Life lessons learned via ‘home’ school

Posted Nov. 20, 2009, at 10:45 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:50 a.m.
Bangor coach Mark Hackett congratulates his players as they come off the field during the Brunswick game , Nov. 13, 2009. Bangor Daily News/Michael C. York
Bangor coach Mark Hackett congratulates his players as they come off the field during the Brunswick game , Nov. 13, 2009. Bangor Daily News/Michael C. York

An early lesson in athletics that John Tennett learned didn’t occur on the football field, basketball court or baseball diamond.

It happened at home.

He was in fourth or fifth grade and wanted to go with his father, Bangor High girls basketball coach Tom Tennett, for a weekend trip to Aroostook County where Bangor was playing Caribou and Presque Isle on successive nights.

“I really wanted to go. I’ll never forget it. My dad said to me, ‘You have a Y game tomorrow, what type of example is that setting if you’re showing that going somewhere is more important than your Y team?’” Tennett recalled. “In the grand scheme of things that probably wasn’t that big of a deal, but it was something that really stuck with me.”

Tennett carried the memory with him through a standout career as a three-sport athlete at Bangor High and then on to the University of Maine, where he starred on the football team before graduating in 1998.

“I would say the one thing that I got from athletics — I know my cousins Lonnie, Scott and Amy [Hackett] and others got — was really a fear of letting people down,” Tennett said. “My grandfather [Ed Hackett] being the head of [the family], we always tried to work hard and wanted him to be proud of us. We tried to do it right.”

Doing it right has been a prevailing theme for a family that traces part of its roots back to a tiny Maine town that no longer exists. The B&A Railroad town of Derby was the home of Tennett’s great grandparents, Helen and Edward Hackett, who emphasized the importance of education, supplemented by athletics, to their four sons and daughter.

The four sons — Ed, John, Don and Al — all went on to graduate from the University of Maine and also earned their master’s degrees while daughter Mary attended the Eastern Maine General School of Nursing for two years before marrying Chester Buck. All five children had athletics in their corner, and honed their skills on Derby’s playground, before competing at Milo High School. Ed and Al also went on to play baseball at the University of Maine.

Since those formative years at Milo High, the Hackett name has become synonymous with education and athletics in the state of Maine.

All four brothers pursued successful careers in education while they and their sister passed on the importance of education and athletics to their children and grandchildren. Most of their 21 children also competed in athletics and earned college degrees while the 40 grandchildren have followed a similar path.

On to college

Despite the difficult years of growing up in the Depression of the 1930s and World War II years of the 1940s, the pursuit of a college education seemed to be a given for the Hackett family, who ran a general merchandise store in Derby and lived in an apartment over the store.

“When graduation came from high school and all the kids were excited about being out of school, in my mind it was just another stepping stone. I knew I had four more years to go,” Al Hackett said. “It was drummed into all of us how important it would be and what the results could be.”

His parents’ insight proved to be incredibly good and beneficial, Hackett added.

“Many times Eddie and I would sit and talk and he’d say, ‘Did you ever imagine growing up and going through the hard times that we did, with little or almost sometimes nothing to eat, living up over our store in a little apartment, that we’d ever be where we all had college degrees and good jobs and homes of our own?’” Hackett recalled. “It was the influence of our parents that really drove us to do this, I’m sure.”

Money was difficult to come by to fund a college education, and the Hacketts were fortunate as three of them, Ed, John and Don, all benefited from an assist from Uncle Sam, according to Don Hackett.

“I think the big thing that helped enable the college education in our family and a lot of other families was the GI Bill,” Don Hackett said. “It enabled us to have an opportunity — to get going. You weren’t going to get rich, but at least you could hang on.”

Because of the brothers’ military service and jobs before some of the college years, Ed and Al ended up starting at UMaine the same year, 1949, even though Ed was six years older. Ed is now 84, John is 83, Don is 81, Al is 78 and Mary is 75.

John followed his brothers to UMaine in 1952 and Don started the next year. The decision to attend college was a big one for Ed as he and wife Mary (Paddock) Hackett had two children.

“I always wanted to go. The railroad was converting from steam locomotives, where I had learned sort of a trade, to diesel. Mary was a telephone operator and with the GI Bill, we figured we could do it,” Ed Hackett recalled. “So I telescoped it in three years and got my master’s in the fourth year. It was the right choice. I was very fortunate.”

Watching his brothers attend college helped Don Hackett ultimately pursue his degree after working for B&A and a tour in the military.

“Things kind of fed off each other. I had those years off [from college] and that gave me time to reflect and do some things,” he said. “Then it turned out pretty well.”

Careers in education

Armed with their degrees, the brothers then followed similar career paths.

Ed Hackett taught for a year at Piscataquis Community High School in Guilford and then became the principal for the next nine years. He then got a job at the University of Maine as the director of its continuing education division and director of its summer session before retiring in 1988. He still resides in Orono.

He and his wife Mary, who died three years ago, had six children: Tim, Nancy, Tom, Matt, Mark and Ed.

