Friday, April 17, 2009


I have been addressed many ways during my 65 years. Haven't we all? In my case: Frank, Franklin, Frankie, son, airman, sir, kid, lightning, mister, Mister T., dear, dad, daddy, etc., etc., etc. No need going into the less flattering. There is however, one name that has a sweeter ring to it than all of the others - Grandpa. Ask any grandfather, and he will likely answer the same. There is just something special about hearing a little one call out to Grandpa!

As I do every year during this season, I think a lot about my own Grandfather Hackney, whose passing on Easter 1955 was my first experience with death, possibly the saddest day of my life. This blog, then, will not be about the glories of being a grandfather, but about my memories of Frank Hackney, in hopes those who come after me will know a little more about him, and appreciate his legacy.

I regret my inability to write about my grandfather on the Thompson side, but I know nothing of him, for he died three weeks after I was born, and neither my dad nor his brothers or sisters spoke of him - at least when I was around. The photo at left is one of the few images I have of Roy Thompson. My father, Burl, is the lad on the left in a suit; I believe the girl in front to be my Aunt Ruth and the boy on the right to be Uncle John. The exact date of this photo is unknown, but probably would have been taken in the late 1920s.

Frank Hackney

Frank Silas Hackney was born in 1876 on the Sumner County homestead which had been staked out four years previously by his father Oscar (O.J.), a Civil War vet who left Mount Pulaski, Illinois, to take advantage of inexpensive land in Kansas available to members of the G.A.R. Oscar was able to obtain some rich, prime farm land in the Slate Creek Valley with a home site high above it on a hill. Of the children, Frank became the farmer, allowing brothers and sisters to obtain degrees at the University of Kansas, and to become lawyers, engineers, and businessmen. Oscar and his German-born wife Magdalena moved to nearby Wellington, where he had already served as the city's first postmaster, and then served many years as the "Watchdog of the City Treasury."

Grandpa Hackney married a daughter of John Frank and Sarah Holmes family who lived down the road. The Holmeses were good neighbors and skilled farmers, especially known for their vegetable garden, orchard and outstanding watermelons. And young Maude Elizabeth was quite the fine-looking young lady. Though raised strict, conservative Baptist, Maude joined Frank in the Methodist Episcopal Church in Wellington. My impression was of the two having opposite but still compatible personalities - Grandmother being a stern reflection of her near-fundamentalist upbringing (I don't remember her to smile much or laugh, and we did not play cards on Sunday), while Grandpa was quiet but had a ready, gentle smile and manner that made you feel everything would be alright. The picture at right was taken about the time of their wedding in 1908.

Many times I have heard my mother tell of her father's wisdom, farming skills, and steadfastness while guiding the family through the difficult days of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Without exactly quoting Romans 8:28, she said that Grandpa continually assured the family that all would work out well if they remained faithful to God, and gave their best efforts. Although he had not received the educational opportunities of his brothers, he made himself an intelligent farmer by studying reports from the agriculture college in Manhattan. He was said to be the first in the area to diversify his operations by adding a herd of dairy cattle, first to utilize experimental cultivation techniques to lower the risk of soil erosion, and was later credited for being instrumental in the establishment of the ag extension agency in the county. Tough times? Yes, the Depression was tough for the Hackneys, and they had to all pull together. The children would sell cream and eggs in town before school each day, for example, but they survived.

FS Hackney fam abt 1941

The family photo shown above is my favorite of the Hackney family. Standing left is my mother, Betty, the only surviving member. Next to her is Robert, who ran the farm after Grandpa and Grandma moved to town, next (in uniform) is Phil, a tank commander who was killed in the Battle of the Bulge on January 1, 1945, and the baby of the family, Janey, who recently passed away. Janey attended K-State and received degrees in home economics and journalism, became an accomplished food writer as columnist for one of the major Chicago newspapers. Seated are grandpa and grandma, and Aunt Prue (Prudence) who died of cancer in her mid-30s. I have often been told that I bear a resemblance to my grandfather.

I was the youngest of three grandsons born within a 15 month time span and we were all living nearby at the time. I've been told that these were some of Grandpa Hackney's happiest days, in spite of the daily concerns of having two of the boys' fathers fighting the war in Europe. His pride is easily seen in this photo, taken some time in 1944, at what we called the "Old Savage Place," a farm house where Uncle Bob and his family lived before Grandpa and Grandma moved into town. I'm the little blondie on the left looking for his mother. In the middle is cousin Bob, a pharmacist, and on the right is cousin Billy, who was an anesthesiologist in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, prior to his death in 2007.

Many of my fondest memories of times with Grandpa were related to his love of farming. Even after he retired and moved into town, he continued to learn about new practices, methods, equipment and plant varieties, and enjoyed visiting on-the-farm demonstrations of the same. He faithfully continued to visit the livestock sale barns and fairs, especially Wellington's 4-H fair. Cousin Bobby or I were often allowed to join him - a treat I relished.

One final story - On the day prior to his death, Frank Hackney carried on a full day's worth of activities at the family farm and at Union School, the old country school where he had been on the school board. It was as if he was making one last check that everything was in order. Returning to his home found me sound asleep on his sofa - worn out from my first scouting over-nighter. When our ragtag troop had arrived back into town that afternoon, I had been unable to contact anybody to come pick me up at the scoutmaster's house, so walked the few blocks to my grandparents' place and collapsed on the couch where Grandpa found me. Without waking me, he picked me up and put me in his sea foam green 1949 Dodge, took me home and put me to bed. When I awoke on Easter morning, I learned my grandfather was sick and my mother had gone to be with him. I was taking a bath, still thinking we might go to Easter services, when Mother came home to tell us that Grandpa had died. It was now my grandfather's turn to be carried home to rest in the loving arms of his Father.

Frank & Maude Hackney Spring 1943

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