June 11, 2007
By JESSE LEAVENWORTH, Courant Staff Writer
WEST HARTFORD -- Growing up fatherless and desperately poor during the Great Depression, John Hunt learned how to fix things.
"He had to make do, and that's how he got so handy," his wife, Carol Hunt, said Sunday at a memorial and fundraiser dedicated to the former Travelers Group executive and student mentor, who died in March.
Friends, family, students and admirers gathered at St. James Episcopal Church to continue fixing problems John Hunt had tackled at Sanchez School in Hartford. The main focus of the event - titled "Keeping the Vision Alive!" - was sustaining a program Hunt launched about seven years ago that has provided eye exams and glasses for about 500 students at Sanchez.
The afternoon gathering included two dance performances by Sanchez students and speakers' tributes to a man whose able mind and hands meshed with a results-oriented and generous character.
"You cannot separate the word `love' from John Hunt," Sanchez Assistant Principal Joe DaGrosa said.
Hunt started volunteering at Sanchez in the 1990s and gradually ramped up his time there to four days a week, spent mostly tutoring students in mathematics. While working with students, Hunt noticed that many of them had vision problems. He immediately moved toward a solution, ferrying students in small groups in his own car to Harvey & Lewis Opticians in Hartford and paying for their exams and glasses from his own pocket.
"Knowing him made you want to be a little better yourself," James Lewis, a representative of Harvey & Lewis, told the audience Sunday.
Awo Quaison-Sackey, a member of the St. James choir, said in an e-mail before the event that when Hunt talked with her in February about his work, "he told me that the thing he was most concerned about was that the children would not be taken care of after he was gone."
"So I asked him if he would mind if I put together a project to raise awareness and money to support the longevity of his efforts," said Quaison-Sackey, a business owner. "He literally cried."
But the week before Hunt was to meet with a group from Business Network International, the organization that sponsored the event Sunday, he suffered a stroke and died, Quaison-Sackey said.
"It seemed even more important to continue with the project at that point," she said. "And it is clear that there are now several people who are interested in fulfilling the legacy."
In addition to the vision project, John and Carol Hunt also established a foundation that will pay full college tuition for 36 students at Sanchez. Carol Hunt said the first students to benefit from the program will begin their freshman year next fall in one of three local colleges - the University of Hartford, St. Joseph College and the University of Connecticut.
Several speakers also made a pitch for volunteer tutors. They talked about the great gap left by Hunt's passing. He not only tutored four days a week and recruited others to help at Sanchez but also worked to get some students into Northwest Catholic High School in West Hartford, all while keeping in constant touch with his three dozen college scholarship students.
"He did what a small army is going to have to do now," DaGrosa said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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