John Hackett went on to pursue a successful teaching career that started in Houlton and then moved on to Schenck in East Millinocket. He and wife Betty Kruck, had three children: Joe, Anne and Linda. John lives in Bangor.

After graduating from UMaine in 1953, where he also enjoyed an outstanding baseball career, Al Hackett had a stint of military service in Europe where he was selected for a special service team to play baseball. When he left the service, he taught at Milo for a year before replacing the late Jack Butterfield at Foxcroft Academy. He taught and coached and later became a guidance counselor and assistant principal.

After five years there, he took on a similar position at Schenck where he worked for the late Durwood Heal — the author of the Heal points, used to compute high school sports standings. Al stayed at Schenck until 1966 when he received an opportunity to begin a job at UMaine.

“I would have given my right arm to get back to the university,” he said. “It was a great job, once I got there I never wanted to leave.”

He became the associate director of admissions and director of freshman admissions before retiring in 2003 as an associate director emeritus.

He and his late wife, Sharon Morrill, adopted one child: Frank. Al resides in Orono and spends the winter season near Tampa, Fla., the springtime home of his beloved New York Yankees.

Don Hackett began his career in education as principal of the Harmony school where he spent a year before serving as principal at Monson Academy for two years where he also coached the boys basketball team to a 35-1 record for two seasons.

He next served as principal at Fort Fairfield and Mount Desert Island before settling into a prestigious 20-year career as principal at Stearns High in Millinocket before retiring in 1989.

He and wife Ruth Brooks had four children: Mike, Jeff, Kevin and Cathy. Don and Ruth now reside in Milford.

Mary (Hackett) Buck and husband Chester eventually settled in Hyannis, Mass. Chester, also a UMaine grad, enjoyed a 29-year teaching career and they had seven children: Sandra, James, Cynthia, Donald, Alan, Ronald, and Richard.

The importance of athletics

While they pursued their careers and raised their families, athletics continued to play a prominent role in the Hacketts’ lives and continued supplementing the importance of education to their children and grandchildren.

“I think extra-curricular activities — athletics, music, acting — all those things go into making a more rounded education,” Don Hackett said. “I can look back on students over the years and have seen how they’ve progressed and done very well — in part due to athletics.”

The role of athletics also provided a valuable support system for Al Hackett when his wife died of an aneurysm after they had been married 15 years.

“I thought I have a little boy 3 years old to bring up, what am I going to do,” he recalled. “And I kept thinking, you know life is just like in sports, you’re not always going to win. If you lose, you just don’t lie down and quit, you try to get better. In my mind, I kept thinking, my son deserves a good life and it’s my job to make sure he got it.

“Sports teach you that when things aren’t going good, you have to work harder. That has been a great teacher for me. I think sports have been the one thing in life that I’ve clung to and they still mean a lot to me.”

For Ed Hackett, school and athletics formed a strong bond for his family.

“They did their school work and stayed close to home — family and athletics with all their friends, it was an awful good experience growing up,” he said. “They weren’t out in the streets, they weren’t in trouble. It was a unifying type of thing.”

The Hacketts concurred that the environment of sports at home made it somewhat natural for their children to gravitate toward athletics.

“They just grew into it. I didn’t force them into anything. They just seemed to like it since the time they were little,” Ed Hackett said. “But, I didn’t give them much choice when it came to school. They assumed college was a continuation of what they were doing. I wanted to be sure they knew that.”

The family path

While the Hacketts’ children and grandchildren have pursued education and athletics, it has been perhaps Al’s son, Frank, and Ed’s children who have followed a career path similar to that of their fathers.

Frank is now a superintendent of schools in Massachusetts while five of Ed’s six children have careers in education: Tim (director of guidance at Brewer), Nancy (education technician at Brewer), Matt (assistant principal in Corinth), Mark (Bangor High teacher and football coach) and Ed Jr. (Bangor Doughty School vice principal who was the starting catcher on four straight College World Series teams at UMaine).

Ed attributes the career paths to environment.

“They grew up hearing nothing but education. The family was just saturated with it,” he said. “I didn’t think Mark would ever want to teach, but he likes it better than anybody else. It can be a hard life, but it’s a good life.”

Many of the Hacketts’ grandchildren have also become well known for their educational pursuits and athletic accomplishments.

Nancy and Tom Tennett’s daughter Angie was captain of the Colby women’s basketball team while Ed’s sons Brian and Scott starred in multiple sports at Bangor High. Their sister, Amy, who grandfather Ed calls “maybe the best athlete of the whole family,” stood out in three sports at Bangor and is a Miss Maine Softball winner. She now attends Bowdoin College, where she plays softball.

Lonnie Hackett, Mike’s son and Don’s grandson, will be making his final start for the Bangor High football team today when he leads his team against Windham in pursuit of the Class A state title. He has dazzled opponents with his speed and skill while rolling up 2,057 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns.

Al Hackett is certain that his parents, after toiling for years in their store in Derby, would be proud of how their family has evolved through an emphasis on education and athletics.

“They were great believers in success,” he said. “My dad with sports was very excited about us not just winning, but winning right. It became important to them and it became important to us.”

A lesson in athletics that started at home.

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