Dixie Hackler always had a smile on her face.
Always made time for others.
And always made sure others knew of her passion for St. Joseph.
The former first lady of St. Joseph passed away Friday at the age of 80.
“Dixie was an amazing lady,” said Tami Fruhling-Voges, St. Joseph’s current Mayor. “I never heard her say an unkind word about anyone.”
Fruhling-Voges said she had always respected Hackler’s devotion to her husband, B.J., who served as the mayor of St. Joseph for 36 years until he retired in 2017.
“As I am finding out, the spouse also sacrifices a lot during those years of serving the community,” Fruhling-Voges said. “I never once heard her complain, and she always had a beautiful smile on her face. Dixie was a beautiful person inside and out.”
Dixie grew up outside of Catlin and graduated from Georgetown High School. She married B.J. on Oct. 27, 1961.
Soon after they wed, the Hacklers moved to Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colo., while B.J. served in the army. They had their first daughter, Traci, while in Colorado. In 1964, the Hacklers moved back to St. Joseph where they had their second daughter, Tonya.
Village Clerk Tiffany McElroy-Smetzer, who knew Dixie for more than 40 years, said Dixie was a caring and compassionate person who was dedicated to her family and community.
“The most special part of her was how much she loved and supported her family,” McElroy-Smetzer said. “B.J. was the love of her life. She was so proud of him and everything he achieved. She was right by his side every step of the way.”
Former St. Joseph-Ogden Superintendent Jim Acklin said Dixie’s support of her husband during the decades he served as mayor was amazing to see.
“To me, Dixie and B.J. were like St. Joseph royalty,” Acklin said. “She was such a classy lady and was her husband’s biggest fan and supporter.”
McElroy-Smetzer said when she started attending the Illinois Municipal League Conferences, it was Dixie who took her under her wing and introduced her to people from around the state.
“It was so special to see how she knew everyone throughout the state and how happy they were to see her,” she said.
Dixie had always loved sports and participated in the Georgetown Athletic Association while in high school. As an adult, she played slow-pitch softball and then helped start a girls’ fast-pitch summer softball league for St. Joseph, coaching for many years along with helping start girls’ basketball. She retired her softball glove at age 50 after playing on slow-pitch teams with her daughters.
Family friend Rick Ingram said Dixie’s dedication to the teams she coached and the sport were second to none.
“Dixie had a passion for softball and was instrumental in forming the girls’ softball team here in St. Joseph,” he said. “Quite simply put, she cared.”
Dixie worked for Illinois Bell, then became a homemaker. She later rejoined the workforce and worked at The Treadle and Joann Fabrics before joining the Champaign County clerk’s office and later transferring to the Champaign County Circuit Clerk with the Traffic Court section. Dixie retired in December 2000, which allowed her time to be a full-time grandmother and help care for her mother, aunts and uncles.
“Her girls, grand-children and great grand-children were the light of her life,” McElroy-Smetzer said. “I loved running into her on her morning walks and catching up on all the latest news.”
Family friend Alicia Maxey said the Hacklers loved to travel together and would often share stories and photos of their journeys.
When B.J. retired from his beauty shop and as mayor three years ago, it was Dixie who encouraged the couple to travel. The couple made trips to London, the western part of the United states, Niagara Falls, New England, Jamaica, Alaska and Ireland.
The Hacklers went on a group trip to Ireland with Travel by Beth.
Beth Mills, the owner of Travel by Beth, said she had fond memories of Dixie.
“She was a hoot on the Ireland trip,” she said.
Mills said the love the Hacklers shared for each other was evident.
“They were real good at ribbing one another and still had a sparkle in their eyes when talking about each other,” she said.
Caretaking came naturally to Dixie, who cared for her mother and several aunts.
“She spent a lot of time caring for her mom, who lived to be in her 90s,” Maxey said. “And her aunt in her 90s who is still alive.”
“If the aunts needed something, she would pack up and head up to the suburbs and take care of them,” she said.
Dixie also took care of her neighbors. Ingram said that he met Dixie and B.J. in the fall of 1978 when he moved in across the street from the Hacklers. He had originally lived north of Interstate 74 in St. Joseph and was working in Danville, so he hadn’t had the chance to meet many St. Joseph residents.
“Both B.J. and Dixie welcomed us to the neighborhood with open arms,” he said. “Dixie was a strong woman who supported her family, her church, her schools, her neighbors, her town. St. Joseph is better because of Dixie Hackler.”
Services will be held Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020, at St. Joseph United Methodist Church, St. Joseph. Visitation will be from 9:30 a.m. to noon with the service and luncheon immediately following. A family graveside service will be held at a later time.
Memorial donations in Dixie’s name can be made to St. Joseph United Methodist Church, 205 N. Third St., St. Joseph.