Kathleen Hanneman was so broadly respected and admired that it's difficult not to turn a biography of her life into a tribute. So we won't even try.
Kathleen Hanneman was actually Dr. Kathleen Hanneman. (A title she rarely used or insisted others use.) She earned her Doctorate in Education from Oregon State University in 1997. Kathleen was an educator in the truest sense of the word. But it's a fair question to ask why a person who was never a Salem-Keizer athlete, coach, athletic administrator, or booster is being honored by an organization dedicated to recognizing those who have fostered athletic excellence. Keep reading.
Kathleen Hanneman measured everything she supervised – whether as an Assistant Principal (North Salem HS), the first female Principal in the Salem-Keizer School District (McNary HS), S-KSD Area-Director, or S-KSD Director of Secondary Schools - against two standards: did it help educate kids and did it increase their chances for success. She was passionate about education and valued anything that connected kids to school because she knew those connections increased their chances to succeed. Whether it be music, drama, student government, or a myriad of co-curriculars, if students were better for participating in them, she was all in. She didn't see one “connector” as more important than another. She knew that young people immersed and passionate about school activities and/or athletics have a better chance at academic success. They have a better chance to come into contact with significant adults and to learn “life lessons” - like failure - that are difficult to learn in a classroom. Therefore, they have a better chance to be successful in life. Therein is the connection between Kathleen and high school athletics. It's not that she thought sports was more valuable, just that they move kids to succeed. She recognized that for a very large group of kids, sports is the “draw” that keeps them pursuing their education and doing well in school. She knew that coaches, athletic directors, and other adults would be keeping an eye on them. She knew that they were learning discipline, time management, overcoming obstacles and hardship, and how to work with others. It was rare, given a chance, that Kathleen didn't support and advocate for high school athletics.
Kathleen Hanneman was a 5'1½” (she insisted on the ½ inch!) model of professionalism, discipline, toughness, intelligence, and determination. She never spoke out of turn and chose her words wisely. According to husband Craig, she lived by the mantra “less is more”. As a result her words carried great value. And while she was a cheerleader for those who connected kids to school and she was willing to pat an athletic director or coach on the back (or anyone else who fostered those connections for that matter), she also did not hesitate to hold anyone accountable should they lose sight of what high school sports and activities are supposed to be about. She was a woman of detail and very few details went unnoticed.
Because she understood the “value-added” nature of high school sports and the power of recognition, Kathleen always tried to make sure to connect with those overseeing the district's athletic programs, in whatever position she held. Kathleen was astute at the small gesture – the encouraging word, the pat on the back, and/or just “showing up”. As a Principal, an Area-Director, and even occassionally as the Secondary Director it wasn't unusual to see Kathleen, after a long school day and still in her skirt and high heels, at a football game, a basketball game, a swim meet, or a baseball game. If kids and coaches saw her supporting them, and that helped them to know that they and their education were important to her, then the long hours were worth it.
Coaches and players perform in an “arena”. Successes and, more importantly, failures are magnified when hundreds if not thousands are watching. To those performing in that arena it means so much knowing your leader views what you are doing as important. Kathleen knew that and continually conveyed that through her words and actions.
There is no doubt that Kathleen's appreciation for high school athletics was influenced by her husband of 46 years - Craig, a standout football player at South Salem High School before moving on to play at Oregon State University and the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots. Kathleen and Craig have three children: Molly Horton, Paul Hanneman, and Annie Hatzenbihler. Each of her children have been outstanding high school athletes – football, soccer, volleyball, basketball, baseball, and softball - in their own right. She spent many, many hours carpooling, sitting on cold, hard bleachers outdoors and often in very bad weather or on equally hard bleachers while indoors. She supported her kids (and everyone elses) while witnessing just what sports were about. She also has four grandchildren.
Kathleen Hanneman had a lifetime of accomplishment. She served in many important positions. But it wasn't the positions she held but what she did with those positions that mattered. She used those positions to promote education and increase success for kids. She saw athletics as a primary method to accomplish that goal.
Kathleen was intensley private. So much so that when she passed in September of 2020, it came as a shock, even to many of those who knew her best. But that was Kathleen, tough as nails, disciplined to the end, a woman of few words. She led a life of significance. She was a role model. She promoted high school athletics. This is a tribute and tributes are for heroes. Kathleen Hanneman is a hero. Kathleen Hanneman is a Beacon.
The following is a link to Kathleen's obituary: Click HERE
The words of others may capture what Kathleen meant to Salem-Keizer high school athletics more than anything written above. As you read the comments below it's important to remember that Kathleen Hanneman carved this path of respect and admiration in what was a very male-dominated world. Through her combination of toughness, discipline, work ethic, fairness, and professionalism she showed that excellence had more to do with character, values, competence, and quality than it does with gender. And she had all of those in spades.
