Retiring rec director watched suburbs change

Retiring Crystal Recreation Director Gene Hackett, who spent the past four decades developing popular events and programs for West Metro residents. (Sun Post staff photo by Joe Bowen)
Retiring Crystal Recreation Director Gene Hackett, who spent the past four decades developing popular events and programs for West Metro residents. (Sun Post staff photo by Joe Bowen)

Gene Hackett got a job with Crystal right out of college

Crystal Recreation Director Gene Hackett is set to retire at the end of April after four decades of service to the city.

Hackett’s first job out of college was a recreation supervisor position in the mid-70s, and she said the rec department has kept its offerings in tune with Crystal’s changing population.

“People were aging, and we knew what was going to happen,” she said. The department’s popular youth programs became its popular adult programs became its popular senior programs.

The then-decline in youth population prompted Robbinsdale Area Schools to close a handful of elementary schools, which gave the city an opportunity to purchase the former Thorson Elementary School. The success of nascent senior and adult programs at Thorson was the impetus, Hackett said, for the construction of the Crystal Community Center in 1990.

Now, the center boasts a range of senior-minded programs, including card clubs and regular seminars about anything from the history of baseball to Medicare advice.

“They call me ‘The Dinosaur’ around here because I’ve got all this history,” Hackett said with a laugh. Programming today, she said, is relatively balanced because of a resurgence in pre-school aged children whose young families have begun to move into the suburbs.

Hackett said she got into recreation programming while she was studying education at the University of Minnesota. She had a part time stint at the Crystal recreation department back then, and her supervisor at the time noticed Hackett’s excitement and passion for the work and advised her to switch from education to a degree in recreation and park administration.

“I really liked the setting, and I really liked being more informal with the kids,” Hackett said. “Doing things kids wanted to do, not had to do.”

Hackett climbed through the department ranks, and was named recreation director in 1992. She helped oversee the creation and extension of a plethora of well-known annual Crystal events: Winterfest, the vehicle fair, bike rodeo and Arbor Day festivities.

She said the renovation of Crystal’s pool was a major accomplishment that was made possible with support from the community itself, which voted in favor of a bond that funded the effort.

“We’ve had so much community support and so much interest,” Hackett said. The community center was also made possible with a bond referendum, although Hackett said she wasn’t as high up the department food chain when it was built.

Hackett said she’s retiring to go traveling with her husband, who retired about a year ago, and spend more time with her horse. Hackett’s yearly schedule is almost the opposite of a school teacher’s – kids have the most free time and access to the rec department’s programming when they’re not in school, making June, July, and August her busiest time of the year.

“I’ve never had a summer off before,” she said with a laugh.

Contact Joe Bowen at [email protected]