A group of Woodstockers gathered on the town’s Village Green on Sunday to pay tribute. To this location, where demonstrators have forever protested for their rights, where Santa Claus is greeted by thousands each Christmas eve, where the bus stops, where a joyous drum circle convenes every Sunday and musicians busk…on Sunday they brought brooms and dust pans to honor the passing of the man most Woodstockers know as Jogger John, who with just those meagre tools and an ebullient nature shared his knowledge and love with us all — and made the town cleaner…
In a 2011 column in Woodstock Times, writer Michael Perkins, from a bench on the Green, said “(my) reverie is interrupted by the appearance of a familiar figure talking loudly to himself. It is the lean, bearded street Bedouin known as Jogger John. Call him Biker John now. Whereas he used to run everywhere like an electric bunny, age has slowed John’s pace a tad and put him on wheels. On this cold morning, he has come to sweep the Green where the snow has melted, and to dispense advice. He always says something you haven’t heard before.”
John Joseph Synan was born in Brooklyn and raised in Amityville, Long Island to a huge family with eight brothers and sisters, according to an Ulster Publishing article by Paul Smart in 2013.
“He was an ace in school, with a genius-level IQ, and became a technical illustrator for NASA, inking the drawings of the lunar module, after which he spent some years in the Air Force during the Vietnam era, from which he was honorably discharged.” He came to the Woodstock Festival in 1969, visited the town and returned again and again, eventually making Woodstock his permanent home after riding north from New York City on a bicycle.
Details at press time are scant but he apparently died in his Woodstock apartment on Saturday, November 26. His family has planned a service in Woodstock for next week followed by interment on Long Island, which the family invites Woodstockers to attend.
You wouldn’t have known it to look at him, but he must have been pushing 80.
In Smart’s article, he speaks of the 2013 film made by Kaleigh Griffin, First Name: Jogger, Last Name: John, a 20-minute movie of a “sweet man Woodstockers have known as one of their own for years now…but never as well as they will once they see this filmed portrait of him. We see him riding his bike in the cold and rain, dancing wildly, sweeping dust from Tinker Street, and meeting the many who are his friends all around town. Most poignantly, we learn a bit about how his fellow town residents have long seen him — challenged by the elements but happily engaged in living fully in the now…”
Julia Nichols wrote on Facebook:
“Jogger John was an amazing person. He used to landscape my yard at 4 a.m. when he couldn’t sleep. I would wake up to see all the leaves had been cleared and stone had been piled up to form pillars and suns. I would leave him presents on the dashboard of my car…
“I have so many great memories of him and profound things that he would just randomly blurt out while we were talking but my favorite was the time he was walking down West Saugerties road at 3 a.m.
“I stopped and offered him a ride. He said he left something in the woods and could we stop and get it. He knew exactly where it was. We’re driving along and he says ‘Stop! It’s that big tree right there!’ He ran into the woods and came back with his tiny stone container. There are miles of woods in that area that all look the same. I have no idea how he knew it was exactly there. “When I asked he said ‘I have magic!’
“He really did. I’m gonna miss you a lot Jogger. Woodstock will never be the same without you…”
It seems almost everyone has a Jogger John story, apparently.
My own involves encountering him while he was carrying a gallon jug of water. He said that he had filled it up in a special place up near Devil’s Kitchen in the Platte Clove and had just run back to Woodstock carrying it…a distance of probably 20 miles, easy. It was a long journey carrying that gallon, the man could absolutely run, no doubt about it, and I said that the water must have been very precious to him. At which point he gave me the water, wouldn’t let me say no. It was the best I ever tasted…
Reporter Nick Henderson relates the following:
“Jogger John the Magician made potholes disappear…In the summer of 2018, Woodstock Supervisor Bill McKenna was trying to get the state DOT to repair a pothole on Tinker Street in front of the former Joshua’s restaurant. When a DOT official finally arrived, he couldn’t find the pothole. As it turned out, Jogger John had filled it with the dust and dirt he had swept from the Village Green and sidewalks. At the time, McKenna joked Jogger John should bill the state for his work…”
a runner of miles
a bearer of smiles
Keeper of the Golden Broom
That the Fey-Folk gave to him
who Took him while on a run
and brought him to their Dun
On the rocky slopes
Of the Magic Mountain
drinking from their holy spring
he knew he loved everything
But he also wanted
Some Himalayan crystal sea salt
when he accidentally swept out their fairy-dust
they said that leave he must
And found himself back on the Green
Much more than what he seemed
(a runner between the worlds
bound to sweep the earth clean)
Rachel Marco-Havens wrote on Facebook:
“John is my friend.
He will always be my friend.
When I was a kid, he was that guy sweeping the green or spotted somewhere cruising at a steady Gate. Arms up, to open his lungs as he ran…
But as I got to teenage years I began to see more of the sage wise man he was.
He took our wayward (or not) boys into the woods and showed them, those with enough awareness to recognize the wisdom being imparted, how to connect to the land, their bodies and the rhythms they shared. He knew the springs, which to drink from and which to leave flowing untouched.
He knew every path in these woods around here because he off trailed them all.
He was not just a nice guy who swept the green and said what we all wanted to say, at the top of his lungs at the end of a summer weekend when all we wanted was our home back…his passing marks the end of the greatest era Woodstock NY has and will ever know.”
In a Facebook post Jogger John’s sister Margaret Synan Russell wrote:
“My sister, Donna shared this today: My brother Jackie, aka Jogger John passed away unexpectedly yesterday. He was the sweetest soul and we will miss him.
He was Irish you know so he has that Irish poet in him.
Here is a poem he wrote and I am sure you can hear his voice…”
Flowers picked by me
From Woodstock’s fields of free
Serenity, I love thee.
For making the fields free and serene
Together as we travel from these fields
Cast we shall our loving seeds to winds
That may conquer mankind’s inhibitions
To see and share the love within.
Jogger John’s sisters want the Woodstock community to know that they feel they owe us a debt of gratitude for embracing the brother they called Jackie. “Jack struggled with mental illness most of his life. Woodstock was the one gentle, loving place on Earth where he could be himself and still be accepted. He had a life in Woodstock he could not have had anywhere else and we are grateful,” the sisters said in a statement.
Celebration of Jogger John’s life
There will be a Celebration of the life of Jogger John Synan, 2 p.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, December 4 at the Mescal Hornbeck Community Center, 56 Rock City Road, Woodstock.
Organizers are asking those who attend to bring photos and/or written memories of Jogger John to share and to give to his family.
Those same organizers could use a bit of help. Details for pitching in can be found at Celebrating the Life of “Jogger” John Synan on Facebook, or by writing to Urana at email@example.com.
A mass for Jogger John will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday, December 6 at St. John’s Roman Catholic Church, 12 Holly Hills Drive, Woodstock.
A graveside service will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday, December 7 at Trinity Cemetery, Rainbow Lane, Amityville, Long Island, New York, followed by a reception at the home of John’s sister Cathrine, in Sayville, NY.