John Boyle | Jeff Manes~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 19, 2014 6:08AM
“Other people have a nationality. The Irish and Jews have a psychosis.”
— Brendan Behan
John Boyle, 85, is a British Petroleum retiree who also is an avid distance runner. He has been married to Mary for 63 years; they live in Schererville and have raised eight children.
“I was born in Chicago, but when I was a little over a year old, we moved to Ireland until I was 7,” Boyle began.
What part of Ireland?
“The most northwest part of Ireland. We lived on an island about 2 miles off the coast. It’s called Arranmore Island.”
Interesting. What was the population of Arranmore Island?
“About 500 people.”
Your father was surely born on the “Emerald Isle” before emigrating to Chicago.
“Yes, but he worked on a farm in Scotland from the time he was 12. He also worked in the coal mines and gas fields of Scotland. There was no industry in Ireland back then.”
I interviewed an Irish-born bricklayer by the name of John J. Branley eight or 10 years ago.
“I knew him well. John put the glass block in the house.”
Yeah, God rest his soul, our interview took place one morning at his home in Cedar Lake. He offered me a glass of Jameson. Ever the professional, I refused because I was on the job. Then, in his delightful brogue, Branley said: “Well, I don’t mind if I do,” and proceeded to knock down several ounces of that Irish whiskey in one gulp.
“John was something; a wonderful, generous man.”
When your family moved back to America, where did they settle?
“In Whiting. When I was in grammar school at Sacred Heart, one of my classmates went home at lunch time and told her mother: ‘We have foreigners in our school.’ The mother knew who her daughter was referring to, and said, ‘The Boyles are not foreigners, they are Irish.’”
That’s a good one.
“Is Manes Greek?”
“My oldest brother’s given name is pronounced the same as your surname. Mannus is an old Gaelic name.”
Your work career?
“After graduating from high school in 1947, I went to work at the refinery — Standard Oil. I went to school at night forever. I ended up in the computer field in 1954 with Standard. They were the first generation computers — a lot of heat. I worked with chemical engineers.”
Did you end up getting a degree?
“No, but this woman was wonderful. She took care of our kids while I studied. The only knock on Mary is that she went to Clark (High School). She grew up in Robertsdale. Her maiden name is Sotak. She’s a Slovak. Both our fathers worked at Standard Oil. Mary’s dad was a rigger.”
“Whiting was a wonderful place to raise a family.”
How long have you and Mary lived in Schererville?
“For 10 years.”
Do you attend church?
“St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Whiting.”
When did you get on the health kick?
“Well, when my boys were playing sports for Bishop Noll (Institute) and my girls were in music and dance, I was shuffling them everywhere. At age 48, I said, ‘O.K., it’s my time.’ That’s when I started running. In high school, I had been a miler and half-miler.
“I fell in love with running and training all over again. I’ve logged over 60,000 miles and have competed in quite a few marathons. I’ve gone through more than 160 pairs of shoes.”
At age 85, could you complete a 26.2-mile race?
“Mary won’t let me, but I have a few half-marathons in my sights. I still work out at least five days a week.”
What was your best time in the marathon?
“I ran a 3:32 at age 54.”
“I don’t have that much talent, but I think I have more discipline than most people.”
You’re obviously one tough Irishman.
“The hardest thing I’ve ever done was run a marathon on a 400-meter track.”
You’re obviously one insane individual.
“It was 106 laps. It was brutal. Every three miles, I’d change directions and drink 12 ounces of fluid. I just felt I had to do it. It was a beautiful day on Dec. 5, 1995.”
I could never do that.
“My hero was Bill Kowalysn.”
I remember Bill and his wife when I was a member of the Calumet Striders — nice people.
“We were running the Park Forest 10-Miler, and at about the seven- or eight-mile marker, Bill comes up next to me. Keep in mind, Bill was older than me. I said, ‘How you doin’, Bill?’ He says: ‘I’m tryin’ to work some kinks out. I was in Bay, Mich. yesterday and I ran a marathon.’”
John Boyle, 85 years young.