36 Intriguing Delawareans • Hal Haskell
Businessman, former politician, philanthropist
When asked how he wants to be remembered, 96-year-old Hal Haskell demurs—as usual.
“Somebody else can figure it out,” he says. But a two-hour conversation in his memento-filled office, on the farm that his father bought about 125 years ago in Chadds Ford, offers some possibilities.
Playing with Andrew Wyeth, who lived over the next hill? “We were all in the same gang,” he says.
Introducing San Francisco’s thick milkshake to the East Coast? That was in 1948, when he ran Greenhill Dairies, with 18 curb girls serving shakes from Greenhill Avenue in Wilmington.
Working in Washington, at the invitation of friend Nelson Rockefeller, at the new Department Health, Education and Welfare and later the White House?
Running Abercrombie & Fitch for more than two decades? Olympian Jesse Owens worked for him.
Winning the 1956 Bermuda race, a 635-mile sailboat journey from Newport, Rhode Island?
Reforming federal law on adoptions, after adopting a son?
Fixing and updating the nation’s air traffic control system? “I could see it was pretty crummy,” he says, recalling headlines in 1957 when he revealed there were two near-misses a day in the air.
Sponsoring the National Defense Education Act, a $1 billion package of loans and scholarships that helped 30 million people learn, with an emphasis on science? Striking for someone who couldn't write until he was in seventh grade and whose education at Princeton was cut off by World War II (although he does have two honorary degrees).
Those three accomplishments were from his one term as Delaware’s sole U.S. House member.
Playing golf with Dwight Eisenhower (the framed July 16, 1957 scorecard decorates his office) and hosting George H.W. Bush for a 1984 tennis match at his home?
Turning Wilmington around? That was from his one term as the city’s last Republican mayor. “The town was a mess, and everybody was afraid.” The first thing he did when he was sworn in in 1969 was removing the National Guard, mobilized after race riots the previous April. He also led efforts to halve crime. “We’re in a repeat situation today,” he says, but worsened by drug money and guns.
Being the oldest member of the Pine Valley Golf Club, “the hardest course in the world”?
“Decades of skillful, articulate leadership to America’s park and recreation movement”? That’s how the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration describes his 20 years on the National Recreation and Park Association board, and interest in fishing, hunting, golf, tennis, squash and sailing.
Adapting Outward Bound programs to educate leaders-to-be, like two of his daughters and Paul Newman’s daughter as well, at the John Laws Institute of Worcester, Massachusetts?
Bringing that concept here in 1993 as Delaware Futures and paying for the whole thing for the first four years? Delaware Futures serves 100 students a year and aims to “provide academic, social and motivational support and cultural enrichment that empowers economically disadvantaged high school students to recognize and fulfill their unrealized potential and become matriculated college students.” To date, 88 percent of graduates have enrolled in college, with the remaining going for military service. Delaware Futures in June hosted “A Tribute to Hal” that highlighted his “decades of service to the city of Wilmington, the state of Delaware and college students everywhere.”
Or maybe it’s something yet to come. “I’m trying to make money so I can give it away,” he says of what’s on his plate today. “The only thing that really matters is to do something for somebody else.”