Editor’s note: Each Monday, the Kenosha News takes a look at the life of a Kenosha County resident who recently died. We share with you, through the memories of family and friends, a life remembered.
Catching a fish or catching a foul ball at a baseball game, Mark Hackbarth was always smiling.
Mark had a lot to smile about. He was talented in a wide range of sports, amazed his family with “secret ingredient” chocolate chip cookies and helped others through mission work in Central America.
As a softball player in his 20s, Mark was known for “going to bat every time with a big smile on his face,” said his daughter Amy Loeffler. “He had a contagious smile.”
“He had a great laugh and loved to hug as hard as he could,” said his wife, Nancy.
Mark’s bright attitude never dimmed, even after he was diagnosed with brain cancer. Through his 18-month journey, Mark continued to live out his favorite mantra: “Life is short; just be nice.”
On Feb. 21, Mark Hackbarth, 60, died at Hospice Alliance House in Pleasant Prairie.
Surviving Mark are two daughters, Dana (Bubba) Johnson and Amy (Brett) Loeffler; four grandchildren; two brothers, Dave (Paulette) Hackbarth and Brian (Elizabeth) Hackbarth; a sister, Beth Ann (Dale) Jensen; and many nieces, nephews, cousins, other relatives and friends.
The son of Kenneth and Violet Hackbarth, who lived in Kenosha, Mark was born in a Waukegan, Ill., hospital on Oct. 30, 1958.
He attended local schools with the distinction of “not missing a day of school,” Nancy said.
Excelled in athletics
Mark’s athleticism began early. In high school, he ran track, was a city lifeguard at Simmons beach and enjoyed water skiing on Kenosha County lakes.
At age 10, Mark made the news by shooting a pheasant with a bow and arrow on the first day of hunting season.
As he got older, Mark got into golf, snow skiing, volleyball, fishing and hunting.
He began playing softball at 17 years old for a team sponsored by Stanich Realty One and later for Tirabassi.
After graduating from Tremper High School in 1976, Mark attended Taylor University in Upland, Ind.
He left school for California to try out for a minor league baseball team for the Los Angeles Angels, but dislocated his shoulder in the process.
Returning to Kenosha in his early 20s, Mark went to work for Bouterse Construction.
Mark met Nancy Nordell at the Kenosha Racquetball Club, and they married on May 28, 1989. She had two daughters, ages 7 and 10, who Mark considered his daughters rather than stepdaughters, Nancy said.
Mark was a dedicated dad.
“He got so involved with all of our school projects. He was the first to run to the store to purchase supplies and would sit up late — for hours after we went to bed — to ensure everything was perfect,” said daughter Dana Johnson.
He taught the girls tumbling skills and took them on cheerleading trips with a blender for making protein smoothies, recalled Amy.
Mark was also known for initiating 50-plus-person family kickball games in Arizona each year before Thanksgiving dinner.
Some of Mark’s qualities his family tagged as “quirky” included a fondness for “random gadgets,” magic tricks and store coupons.
“He loved a deal,” Dana said. “A two-for-one. A free something. A coupon for his coupons.”
He also liked handing out Lifesaver wintergreen mints.
“He always had a pocketful. He gave them to patients, friends, strangers,” Amy said. “It was a token of appreciation, a little hello.”
Using his skills
In 2001, Mark and his brothers took their building skills on church mission trips to Guatemala and Nicaragua, where they helped with construction.
In 2002, Mark left construction to work as a manager for Metz Medical, an oxygen supply company in Racine.
“He was a great patient care facilitator,” Amy said.
He also continued to play softball in Rotary tournaments, and in 2012, he was one of the first inductees to the Kenosha Rotary Hall of Fame.
Mark was also a foodie.
“He loved seasoning,” Dana said. “He would even bring his own pepper mill to restaurants. ... We had to cut him off from bringing his own fresh cheese wheel grater.”
At home, he was master of the grill and an expert baker. Much to his family’s dismay, Mark would add “secret ingredients” to his creations that he never divulged.
In 2017, Mark was getting ready to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies when he fell ill.
“He couldn’t speak, and we thought he’d had a stroke,” Amy said.
Tests revealed he had a stage-three brain tumor.
For the next 18 months he underwent radiation, chemotherapy and tried a wearable device that treated the cancer with electronic impulses.
Through it all, Mark went on with his life, fishing and going on outings with his family.
“He baked cookies for the ICU staff and for his oncology team,” Amy said.
On July 8, 2018, Mark’s family organized a Kingfish benefit for Mark themed “Going to Bat for Mark.”
“He threw out the first pitch and caught a foul ball. Even though he’d been going through treatment, his reflexes were still great,” Amy said.
In August 2018, Mark participated in the victory lap for cancer survivors at the Relay For Life at UW-Parkside.
Because he and Nancy enjoyed the Kenosha lakefront, they purchased a memorial bench in HarborPark, inscribing it with “Life is short; just be nice.”
“We wanted it early so we could have time with it together,” Nancy said.
Knowing Mark would appreciate the baseball analogy, Nancy wrote him this tribute: “He rounded third base and headed for his heavenly home, no doubt getting ready to play center field for the Angels.”