By M. Diane McCormick
Photography by Stacy Heisey
We all have talents. The difference-maker is how we choose to use them. The 2018 SAGE winners have spent lifetimes extending their gifts to others. Whether supporting missionaries, advocating for pedestrian-friendly communities, instilling lifelong learning, or – yes – getting arrested in the name of justice, our honorees are truly Savvy, Active, Growing, Enlightened.
Chester Allen: Sharing His Blessings
A childhood steeped in hardship and kindness taught Chester “Chet” Allen “the value of work, the value of money, the value of work ethic, and the value of appreciation for what others do for you.”
He was one of four siblings ages four and under when their father died. Their grandfather built the family a four-room house. Neighbors offered rides, because the family had no car.
“We didn’t see ourselves as deficient,” Allen remembers. “We had to work in the summer while other kids played, but we still played.”
All three brothers studied civil engineering in college. Allen graduated from West Virginia University and came to Harrisburg to work for Gannet Fleming.
“I stayed for 43 and a half years and never left,” he says. “I wanted to prove to them they made a good decision when they made me an offer.”
An eventful career with Gannet Fleming ensued. He was primary designer for the South Bridge that carries Interstate 83 traffic over the Susquehanna River. He conducted inspections riding atop the World Trade Center elevators. He helped write a federal highway tunnel inspection manual. For his “last great claim to fame,” he authored a National Academies of Sciences manual on the asset-management approach to tunnel repairs.
Rising to become a senior vice president and board member of Gannet Fleming, he feels that “the Lord has blessed me financially,” so he gives back in many ways. He established a West Virginia University scholarship for civil engineering students in need, because he couldn’t have gone to WVU without a loan and scholarships, and the school taught him all the principles that helped him succeed at Gannet Fleming.
He and his wife, Kay, support the efforts of their three children. That includes the ministry of his daughter and son-in-law, missionaries in the Philippines, and the school their children will attend. “They have a wonderful church and wonderful people there in the Philippines,” he says.
Allen serves on his church’s deacon board. As chair of the church’s private school, he took a crash course in QuickBooks to help with finances. He and Kay visit fellow church members who are hospitalized, or take meals to those in recovery.
“I’m just trying to be a help,” he says. “I take people places if they need a ride. I try to do some of the things that people did for us when I was growing up.”
When missionaries or college students visit their church for conferences, the Allens open up their home. “They get a private room. It’s a means of helping others and giving a bit of encouragement.”
In retirement, he and Kay decided to focus on their health when a visiting missionary introduced them to a weight loss plan. Both had excellent results, so Allen is now coaching others in his drive to help them improve their lifestyles.
In all his endeavors, he strives to instill high ethical standards, in a cheerful manner.
“I try to be an encourager,” he says. “I try to shake hands with people at church and everywhere else, to go around and say hi and put a smile on somebody’s face, with everybody I meet.”
Elizabeth Eisenhart: Doing for Others
Elizabeth “Liz” Eisenhart was shopping in York’s Central Market when she felt a tap on her shoulder. It was a former student, now 24 years old. She has a good job. She’s a good conversationalist. Eisenhart felt that perhaps she played a role in helping “make her into a productive adult.”
“Teachers sow the seeds,” she says. “We never know when they germinate.
Hopefully we planted seeds that will help them as they mature and become adults.”
Eisenhart’s passion is teaching, and so is the pursuit of lifelong learning that led her to advocate – successfully – for pedestrian-friendly changes at a busy intersection. She taught first grade and special education, hoping to instill life skills and a love for learning in her students. Volunteering for York County Council of Churches, she led workshops teaching classroom techniques to Christian educators. After retiring, she volunteered in her grandchildren’s school.
Her own pursuit of knowledge led her to an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, or OLLI, class at Penn State York. The class presented by the Coalition for a Healthy York County addressed the benefits of pedestrian-friendly communities, a topic that interested her since giving up driving due to limited vision.
She was using York’s Rabbit Transit bus to get to her gym, but there was a problem. The bus picked her up on her side of George Street but dropped her off on the other, where heavy traffic made crossing problematic, “especially if it was cloudy or rainy.”
“At least if they have crosswalks,” she thought, “maybe that would be something visible for drivers to slow down and let this poor old woman cross the street.”
Remembering her OLLI class, she called her borough council president. Then she called the York County Planning Commission. She contacted Rabbit Transit. She called PennDOT. She learned that any requests for county planning funds would require the borough’s endorsement. She researched and created a presentation and gave it at a borough council meeting.
She kept going to council meetings, standing up during public-comment period “to keep it in front of them.”
Finally, Eisenhart stood up one day, and council members said she would be very happy. Plans for pedestrian-friendly improvements included Eisenhart’s intersection. There would be crosswalks, curb bump-outs, and changes to traffic-light patterns.
“It will take two to three years to complete, but that’s fine, because it’ll benefit so many more people,” Eisenhart knows.
In fact, Eisenhart won’t be a direct beneficiary. She recently moved to a York-area retirement community, where she already has her eye on improving the pedestrian experience at a nearby corner.
She believes everyone has a purpose in life, to “reach out and do for others whatever we can, near or far.”
“When I am no longer around, I hope I left my little corner better than when I entered. I hope I’m a good model for my family. We all have problems, oh my gosh, but you have to think beyond, and figure out what we can do for others.”
