Friend. Mentor. The epitome of a professional educator. The kind of person you want working with teachers and kids.
Those are the words fellow educators used Monday to describe Jack Hallstrom, former Douglas County school superintendent and Northwest High School principal.
Hallstrom, 85, died Sunday. He had been in declining health.
Throughout his 48 years in education, however, he was known for his energy and his integrity. Educators such as former State Education Commissioner Roger Breed, former Omaha Public Schools Superintendent John Mackiel and University of Nebraska Regent Bob Whitehouse called him a mentor and model.
“It's a tribute to Jack that we moved in many directions,” Mackiel said. “But Jack was an anchor in the lives of many professional educators. All of us continued ... to hold Jack Hallstrom in high esteem.”
Breed, also former Elkhorn Public Schools superintendent, said Hallstrom occasionally sent him notes after he became education commissioner. He treasures the Jack E. Hallstrom Friend of Education Award he received from the Nebraska State Association of Secondary School Principals in 2011.
The award, which honors those who make important contributions to the state's middle and high schools, was named for Hallstrom to recognize his “exemplary dedication to students” and leadership in the association.
“He was optimistic about the future of the kids he worked with and the people he worked around,” Breed said, “and he was that way until his last day.”
Hallstrom's career began in 1946 with a $50 scholarship to Peru State College. The Avoca, Neb., native attended with his brother, Tom Hallstrom, also a retired Omaha schools administrator.
Jack Hallstrom played basketball through college, then married and started teaching math and coaching at Lewiston (Neb.) High School. But the Korean War interrupted within a year.
Hallstrom returned to teaching in 1952 at Monroe Junior High School. He then served as principal of Mount View Elementary School; assistant principal and athletic director of Benson High School; and principal of Monroe.
In 1971, he opened Northwest High School, where he remained as principal for 18 years. He was elected county superintendent in 1991. A 1999 state law mandating the elimination of the office ended that run in 2000. Hallstrom was 71.
Breed said Hallstrom as superintendent would give newly elected school board members a short but well-spoken initiation into board service and service to kids and present them each with a $2 bill. That was to remind them that their rewards would be few, other than their service to kids.
“That's the kind of gracious fellow he was,” Breed said.
Breed met Hallstrom when he was student teaching at Monroe and Hallstrom was the school's “dashing young principal.” They met again after Breed became assistant superintendent at Elkhorn and Hallstrom was county superintendent.
Mackiel was working as an English teacher at Burke High School when Hallstrom hired him as a guidance counselor at Northwest. Mackiel's wife, a fifth-grade teacher at Mount View, taught Hallstrom's son, Jerry. Hallstrom's wife, Nancy, was a paraprofessional at the school. The families became friends.
“It was a close community, the Mount View-Northwest family,” Mackiel said.
Gaylord E. “Doc” Moller, former Central High principal, worked with Hallstrom as fellow principals. After retirement, the Mollers and Hallstroms enjoyed traveling together.
Moller said Hallstrom also was active in the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame and other area sports boards.
“We'll miss him a lot,” Moller said. “He was a big-hearted guy. When he was a principal and something tragic happened in his building, whether it was with a staff member or a student, Jack was always the first one to be at a hospital or wherever he was needed. He really was tremendous at that.”
Hallstrom is survived by his brothers, Tom of Omaha and Bob of Syracuse, Neb.; daughters, Ann Hallstrom of Keller, Texas, Jane Roensanz of Hudson, Wis., and Linda Harman, of Blair, Neb.; son, John, of Indianola, Iowa; and 15 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. His wife and son, Jerry, passed away before him.
A memorial service will be Monday, Feb. 17 at 11 a.m. at St. Paul United Methodist Church, 5410 Corby St.