Uncompensated employee. It’s the classification given to Harry J. Shovlin through his work with the Selective Service System as a member of the regional appeals board. While most would consider it a volunteer position, Shovlin thinks that “uncompensated employee” better recognizes the commitment that any volunteer shows when giving his or her time for the greater good. For his service to veterans organizations, as well as his tenure as a City schools educator, the longtime Falls Church resident was honored with the role of grand marshal for this year’s Memorial Day parade.
“I was surprised, and quite humbled, because many of the grand marshals are pillars of the community who I have worked with and known in the past, and have contributed in different ways than I have to the Falls Church community,” Shovlin said. “To be included in that distinguished group of former grand marshals is overwhelming.”
Shovlin will be wearing two hats during Memorial Day, not only leading the City’s 31st annual parade, but also acting as master of ceremonies for the Veterans Ceremony earlier that day. Since its inception in the mid-1990s, Shovlin has helped to arrange the ceremony to honor those who have served our country, like coordinating speakers and religious figures to give invocations – and making sure it starts and ends on time, a point he delights in, mentioning it with a laugh.
Shovlin oversees ceremonies recognizing veterans twice a year – on Memorial Day and on Veterans Day – at the Veterans Memorial. He was on the committee that undertook the years-long process of building and designing the memorial, navigating funding and approval issues to transform a small parcel of green space in front of the Falls Church Community Center into a memorial.
It once only held a flagpole, a token dedicated by the local American Legion Post 130. Now, short stone pedestals surround that flag pole, and join brick walkways, benches, and floral landscaping to form the Veterans Memorial.
It’s a simple memorial, Shovlin says, though quite unique in that it recognizes seven forms of uniformed services: not only the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard, but also the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps and the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. Each is represented by a stone pedestal, its emblem etched in a plaque at the top.
Shovlin, a member of American Legion Post 130 and the Greater Falls Church Veterans Council, is himself a military veteran.
“I feel very strongly that residents in the United States of American need to do some sort of national service,” Shovlin, the Greater Falls Church Veterans Council’s 2011 Veteran of the Year, said.
It was 1969 when Shovlin joined in the Army. He was a medic in Germany during the Vietnam era, and left after his two-year term to return to teaching. The Wilkes-Barre, Penn. native had graduated from King’s College in 1967 with certification to teach social studies, and began his career in education teaching in St. Mary’s County in Maryland before he enlisted.
He was hired by the City of Falls Church in 1972, soon after leaving the Army, to teach at George Mason Middle School. He originally taught social studies but, taking advantage of National Science Foundation-funded education, earned certification to teach middle school science and became a science teacher midway through the school year in 1979.
Shovlin praised the Falls Church school system for “allowing all of its employees to practice all of their skills.” He was encouraged to take on responsibilities outside of the classroom and he gladly did, coaching the track and field team for 27 years, serving two terms as the president of the Falls Church Teachers Association, and co-founding the Falls Church City Schools Safety and Security Committee with Falls Church City police officer Paul Whitney.
He retired in 2000, and works now as an electrician while maintaining his commitments to the City through his service work, from acting as a liaison for the Boys State program for Post 130, to helping his wife, City Election Board Chairman Margarette Shovlin, when Election Day comes.
Shovlin says the City he calls home is built on volunteerism, and that it couldn’t exist without the unpaid work that so many citizens volunteer.
“I think most volunteers do the volunteering for one purpose, and that is you have a need to give back to your community,” Shovlin said. “When you see all of the other people who are not giving back to your community, you have to get that out of your mind and say ‘I’m doing this for me.’ I make it very personal. I am doing this for me because I am who I am, and my beliefs are that I need to give back to the community. … The only person I am trying to satisfy is me.”