By Jim Misunas
John Hoover lost his parents when he was 4 years old.
Hoover’s life in Stafford began after the tragic loss of his mother and father in a 1949 traffic accident near Lawrence.
He was 4 years old when Bennett Edward Hoover and Marjorie Ellen (Mowery) Hoover were killed when another driver ran a stop sign.
Hoover’s paternal grandmother, Ella Mae Hoover, and maternal grandmother, Ellen Gertrude Martin, raised him and his younger brother in Stafford, Kansas.
“Most people would be surprised by my life’s journey,” Hoover said.
John Hoover has shook hands with three U.S. Presidents (Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush) and speaks six languages. He’s married to the European Union’s representative to the United Nations.
Hoover worked as a diplomat for the U.S. State Department at various embassies around the world for several decades before retiring. His wife, Francesca Spatolisano, serves as the European Union’s representative to the U.N.
Hoover has visited 44 countries and served in a diplomatic capacity in France, Ecuador, Japan, Brunei, Poland, The Netherlands, Greece, Latvia and Belgium.
Hoover said he retains no early childhood memories before the age of 4. About the only time he remembered being singled out was when a crate of oranges was delivered to their home for the “orphan boys.”
“Stafford was a pretty good town to grow up in,” he said. “It was a nice atmosphere. I never had the feeling I was different than anyone else; I was fortunate to live in Stafford when I did. Everything was perfectly normal to me.”
He credits his grandparents for teaching him valuable life lessons.
“My grandparents encouraged education,” Hoover said. “They always read books to me and sent me off to the library. They gave me a dime for every “A” I earned.”
John didn’t retain memories of his father and mother. The only clue John ever got of his father was when a sixth-grade Stafford teacher found out what his name was.
“You’re one of those Hoover boys — aren’t you?” she asked. “I had great teachers at junior high and high school.”
Hoover was the first family member to attend college at the University of Kansas.
“They were great grandparents. In a lot of ways, I was a generation behind,” he said. “They taught me lessons of morals, responsibility and discipline. I was lucky that my grandparents took care of me. Attending college had to do with how I was steered. They put me on a path and I stayed right on it.”
After graduation, Hoover worked in a government accountability office when a friend talked him into taking the foreign services exam. The test is a world current events exam that universities offer structured classes to prepare for.
After passing the test, Hoover weighed a low-ball offer to travel to Ecuador, fortunately on a cold January day in Washington, D.C.
“I asked myself whether I wanted to do what I was doing for the next 30 years — I said ‘no’
Hoover’s 50-year reunion with Stafford High School classmate Donna Staab in Great Bend was more casual than the last time they crossed paths at Hoover’s home in Paris, France.
Donna Staab and her late husband Larry were 1963 graduates of Stafford High School with Hoover. Donna Staab became a Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteer in October 1993. She serves as a volunteer, a board member and was CASA director until her retirement in June 2005.
Staab said Hoover is a special life-long friend who grew up next door. Hoover drove Donna and her maid-of-honor to her wedding.
“John is a gentle human being who took advantage of his opportunities in life,” she said. “He was raised in a very loving family. He has always enjoyed a wonderful relationship with his family. John was a bright man who worked really hard.”
The 50th reunion of Stafford High’s Class of 1963 was special.
“Their friendship always a feeling of coming home to me,” Hoover said. “After my grandmothers died, I had no other relatives in Stafford.”
Donna Staab remembers minute details that make her family’s relationship with Hoover so special. In their Stafford kindergarten class photos, Donna Staab; Larry Staab and John Hoover are all wearing cowboy shirts.
“It was like we were three peas in a pod,” she said.
Staab said she marvels at one particular high school memory while welcoming a resident of France back home.
“At our junior prom, the theme was “Evening in Paris,” she said. “It is amazing how God has a plan.”