“Being Irish isn’t something you do. It’s something you are.”
This is the beginning of a poem titled “What it means to be Irish” that JoAnn Arendt, lovingly known as “Mrs. A” to most on campus, has hanging in her house. Her grandfather came to the states from Ireland, and for her whole life, Arendt has wanted to visit the country. This past January, she finally got the chance to see Ireland.
Though it was a lifelong dream to go to Ireland, Arendt was simply too occupied for many years. She was busy raising her kids and working in the Quincy schools, and now she has served as dorm mom at Hillsdale for four years.
“I call myself a senior since this is my fourth year,” she said.
Originally she lived in Galloway, but with renovations and construction, she moved to Niedfeldt this year and also takes care of Alpha Tau Omega fraternity.
Arendt actually started cooking for Chi Omega sorority before she became a housemom. But, after her husband passed away in 2014 and her youngest child, Molly, went to Grove City College for school, the college offered Arendt the position in Galloway.
“I was going to stay home and get organized and I thought of something my husband said: ‘It’s always good to stay busy,’” Arendt said. “And my thought is, if you don’t try something you’ll regret it.”
So she moved into Galloway and has loved the past four years of being around Hillsdale and taking care of students.
“It’s a great place to be,” she said. “And the students are good. And it’s just showing them that you care. It’s good to cheer them on.”
But she still wanted to see Ireland.
This past January, she was finally able to go. Arendt’s daughters, Molly and Susie, surprised her by buying plane tickets for her birthday.
“She has always said that was a life goal of hers,” Susie said. “But, we know she is pretty selfless and wouldn’t spend time and money on herself to go there, so that’s where the surprise came in.”
So Arendt and her daughters Susie and Molly made their way over to Ireland over Christmas break.
“It was the trip of a lifetime,” Arendt said. “I would want to go back, but that was like my dream trip. It was everything I wanted it to be.”
They visited the Cliffs of Moher, Blarney Castle, Temple Bar, and Trinity College’s library, and also kissed the Blarney Stone.
“My favorite part was seeing my mom’s face glow the entire time. To be able to be a part of anyone’s happiness just instantly gets you in a better mood,” Susie said.
Arendt loved the whole trip and enjoyed so many aspects of the Irish culture and her heritage. Seeing Ireland helped Arendt understand her family history better and the suffering of the Irish.
“It made you appreciate all the suffering. Because if you were Catholic you could not own property. So my family came over probably because they could not own property,” she said.
But she and her daughters were also overwhelmed by the joy of the Irish people.
“All of the people there were so nice,” Molly said. “Every cab driver gave us tips on where to visit during our trip.”
Arendt said she loved seeing how happy the people were.
“We were on the bus trip and the guy was singing and then he honked the horn. And he didn’t have the best voice, but he was just singing and it was pretty cool,” Arendt said.
Along with exploring, eating, and experiencing the culture and music of Ireland, Arendt and her daughters got some good laughs and memories out of the trip.
At the Cliffs of Moher, they saw a giant sheep get spooked and start running and jumping around all the visitors.
“It was quite the scene watching the big security guys running, dodging, almost falling, and not being able to catch this sheep,” Susie said. “Everyone was laughing, and I’m sure the sheep had a good laugh too.”
They even ran into the giant French rugby players of Stade Toulousain in their hotel and when Arendt asked a manager who they were and what sport they played he answered, “Cards.”
“We all started laughing when he said this because they were just these massive dudes and we knew that the manager didn’t want us to know who they were,” Molly said.
Arendt is back to normal life in Hillsdale, but she’ll always cherish her lifelong bucket-list trip.
“The trip was just phenomenal,” she said.