Recollections: Remembering Jack Hackman
By Thom Gerretsen
One of a kind. A great man who did a lot for Marshfield. Builder of a very well-run broadcast organization. Class that is so lost today. That’s how some of my friends described Jack Hackman after he died last week at age 85. He’s the first person I met in Marshfield and was one of the most influential people in my life.
Before I graduated from UW-Whitewater in 1975, I wrote to dozens of Midwest radio stations to ask for a job. Jack was among the only station managers with the dignity to write me a letter of rejection. But, I wasn’t rejected for long. He promised to consider me for future job openings, and after hearing some of my work for the station that did hire me – WPDR Radio in Portage – he brought me to his office for a three-hour job interview on a Sunday afternoon in late April 1978. On May 1 of Jack’s 25th anniversary year at WDLB, I began 21 great years in Marshfield radio.
More importantly, I met my wife Jean and grew my family here. I’ve met thousands of wonderful people, mostly through my career. And, I’ve been part of our community’s amazing growth in a place I may have never visited if it wasn’t for Jack Hackman.
If I have to describe him with only one word, it’s “bulldog.” Kind and gentle; yet bound and determined to achieve big dreams for his community and to achieve broadcasting success that went well beyond the places where WDLB’s AM and FM stations could be heard in central Wisconsin. Jack shared my love for baseball; he proudly told me about his pitching career in his hometown of Pittsville before he developed polio.
He walked with metal crutches by the time I met him. As he overcame his disease, he inspired me and others to overcome our own shortfalls. I never had the deepest and most resonant voice, once a requirement to be on the radio, but Jack believed the content of our local news was much more important. He made that clear to me from Day 1, and I’ll be forever grateful that he spoke up for me when people both inside and outside our building were not as supportive.
Jack was demanding. He expected our three-person news department to keep up with our much larger daily newspaper when the News-Herald was locally-owned by Forward Communications of Wausau, and was top-notch for its size. Jack also knew when to ease up. When he saw me get tense, he rewarded me with some extra “perks” he had for customers and others – sports tickets, meals, hotel rooms, etc.
More than any boss, Jack fostered a family atmosphere at WDLB. Every time an employee left, he put on a staff lunch to wish the person well, while letting us enjoy some “down time” among ourselves. He constantly gave me great advice for both for my work and my life. He had sayings I’ll never forget: “Your reach should always exceed your grasp” and “Pencils indeed have erasers” – his way of saying I should learn from my mistakes instead of sweating them.
Continued in next week’s edition