The artifacts — four small pins and a medal attached to a yellowed piece of scrap of paper — were originally awarded to Superior East High School band director Gerald Haack when he was a student at the school.
Haack wrote the music for the school song, “Onward Old East High School,” in 1942 with fellow faculty member Edna Fox, and was known for capping off his band concerts with a rendition of “Stormy Weather.”
He died of lung cancer in 1955, a week after his youngest daughter, Mary, was born. Now Mary Hyatt, she held the small pieces of metal in her hand for the first time Monday, Nov. 23.
“It’s the only thing that he has touched that I will have,” said Hyatt, who lives in Hamilton, Montana.
A photo of former Superior East High School band director Gerald Haack rests on a program from a reunion in 1983 with the music he wrote for the school song “Onward Old East High School” at the Douglas County Historical Society Thursday, Nov. 19. (Jed Carlson / email@example.com)
She knows her father only through pictures, a scrapbook, articles and family stories. The five bits of metal offered her something more tangible.
“Every time I think about it I get teary eyed,” Hyatt said. “I don’t have anything he touched … It fills a piece that was missing.”
The pins began their trip home at a Foxboro estate sale. Gary Androsky, of Superior, a board member with the Douglas County Historical Society, was at the sale and noticed they were from East High School. The artifacts were in a larger lot of medals that were purchased by a man from Ironwood, Michigan, but the man offered to give them to Androsky if he found the family they belonged to.
Androsky snapped a picture of the medals and posted it to Facebook’s “The Superior People Page.”
“Anyone know this fella?” he asked Nov. 8.
Comments began trickling in: A link to a gravesite at Calvary Cemetery; yearbook photos of Haack as both student and teacher; people who remembered his concerts.
Five hours after the picture was posted, Hyatt responded. Her cousin, Liz, a member of the group, had alerted her to it.
The Michigan man gave the medals to Androsky, who brought them to Jon Winter, business manager at the Douglas County Historical Society.
On Nov. 19, Winter boxed them up for their trip to Montana. Across the table from the box sat a sheaf of information Hyatt had sent about her father. Among the pictures and articles was a letter from a student’s parents praising Haack; a letter from police chief Art Buchanan returning a $1 traffic ticket fee to the family, and a handwritten slip of paper from Hyatt about a nickname Haack had for his wife, Irene.
“According to my cousin, Tom Smith, my dad called my mom ‘my cheerful little earful.’ It was not because she could sing; she was truly awful at that. But she held her own in conversation and she could be hilarious,” she wrote.
Along with the articles and pictures, the letters will become part of a file on Haack at the historical society.
“I think that’s just a nice personal touch,” Winter said. “We’re always looking for information like this on personal stories. It’s something we do collect, especially when that person hit a broad range of people like Mr. Haack.”
The historical society has been getting an influx of information on Douglas County teachers recently, often sent by their children and grandchildren.
Over the last year, staff have been compiling information for the schools exhibit, which encompasses Douglas County schools and teachers from the 1880s to the 1920s.
“We’re definitely looking at adding to the story,” Winter said. “I look at this as being a permanent exhibit.”
Jon Winter packs up pins and medals awarded to former Superior East High School band director Gerald Haack at the Douglas County Historical Society Thursday, Nov. 19. The pins were found in a lot at a local sale and were mailed back to Haack’s daughter. (Jed Carlson / firstname.lastname@example.org)
Every link in the chain that brought the artifacts to Montana was a person with a passion for history. Hyatt, retired from a 32-year career with the Illinois probation department, volunteers at a thrift store in Hamilton that benefits the local domestic violence shelter. Store staff have amassed a trunk full of items, including family photo albums, that they hope to someday rehome with the families they belong to.
The Douglas County Historical Society is focused on history throughout the ages, even more recent items. Many people may be going through closets and decluttering during the pandemic, Winter said. He encouraged them to stop before they toss items in the trash.
Mary (Haack) Hyatt holds up awards that belonged to her father, former East High School Band Director Gerald Haack, at her home in Hamilton, Montana, Monday, Nov. 23. The pins and medal are the only tangible pieces she has the belonged to her late father. They were spotted at an estate sale and returned to her thanks to the Douglas County Historical Society and social media. (Photo courtesy of Mary Hyatt)
The historical society is interested in archival paperwork and photographs, even slides. House plans, pictures of what neighborhoods looked like, all of that is historical gold. And if people find an artifact that can be linked to a name, the historical society can help with the hunt to rehome it.
Hyatt plans to make a shadow box featuring the pins and medal. It will decorate her home along with paintings made by her stepfather, John Greenleaf, and be passed down to her brother’s children. She’s thinking about the future, as well as the past.
“I hear a lot of people my age say ‘My kids don’t want any of my stuff, get rid of it’” said Hyatt, 65. “But I really think, especially after they’re gone, I think it’s important to have even a little thing, something tangible.”
It doesn’t have to be a full set of china or a hefty piece of furniture.
“But just some little thing to remember them by I think is really important,” Hyatt said.