Castens Recognized with York College Award

According to poet Robert Frost, good fences make good neighbors, but if you ask Neal Castens, it’s good sidewalks that really make the difference. 

Neal and his wife Ruthie are retired educators who live just a few doors down from the Bartholomew Performing Arts Center on the York College campus. The couple loves to walk daily for exercise and they find it very convenient--especially in winter--to stroll through campus, where the sidewalks are well maintained and the people are friendly.

While they walk and talk, they also improve the campus and community by picking up trash and taking it home to recycle. 

In recognition of their years of quiet service to the campus, the Castens were honored with the York College Good Neighbor Award on Thursday, March 7, during daily chapel.

“It took some time to figure out who this quiet couple was, walking through our campus, picking up whatever trash had blown in,” remarked YC President Steve Eckman in a statement read during the award presentation. “Through the years, they have become a part of our environment, part of us. Their example of service has become one that we hold up to our students. Without knowing it, they have inspired future generations of people who not only are taught about service, but have seen it.”

The Good Neighbor Award is presented to community members who have been important partners in the success of York College and its students. Previous recipients of the award are Scott Koch, retired public school administrator; Lonnie Berger, owner of Wendy’s in York; Steve Moseley, journalist with the York News-Times, and Cheree Folts, director of York Parks and Recreation. 

In the five years that the Castens have lived adjacent to campus, they’ve walked nearly every afternoon, taking time to stop and smell the roses--and to pick up the candy wrappers and plastic bags that get stuck on the thorns. York is a windy place, especially up on the hill where the campus sits. Trash from all over blows in and gets stuck on the hedges and fences, despite the best efforts of the campus maintenance crew. The Castens do their part to keep campus and nearby East Hill Park tidy--a great blessing to those who call campus and the surrounding neighborhood home. 

Ruthie works as a part-time para-educator in McCool Junction and Neal substitute teaches at area middle and high schools. They met nearly 50 years ago at Concordia University, just down the road in Seward. Their love of walking together started on that campus, when they were broke students looking for a free date activity. This summer they will celebrate 47 years of marriage and countless thousands of miles walked together. “The only thing that keeps us inside is lightning,” said Neal. The couple is often spotted, even on the coldest days, striding across campus, their gloved hands full of pop bottles and newspaper. 

It was 25 years ago that they added trash clean up to their daily constitutional. “We aren’t tree huggers,” Neal said. “We do it because we don’t like to see litter lying around in our neighborhood.”

After college, the Castens had long careers in the classroom, teaching for many years in the Wichita area. They retired to York to be closer to their children and grandchildren. “York is a nice, quiet place, and it provides us with many things to do,” said Neal, noting that he and Ruthie attend arts and athletic events on campus regularly. 

“Teaching always takes place on our campus, a lot of it outside the classroom,” said President Eckman. “The Castens are teachers who make a difference because of their lives.”