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WITC leader ends education career

John Hackbarth has been counting down the days leading to retirement for months, but the wait is finally over.

The interim administrator at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College in New Richmond will leave his post on Friday. He leaves behind more than 28 years of teaching and administrative experience at the local school.

After serving in the military and gaining a master's degree from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Hackbarth joined WITC as a retail merchandising instructor in 1974.

At that time the college was operating out of a steel building and portable classrooms.

"I thought, 'what am I getting myself into," he admitted.

As it turns out, working with more mature students in a post-high school learning environment was the perfect fit for Hackbarth.

"I was a substitute (teacher) in a high school for a while, and it didn't exactly fit my character," he said. "I decided I really wanted to be in a technical college or in industry."

Hackbarth worked as an instructor at the school for more than seven years before getting the itch to start his own business.

He and a partner opened The Workbench, a sign, t-shirt and trophy business in New Richmond. He and his wife, Judy, also opened up a downtown shop, The Stuff Shop, which was a second-hand clothing store. They also purchased and operated the Old Gem Theater and worked with the Stagedoor Players for several years.

"I wanted more experience in business and industry," he said of his decision to shift careers. "We were changing the business program at WITC and I didn't have the experience I thought I should have. I figured I'd give it a shot."

Hackbarth enjoyed his business, which included the design and construction of the existing City of New Richmond signs on display at the entrances of the city.

But after four years, Hackbarth sold his interest in the business and eventually accepted a business supervisory position with WITC.

"I've been here ever since," Hackbarth said. In October 2004, he took on the role of interim administrator on the campus.

"It's been a good experience," he noted. "We've seen a lot of changes, and it's been very energizing."

But now, as a new administrator prepares to take over the reigns on July 10, Hackbarth admits that he's more than ready for a change.

"I'm very excited," he said. "I'm ready. But I'll miss the people I've worked with. They've been a great bunch."

There are no big travel plans in the near future for the newly retired Hackbarths. The couple's two grandchildren live just a few miles away, so John and Judy plan on spending time with them.

They will also try to spend more time at a family cottage in north central Wisconsin when the weather and time allows.

"We're just going to enjoy some time off first," he said. "Then we'll probably get involved in some volunteer things."

Plus, Hackbarth said, he has a lot of house projects to catch up on now that he won't be working full time.

"I like to putz," he said with a laugh. Among his favorite pasttimes is woodworking, which he hopes spend more time at now.

Hackbarth won't be cutting the WITC ties anytime soon. He expects to get involved in an alumni staff group that meets on a quarterly basis and exchanges "war stories" for their time at the college.