John Maietta: Teaching for Life
John Maietta teaches history for the lessons the past can share. Also, “sometimes it’s just fun.” Such as the day of his Pathways Institute talk on World War I and the notorious Red Baron.
“A woman came up after I was done and said, ‘My granduncle was the Red Baron’s mechanic,’” Maietta recalled. “You can’t beat that.”
Maietta has finally figured out what he wants to be when he grows up. He is teaching. Inspired by his high school teachers, that is what he always wanted to do, but he took a circuitous path. Out of college, the native of Williamsport took his only job offer.
“It was in something called public relations,” he says. “I had no idea what it was. I had to look it up.”
It was also 1971, and he had a low draft number. He joined the Army Reserve, starting a journey that included time in the National Guard of three states and the District Columbia, and ending with retirement from the Army Reserve as full colonel. His civilian career included communications posts, freelance writing and photography, and press secretary for the Pennsylvania Army National Guard’s adjutant general.
Increasingly, he volunteered for military deployment. In Bosnia, he produced television shows. In Washington, D.C., he welcomed home wounded soldiers. In Iraq’s Red Zone, he provided PR support for the new Iraqi government. He sponsored a U.S. trip for young Iraqis serving in the Police Ministry, ushering them through the Baltimore Police Department and state House of Representatives as introduction to the role of public relations to “peacefully influence what people need to be doing to move a country forward.”
With the opportunity to “shift gears” after retirement, Maietta earned a master’s degree in history. That led to a post as adjunct professor in history at York College.
“I’m back doing what thought I would do originally,” he says. Even as he taught college-age students, he grew interested in teaching adults, age 50 or better – “intellectually active, interested in learning.” It’s an audience he finds “in some ways more interested and interesting than the students I teach in college.”
“People have all sorts of life experience,” he says. “They’re interested in the topic.” While college students attend mandatory courses, a scheduled Willow Valley Communities talk on the Incan Empire needed a larger space to accommodate the overflow crowd.
As member of the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra board, Maietta helps increase awareness of “this very successful, very high-quality professional arts organization.” He and Judy, his wife of 48 years, often travel the world.
With Messiah Lifeways’ Pathways Institute, Maietta teaches and serves on the curriculum committee. He finds topics by gauging interest among Pathways learners and by tapping into his inherent curiosity (he used to be teased for reading the encyclopedia at the family picnic table).
After a Pathways talk on understanding Islam, an audience member thanked him for the insights, saying, “You’ve given me a reason not to be afraid of Muslims.”
That’s what he tries to do in what he calls his third career – “open eyes to the world around us.”
“Most people in the world are much more alike than they are different,” he says. “For most of human history, people have gotten along in some way, through social relations, commercial relations, trade. I’m not saying people have always liked each other, but people have accepted each other for far more often than they have not.”
Barbara Van Horn: Speaking Truth to Power
Barbara Van Horn and her codefendants had just heard from their attorney.
“They don’t think our trial is going to be until January or February,” she reported.
In what may be a SAGE first, Barbara Van Horn was selected for her hands-on community work and her leadership in civil disobedience. The passionate advocate for justice has been arrested four times. For her role in protesting the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline in Lancaster County, she and six others are choosing to plead a justification defense, because “we have to save our children and our lands.”
Injustice touched her life early, when she and her identical twin sister were sent to foster care by “the same kind of forces influencing our country now, where the people who had the most money had the most power, and even then, didn’t do what was right for ordinary people.”
About those arrests: Kneeling at the boundary of a Nevada nuclear test site, where “people at the test site put rugs down for us to kneel on.” Protesting the Keystone XL pipeline in Washington. Refusing to budge from outside the home of an elderly veteran being evicted. Handcuffed and hauled away from the Nun’s Chapel, ground zero for protesting the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline.
Van Horn is a detail person. Analytical “to a fault.” Enjoys working in groups, among people “who do good research and know what they’re doing.”
“I only was arrested by myself once, and it wasn’t nearly as fun as getting arrested with friends,” she says.
She has started a free public library in Columbia County. In Mifflin County, her church work helping rehab homes led to her longtime affiliation with Habitat for Humanity.
“That combined my love for justice and the urge to be doing something to help change things,” she says. She recalls the words of Jimmy Carter, teaching a Sunday school lesson: “If you’re asked to do something impossible, you’re pretty sure it’s something you’re supposed to do.”
Her 30 years as a trained mediator for Neighborhood Dispute Settlement led to time as a victim-offender mediator. Mediation requires “a good listener.” She has seen miracles, such as the convicted murderer and model prisoner who got permission to host “a little tea party in the prison” for the sisters of his victim, who came to tell him that their brother shouldered much of the blame for his own death.
It’s all worthwhile because “I have two children, two grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. My two great-grandchildren are adorable little boys. They were born in Lycoming County, which the fracking companies promise in 20 years will be the most fracked county in the country. If that’s not worth fighting for, I don’t know what is.”
A friend once gave her a t-shirt proclaiming, “I’ve been arrested three times for speaking truth to power.” Then they held a ceremony replacing “three” with “four.”
“I don’t know what makes me tick, but all I know is, I’m not going to stop anytime soon. When I’m 90-something and sitting in jail, I may decide that wasn’t such a good idea, but as of now, I’m sure I’m going to have to change that shirt sometime.” 7