August 2017 Volunteer of the Month
Libby Hacker

"It's up to you how far you'll go. If you don't try, you'll never know." — Merlin, The Sword in the Stone.

When Elizabeth (Libby) Hacker’s husband Don started to develop symptoms of ALS, she had already traveled further than she had ever imagined. Don’s work for AMP/Tyco sent Don, as well as Libby and their two sons Adam and Christopher, to Japan and Singapore. Libby and Don lived for five years in Asia, where they learned a great deal while their young sons made new friends.
 
While they were overseas, Libby would notice something changing. Her husband was beginning to experience a foot drop while walking during their last months in Singapore. While it was concerning, they did not go to a doctor until they were back in the United States.

“Before we knew it, we were at Hershey Medical Center meeting with Dr. Simmons,” remembered Libby. “Don was diagnosed with ALS and our lives would forever be changed.”

It was 1996 and the ALS Treatment Center at Hershey Medical Center had just opened. Libby and Don met Dr. Simmons, Sue Walsh, and the clinic staff. Today, Libby still remembers disliking Sue for telling her about ALS, but today they are best friends. That’s because, 21 years later, Libby and Sue are both still working to help ALS families.

Don Hacker was just 45 years old when he was diagnosed with ALS and the Hackers’ sons were 15 and 12 at the time.

Libby knew she had to change her own life plans as she learned about what the disease would mean for her family. She took a full-time job as a counselor and trained to provide home nursing for Don so that he wouldn’t have to live at a nursing home away from his family. Through the experience, Libby learned about how a disease like ALS affects a whole family and what others would need in order to deal with such a difficult diagnosis.

When the Walk to Defeat ALS formed in Harrisburg, the Hacker family was among the first to join. Don’s coworkers at AMP/Tyco helped start the walk with Bruce Zimmerman and the Hershey Medical Center leaders and joined his family team in 2001 and 2002, before ALS took his life. Mike Parks was the first Team Captain for “Hoofin’ it for Hacker” and, over 16 years, the team raised over $41,000. Where once Libby was angry with Sue Walsh, now she was inspired working with Sue and organizing the walk to raise awareness for others in the area.

People were eager to help and the positivity motivated the Hackers. Libby’s employer, East Pennsboro Area School District, allowed her to hold annual Staff Dress Down Days raising money for the team. Other school staff bought ALS pins, wristbands, and Walk “paper feet” to support the cause. Some of the students and teachers joined their team to let Libby know she wasn’t alone in her fight.

Libby was successful in organizing a Walk to Defeat ALS team for many years. But, she continued to help the ALS cause in many other ways. One thing she learned during her husband’s battle with ALS was that many people did not know anything about the disease and those who did were not aware of the resources available. Today, Libby is a Community Ambassador and has worked at information tables during ALS Advocacy Days and local baseball and soccer games, sharing her story and connecting people to the Chapter.

When the South Central PA Advisory Committee was formed, Libby was among the first to join. She has worked with the committee to organize events such as their annual Christmas Party, which bring together local ALS families to have a special day.

Those are ways that Libby has expanded awareness of ALS in South Central Pennsylvania, but her reach is far greater than that.

After seeing how ALS affected their father, sons Adam and Chris promised to continue his fight. Chris has participated in many of the local walks and, he has video-recorded PA State Advocacy events, delivering the ALS story to a wider audience. Adam lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where he also participates in the local Walk to Defeat ALS. Both of Libby's sons attended the American School in Japan and today Adam supports a friend with ALS who lives there, maintaining a close connection even with a very long distance between them. Adam's friends from Dickinson College also continue to be involved in the ALS cause.

The Hacker story has gone far and wide, but it doesn’t end there. Don’s sister Becky is the retired principal of Webster City Middle School in Iowa, where she has held ALS events in his honor and his other sister Mary and her family have held events in Cottage Grove, Minnesota.

Libby’s brother Sam has spread their story to Thornton, Colorado, where he continues to support the “Hoofin It for Hacker” mission.

From Hershey to Atlanta, Iowa, Minnesota, Colorado, Japan and more, Don’s story lives far and wide. That is a legacy that Libby hopes to continue as she inspires others to become involved. Though she has been a leader for her team and a dedicated volunteer in countless ways, Libby never wants to take all of the credit. She is grateful for the help of Colonial Park United Methodist Church, which is now Crosspoint Church, for raising awareness in their newsletter and she will never forget the help BAYADA Home Health Care provided when  Don when he went on a ventilator.

Finally, Libby is active in the South Central PA Advisory Group, lead by supporters in the area who have been affected by ALS. Their warmth and commitment to her family made a difficult journey easier and Libby volunteers her time so that others can have that same support.

Libby Hacker’s reach extends far beyond her fingertips. Her voice may not be the loudest, but her story and her heart have inspired many more people than she will ever know. In that way, like Merlin, she’s creating magic for ALS families near and far.

 


 
 

The ALS Association Greater Philadelphia Chapter
321 Norristown Road - Suite 260, Ambler, PA 19002
215-643-5434

The ALS Association is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and donations are tax deductible to the full extent of the law.