When the village came Wednesday morning to cut down the 25-foot-tall spruce tree that had stood in the Hacketts’ front yard on Virginia Avenue for nearly 20 years, well, it was like saying goodbye to an old friend.
“I will miss it,” said Walter Hackett.
He donated the tree to the village in memory of his wife, Isabelle. She passed away a year and a half ago after the couple shared 58 years of marriage. The tree now stands in the parking lot at the corner of Main and Market streets, next to Reis Insurance.
“I think it was actually my kids’ idea to donate the tree,” Hackett said with a laugh. “I think they got tired of putting lights on it.”
Walter and Isabelle lived for more than 30 years in a small home on Market Street where they raised six children before moving to Virginia Avenue. To mark their arrival in a new home, the two planted a small spruce tree in the front yard.
Each year, the couple’s children and eventually their grandchildren would come over and decorate the tree for Christmas.
“It was our tradition, we would make cookies and then decorate the tree,” Hackett remembers.
Over the years, as the tree grew taller and the kids grew up, decorating it became more difficult. It took more lights and taller ladders; even a ladder in the back of a pickup truck.
When his kids suggested donating the tree to the village to be used as its Christmas tree, Walter agreed.
“I called [village clerk] Mary Frank and asked if they would like my tree,” Hackett said.
Mary told him the village would love to have the tree — especially when she heard that he was donating it in memory of his late wife. The village tree often comes from a generous donor, but when no one volunteers, it has to buy one. That’s part of the reason Hackett decided to give up his spruce.
“The past few years, the village has had to purchase a tree and they have been a little scraggly,” Hackett said.
Walter and Isabelle met in Marquette, Michigan. She was the kid sister of his best friend. Walter left Marquette for the Navy, and when he got back four years later he stopped by to see his friend, and was unexpectedly spellbound by a young woman there.
“I wondered who this gorgeous doll was,” he said.
It was Isabelle.
It wasn’t long before Walter and Isabelle (“Izzy” as he calls her) were married. Walter got a job at IBM, and was eventually transferred to the Kingston facility, which brought the young couple to Saugerties.
This Sunday, Dec. 4, the Hackett family will follow its familiar tradition, making cookies before heading off to watch the tree lighting. But this time it will be special.
“And every time I drive by it, I will think that Izzy would have loved this,” Hackett said.
In the coming weeks, Walter said he plans on planting a new spruce tree in front of the home he shared with Isabelle and this time maybe he’ll get his grandkids, who think it’s great that grandpa donated the tree, to help pick one out and plant it.
This story was edited Friday, Dec. 2 to reflect the fact that Walter and Isabelle were married for 58 years, not 52 as a previous version stated.