by Kym Byrnes | Photography by Walter P. Calahan
Neal Roop loves New Windsor. He was born and raised in the small town and has been a dedicated supporter of its civic life. He is an active member of the New Windsor Fire Company, the New Windsor Lions Club and St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, and has helped manage the town as a councilman and, since 2009, as mayor. He raised two sons in his hometown and continues to live here with his wife, Sena.
He has memories of working in his father’s grocery store and of playing rec baseball (“the only community-supported sport offered back then”). Roop is excited about recent developments in New Windsor that he anticipates will make the town more attractive for businesses and tourists in the coming years. With a sense of humor and devotion to the town that has helped shape him into the man he is today, he shared his wisdom about small-town life and real-world challenges.
Where did you get your drive to serve, to give back to the community? My dad. He was a charter member of the New Windsor Fire Company, a longtime Lions Club member and he served as councilman and mayor for about 25 years. I started working at his grocery store from the time I was about 8 years old, and I would see people come into the store to talk to him about town business.
What is really challenging for a small, rural town like New Windsor? Improving an aging infrastructure when you don’t have a large number of users to spread the costs over. We have about 575 properties in New Windsor, so a million-dollar infrastructure project means a hefty quarterly water and sewer fee for folks. But we still have to upgrade our infrastructure. It’s hard to find grants to help with those costs, but we’ve been fairly successful, securing about $3.5 million in supplemental grants to help lower our sewer rates.
Bringing new business to town is also a challenge. We just don’t have a lot of storefront buildings. When I took over as mayor in 2009 there were two pieces of property that I saw as instrumental in turning the town around economically — the Brethren Service Center property and Dielman Inn.
Springdale Prep Academy [a private school that purchased the Brethren Service Center property] has brought progress a lot sooner than I anticipated. We’re seeing a major increase in employment opportunities in town, an increasing tax base, and it’s bringing people into local businesses. And as the school grows, those businesses will grow as well.
What has surprised you about this job? What kind of things catch you off guard? The amount of hours that I put into it. You have to be dedicated to it. When I was elected mayor, I personally took 1,414 people on my shoulders to improve their quality of life, and that takes a lot of time and dedication. I spend a lot of time looking for grants that will eliminate use of taxpayer money. I am always meeting, calling, emailing — there is lots of traveling and meeting with people, networking.
What are you most proud of in your time as mayor? I would say being able to see the town turning around economically. A big piece of this turn-around is the opening of Springdale Preparatory School. They have over 50 employees coming into town every day. We are starting to see a lot of serious interest in the restoration of the historic Dielman Inn. If all goes well, we could see major renovations to the interior of that building next summer. This will lead to a several new businesses opening up in town.
Was there ever a time you couldn’t wait to get out of New Windsor, out of Carroll County? Did you ever consider leaving? No, as my Aunt Julia Cairns once said, “I’m New Windsor-born, New Windsor-bred, and when I’m gone, I’ll be New Windsor dead.” There have been times when I thought about what it would be like to move away. I think I’d miss the people too much.
When you think 10 years, 20 years down the line, do you see anything changing about New Windsor? Is there anything you’d like to see change in that time? Yes, I’d like to see 20 small businesses open up, people walking around town on any given day, visiting the shops, eating and drinking, enjoying events throughout the year. I’d like to see New Windsor become a destination spot.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? At first, a pro baseball player like my childhood hero, Brooks Robinson. Eventually, I knew I was going to take over Roop’s Grocery from my dad, like he did from his dad, and work there for the rest of my life. I was the owner of the store when it turned 100 in 1996. My great-grandfather started the business and it has gone down the line. I thought that would be the story of my life, but it doesn’t always work out that way, the store closed in 1997. Sometimes God has a different and better plan.