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Updated: Wednesday, 13 Feb 2013, 10:42 PM CST
Published : Wednesday, 13 Feb 2013, 8:18 PM CST
AUSTIN (KXAN) - Jack Hadsell has every reason to be plum worn out. To begin with, he grew up plenty poor.
“I was raised during the Depression,” he recalled, “and I know what it is to have oatmeal seven days a week and living on cornbread and black-eyed peas.”
During World War II, Hadsell was an engineer on an Army Air Corps C-37, dropping paratroopers behind enemy lines. Near the end of the war, he earned a Purple Heart after being wounded in a “friendly fire” incident when fellow U.S. troops ignited a German incendiary device and it accidentally blew up at Hadsell’s feet.
“I spent 15 months and eight operations in a hospital,” the man said, “pulling out shrapnel and doing skin grafts and stuff like that.”
Back home after the war, Hadsell launched a teaching career that spanned 31 years. He taught woodworking shop at a couple of junior high schools in Austin. Then in the fall of 1956, he joined the faculty at Austin High School and spent the next 26 years in cars, teaching young people how to drive.
Along the way, the teacher did some investing and bought up a few rental houses. In fact, back in the early 1980s, this reporter enjoyed a year or two having Hadsell as a landlord.
So when he finally retired with an income stream available to him and his wife, Janelle, Hadsell was looking for something to do. A devout Christian, he volunteered at his church in a mission working with patients at Brackenridge Hospital.
“I'd see ads in the paper,” Hadsell said, “where there was somebody from out-of-town that had had a wreck, and had nobody here. Well, I'd go take them a Bible, visit with them and try to make them feel at home.
“And then I worked four nursing homes for about six years. I went to these four and I'd take song sheets and I would sing these old religious songs to people and they would join in.
“They would usually gather me up about 30 people in the nursing home and they'd get a chance to sing those old songs. And so I did that about six years.
“And I saw,” Hadsell said with a grin, “that I was getting as old as they were, so I got out of there.”
About that time, the retiree began serving food to homeless people at another church. A fellow volunteer picked up unsold but still fresh food for the charity at local grocery stores for the effort, but he got hurt falling off a ladder and Hadsell had to take over the collection job.
That was 22 years ago. Twenty-two years of driving to two different Randall’s stores , picking up boxes of food and delivering them to local food banks and soup kitchens, six days a week.
“The only reason I don't pick up on Monday,” said Hadsell, “is we've got one man that's picking up and he takes the food to the drug rehab places. He's got four or five drug rehabs that he delivers to on Monday's. So I do all the other six days.”
Asked if that means he would otherwise be doing his volunteer work seven days a week, Hadsell smiled and replied, “I’m afraid so.”
It gets worse, or perhaps, better. For years, the volunteer had to get up just real, real early to get his route done.
“I'd pick up donuts and stuff at 3 o'clock in the morning,” he said, “and finally this store (on Bee Cave Road) remodeled and started closing at night. So now I don’t come until around eight."
Once he picks up the bounty, it’s off to one of several locations that provide food to homeless people and economically challenged families.
One of the first ones Hadsell started delivering to was Angel House , a soup kitchen at 908 E. Cesar Chavez.
“They were feeding about 80 or 90 then,” he recalled. “They're feeding right at 300 now and they've been in business for 25 years.”
Hadsell also serves the Baptist Community Center Mission at 2000 East 2nd Street.
“They have a food bank there,” he said, “and usually when these churches collect food, sometimes they'll come in there with three or four pickup loads and they feed about 250 families. They give them two sacks of groceries once a week.
“But the people can come in there every day and get breads and sweets and stuff like that,” said Hadsell, “and that’s where I come in.
“There's always a long line down there waiting when I get there.”
Yes, Jack Hadsell, now 88-years-old, has every reason to be plum worn out. But, as it turns out, there’s more.
The teacher (reprise)
You see, wherever the man goes, he carries along a stack of pamphlets to hand out with titles like “Seeds for Success.” And then, there’s the coins that he gives to street people and even random children he sees in restaurants.
“I buy $500 worth of 50-cent pieces that have eagles on them,” said Hadsell, “these old half-dollars that you don't see much anymore.
“And what I do with these kids, after I give them one of the “Seeds of Success” papers, I press the half-dollar in their hand and I say, 'From this day on, you're an eagle. You soar with the eagles.’ And I say, 'Don't run with the chickens, don't walk with the chickens and don't be a chicken.
I have street people all over town raising it up and they say, 'I still have my half-dollar.”
The old coot
Hadsell admits that most people would be embarrassed to carry on like that in public. But he is not deterred.
“The nice thing about being old,” he said, “people think you're crazy. You can get by with murder.
“'Oh, he's just an old coot,’ they’ll say; he don't know what he's doing.’
“I still am a little embarrassed to walk up to people and hand them that stuff, but it pays off. It pays off. All I'm doing, obviously, is planting seeds.”
A few years back, all of this was threatened when Hadsell came down with lymphoma. His wife started tagging along on the daily rounds to help her husband while he underwent treatment. After he recovered, though, she decided to stick with the job.
“My wife, she is the one that's really made the sacrifice,” Hadsell said. “I've got a friend that we meet at McDonald's and he said, 'She's the one that ought to have a Purple Heart.’
“Our son-in-law is a pilot with Southwest Airlines and we have free air fare anywhere we want to go and yet we haven't. In 22 years, she’s made a few trips but I haven't gone anywhere.
“She really wants me to give this up and start traveling with her, but it's part of me now. I’ll do it until I drop dead.
“I've missed a lot of life, I guess, doing all this, but I know what hunger is. And so I've made a point to try to take care of the hungry people.”
At 88 years of age, Jack Haskell, as it turns out, is not plum worn out.
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