Kim Phillips (long-time swim and girls golf coach at McNary High School; 2018 Beacons honoree): “Kathleen hired me and took me under her wing. She would show up to swim meets with her royal blue blazer and stand at the rail at Olinger. You couldn’t miss her. Also great memories of her during the National Spirit Award Assemblies. Even later when Annie, her daughter, and my daughter were playing club soccer together, she would always make it a point to come over and ask how things were going.”
Vic Backlund (long-time baseball coach at McNary High School; 2022 Beacons honoree): “She was my all-time, favorite principal! That in major part is because she was a real supporter, both of coaches and of athletics. She was principal when the OSAA in 1983 switched the baseball finals from Eugene to Klamath Falls the very week of the finals. The finals were held on Saturday afternoon, the day after high school graduation. Kathleen was a strong participant in supporting the Keizer community's efforts to lease and pay for an airplane to fly us down to Klamath Falls on Saturday morning, well before the championship game was scheduled to start. Quite an amazing effort.
Another example: I was in the process of personally organizing and then building an automatic sprinkler system for the varsity baseball field. Kathleen came to me and said I didn't have to do that project. She would use her discretionary funds and would pay for the sprinkler system. What a great thing for McNary baseball that project was!
Kathleen had a knack of letting coaches know that athletics were important and that she wanted to do whatever she could reasonably do to support athletics. As a coach, I very much appreciated her support!”
Larry Gahr (long-time McNary High School basketball coach): “KH was a wonderful person and principal, that I hold in the highest regard. KH was on maternity leave when I was hired in the summer of 1985 so Gene Hitner and Denny Pieters hired me. The day the teachers reported to McNary, KH was waiting at the door to greet me. My first impression was, WOW! this lady is really prepared. She knew where [Larry's wife] Barb worked, things about Shawn and Alison [Gahr's son and daughter], and more about my time at Cascade [High School, Gahr's previous school] than I thought possible. She was so warm and welcoming that I felt McNary was definitely the right place for me. I learned very quickly that this was not an isolated situation for KH. She was always kind, positive, and prepared every single day, no exceptions. During basketball season I wanted to always be the first person at school each morning, but no matter what time I got to school she was already there. Every morning after a basketball game, win or lose, there would be a positive note in my school box from KH. She never once failed to leave me a note. She was amazing.”
Lara Tiffin (Salem-Keizer's first female Athletics Director; current South Salem High School Principal; 2022 Beacons honoree): “Kathleen understood the importance of athletics in the development of our youth. Appreciating the impact that a coach could make in a student-athlete’s life, Kathleen also recognized the life skills that student-athletes could gain from their athletic experiences.”
Al Zupo (long-time Sprague Athletics Dirctor; 2022 Beacons honoree): “Kathleen was instrumental in rescuing the middle school football program that had been given to the Boys Club to operate. Kathleen had received several concerns, complaints regarding many problems with the football program. She asked me to wander around various games and practices to report on the program. I reported my observations to the school board. The board soon decided middle school football would be operated by the school district.”
Ron Richards (long-time Athletics Director at both McKay and McNary): “I met Kathleen when I became AD at McKay High School. I was surprised to find that she chaired all of our AD meetings and that she had the superintendent with her for at least a part of most monthly meetings she managed. She was sure we all, including [the Superintendent], understood the value of interscholastic athletics and the importance of student attachment to school and to meaningful adults.
I do not know if it was intentional, but I believe it was, that she attended many events throughout the year. She also championed the value of Athletic Trainers and opportunities for student-athletes to get free physicals. She was all about equity. She believed no student-athlete should have a better opportunity based on the school they attended.
Kathleen made sure that the leaders of coaches were in fact Athletic Directors...She tried to make athletics important in Salem.”
Dave Johnson (long-time football coach and Athletics Director at South Salem High School; 2020 Beacons honoree): When Kathleen was promoted from McNary Principal to the district office as Area Director, one of her many assignments was to represent all of the Salem-Keizer Athletics Directors. She met with high school AD’s every few weeks. Kathleen’s support of high school and middle school athletics was instrumental in being an advocate for the Athletics Directors to the Salem-Keizer School Board. Her support and positive influence for all athletics in Salem-Keizer made a difference! She was the Best!”
Mike Maghan (long-time Athletics Director at McNary High School): “Kathleen Hannemann was as connected to high school athletics as any district administrator/instructor I have worked with.
Mentoring and listening were my two takeaways. Kathleen was always discussing the 'big picture'. Encouraging coaches education and supporting the implementation of that education into Salem-Keizer's high schools.
I still remember discussing how the "new school" (West) should look. Debating whether or not a turf field should be proposed. After much back and forth and number crunching she led the way. Getting a representative from the ADs to serve on the building committee [for West] was huge for the ADs in terms of trust and 'walking the talk'.
Never had a bad meeting when Kathleen was in charge!”