Tree of life

Walter Hackett and his tree (Photo by Nicole DeLawder)

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.

There are 15 comments

  1. Nancy Campbell

    I think now I’ll think of Izzy too, when I see the tree. The Hacketts were our Market Street neighbors for many years, when we first bought our house. We have many memories of them and their brood! Thanks Walt, for donating the tree!

  2. Robert Ford

    just one oops with the story – Walt and Izzy were married for 58 years – sorry we couldn’t make the change Walt.

  3. Alana Zahn

    It’s very sad that the tree is no longer in the yard, but Gram would have loved to see the tree she took many pictures in front of displayed in town so that hundreds of other can enjoy it as well, and possibly take their picture in front of it too. I’m proud of you for donating the tree Pop, and I’m sure we’ll all be there to help you plant the new one with too much advice and help, and never enough CC.

  4. laura M

    What a wonderful way to remember Isabelle. Saugerties has always been lucky to have such a warm loving family in their midst.

  5. Brittany Hackett

    I’m so proud of you Pop!! Gram would have loved it and I know she’s looking down on you smiling and thinking how proud she is as well! I can’t wait to plant the new tree and start new memories and traditions in front of that one. Love you always!!

  6. Kellie Fuller

    I know that Gram will “be there” on Sunday for the lighting. She’ll have her head slightly tilted to the side with her face lit up with her beautiful smile. I’m sorry I won’t be able to make the trip to Saugerties for the Christmas in the Village. Poppa, thank you for doing this.

    1. Mike Nadeau

      Uncle Walter was a childhood hero of mine and it does not surpise me that he would do this. Merry Christmas to all. Mike Nadeau

  7. John Klassen

    Great job Walt. With any luck while you’re enjoying the tree lighting the Giants will be lighting up the Packers….


  8. Tim Hackett

    I could not be more proud of my family, my Dad in particular, for doing this. It is not only a wonderful tribute to my late Mother, but a nice gift to the town they have called home for 45+ years. I am the only one of the original Hackett clan to actually be born in Saugerties! The older 5 all came along from Marquette. I am also thankful that I will actually be in Saugerties this weekend for the tree lighting, “cookie day” and a Packer game! Great timing that I had nothing to do with! I really do miss Saugerties and the great people I have been honored to call friends and family!

  9. Wes Finger

    Walt, what an amazing super nice thing to do in memory of your wonderful wife. Things like this are what makes the Hackett family a very special family.

  10. Janet Shaffer

    This is the holiday story that’s lighting up my spirit. Tim is my favorite upstate New York friend here in North Carolina and sent me the story link so I could get my holiday groove on, bake some fine cookies and get to decorating and celebrating. Happy Holidays to all.

  11. Florence Paley-Cohen

    I am very touched by this story. I have known Tim here in North Carolina for a few years. He is a fine man and a devoted husband and father. I have never met his parents but they did a wonderful job. Tim’s sense of family really wonderful and unfortunately not too common these days. I am orginally from Albany and we can relate to the stories of New York. Even though I do not celebrate Christmas(I am Jewish) Tim and I share many values and many of the same beliefs. I am truly touched by a story underlined by simple values and wish Tim and his whole family a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

  12. Christine Saunders

    Tim, What a wonderful tribute to your mother.I hope you and your family have a very Merry Christmas!

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