BY JEFF HAWKES, Staff Writer
Tom Goodhart, a member of McCaskey's Class of 1980, buried his football jacket a few years ago at the high school stadium.
That's school pride.
After his beloved jacket was damaged in a fire, Goodhart couldn't just toss it. A volunteer assistant equipment manager for the Red Tornadoes, he wrapped the jacket and a football program in thick plastic and buried the package time-capsule style. He won't say where.
A bachelor who lives alone in his childhood home on Pearl Street, Goodhart, 51, is an unofficial Mr. McCaskey, his school spirit infectious. But lately, friends have grown concerned about Goodhart's well-being. They know he's reeling from his mother's death and the loss of his job, and they want to help.
Best known for his dedication to the football team, Goodhart also gives information-packed high school tours to alumni at reunions. He gleans trivia from his collection of McCaskey yearbooks, dating to its 1938 opening.
Goodhart, who worked part time at Whallons gift shop until it closed in December, also organizes his class reunions, and three times a year he tidies the grave of John Piersol "J.P." McCaskey, for whom Goodhart's high school is named.
"Tom has a definite passion for McCaskey High School," said Jon Mitchell, the school's athletic director. "He doesn't like it when 'J.P.' gets left off."
Besides Goodhart's hyper-focus on all things McCaskey, he volunteers for the Red Rose Run, Sertoma Chicken BBQ and other events, and he collects kitschy items such as Happy Meal toys -- about 850 in original wrappers.
But what's handicapped Goodhart is interests that aren't a strategy for self-sufficiency.
Ever since his mother, Mary Ellen Goodhart, suffered a stroke and died last March 8 as he kept a vigil by her hospice bed, Goodhart has struggled with being on his own. He has told friends, acquaintances and former classmates of his deepening despair.
Some, such as Mike Winterstein, a construction contractor and former Lancaster school board president, wonder how they can help.
"I feel he can live on his own if we get him some help. He can be independent," said Winterstein, who wants to form a committee and can be reached at FriendsOfTomGoodhart@gmail.com.
Goodhart said his immediate need is financial. He owes inheritance and property taxes totaling more than $7,000 he feels he can't pay. He also has $3,300 in bills from his mother's medical providers. In addition, his two-and-a-half-bedroom house, where he has lived since 1968, needs repair.
A former classmate helped Goodhart apply in August for food stamps and heating assistance. But since December, when Whallons closed, he has gone without income.
"All these bill collectors want my money, and to hell with your life," Goodhart said. "There's a human being here. When this human being can't afford these bills, what are you going to do? Instead of being nagged at, you might as well go down and jump off the Norman Wood Bridge."
Sherma Woolstenhulme, director of the McCaskey alumni office, said Goodhart has talked to her about his problems since his mother's death.
"Tom has become very lonely and very concerned about his future," she said.
His worries only deepened after his job ended.
For the right employer, Goodhart could be a conscientious part-time worker, say people who know him. They say he's happy to do odd jobs. But to find those opportunities, Goodhart probably needs an advocate.
Beth Celley, a 1980 McCaskey graduate, remembers helping Goodhart in 10th-grade biology by giving him answers.
"One thing Tom had," she said, "was enthusiasm. He was always there for football games, any sports event. He was very tall, very gangly in a sort of goofy way, but somehow it works."
Celley speculated that because Goodhart didn't get into trouble, the school didn't recognize and address his social-skills deficit.
"He talks about things that happened in high school like it was yesterday," she said. "He's stuck in his senior year in high school."
When Celley saw a classmate's note on the Class of 1980 Facebook page that Goodhart was having problems, she helped him apply for food stamps and heating assistance. When the benefits started, he called to thank Celley.
Goodhart knows he needs more help. He just doesn't know how to get it.
"I feel alone sometimes," Goodhart said. "I love my mom, and I love my father. I did everything I could for my mother and my father and my beautiful cat, Patty Paws. ... I saw my father die in front of me. I saw my mom die in front of me. I saw my cat die in front of me. I helped everybody else out. I need some help now."
He said a classmate, whom he identified only as Kim, has tried to encourage him with the gift of a stuffed toy porpoise. She told him to take the porpoise with him to remind him he has a purpose in life.
Goodhart said she told him, "You do all this voluntary service. You have to be around for these people. You just can't decide to go down and jump off the Norman Wood Bridge because a lot of people are going to be hurt by that."
Ever since then, Goodhart said, the porpoise has been a companion in his car. And if it's cold, he said, he brings the porpoise in.