching career.
Though teaching may not have been his first choice as a young adult, it soon became his passion for not only his future, but for anyone he encountered.
When I asked my grandfather what he liked about being a principal, he paused, replying with a chuckle, “Sometimes nothing,” but continued with, “I guess I felt that hopefully I was helping other people do a better job at their job, and one of the things I did was I tried to let teachers do what they thought they could do best. As long as they didn’t get off track, I’d let them keep doing what they were doing. I’d try to encourage that.” He continued to say, “You know, that’s the other thing, my idea for the average teacher was to try to make them feel good about their job. My job was to help the kids really, not the teachers. But, if you help the teachers, you help the kids. The sole purpose was not for me to be a principal, or for me to be a great teacher, the job was to get the kids to do the best they could do.”
As an elementary principal, he was responsible for getting his students involved with the Apple Festival. He enjoyed taking them on nature walks. In later years, he volunteered and helped serve food. In June of 1992, after 36 years, Dale retired from the Greencastle-Antrim School District.
Mr. Dale Gearhart also volunteered his time teaching elementary school students about the solar system. He started a program where kids and parents could come to the school in the evenings and study the planets by looking through his telescope. He explained, “We tried to do the constellation program on a night when there was a specific planet up in the sky such as Saturn or Jupiter. I’ll never forget some of the kids excitement. The students’ books displayed small pictures of these planets. So, when the students went out at night and looked through the telescope and saw the genuine size of Saturn and its rings, they’d say, ‘WOW!’ because it was real to them. The book was never as impressive as seeing it with their own eyes.”
Throughout his life he also served the local community in many ways. One way was by being a member of the Shady Grove Ruritan Club since 1957. He has held several positions including president, director, and zone governor. As his granddaughter, I fondly remember both my grandparents directing the Shady Grove egg hunts every Easter for 15 years. Another such service was coaching and umpiring the Boys Little League Baseball for many years.
Serving God is an integral part of his life, participating as a Sunday school teacher and a member of the consistory most of his adult life. Frequently he entertains the congregation at The United Church of Christ in State Line by singing accompanied by his guitar.
Today, he and his wife, Helen, of 62 years reside in Shady Grove. They both look forward to visits from their great-granddaughter, Penelope, who currently lives in Georgia with her mom and dad. Dale continues to do his favorite past and present hobby, bird watching, whether that be in a group or solo. He remains active in the Audubon Society, formerly serving as president for four years and assisting with yearly bird counts. When asked, he still happily provides bird presentations with his vast collection of pictures. Thus, he continues to educate others.
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