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Hartnett retires from Boys and Girls Club

“The legend has retired.”

After 40 years, The Shelbyville Boys and Girls Club Executive Director John Hartnett retired Friday.

Much to Hartnett’s surprise, the Boys and Girls Club staff members Jennifer Wheeler and Chelsee Simerly decorated the lobby of the building to celebrate his retirement. Shiny lettering, banners and stars hung from the windows and doorways, reading out phrases wishing him a happy retirement.

And while Hartnett refused to wear a shirt they made him that read “The Legend,” he still appreciated the surprise.

He knew he was going to retire in 2020 a few years ago.

“2020 was going to be it for a number of reasons,” he said. “Forty years is sort of a milestone, it also coincided with me getting a little bit older, and I thought it would be a good way to transition into another part of life where you are still young enough to do other things and still remain active with the club and be effective.”

Hartnett began his career in 1980 as an assistant director.

“I was a member here and grew up through the club,” he said. “I got out of college and Kenney Self was director here. He and I had a close relationship and so the assistant director Bill Wheeler who was here, one of the assistants, decided to leave... With me being out of college, I stepped into this position as an assistant director.”

After three years as an assistant director, Self passed away and Hartnett took that position.

“Since April of 1984, I’ve been the executive director here,” he said. “36 and a half years.”

He stayed for so long simply because he loves it.

“I do enjoy working with young people. I’ve always enjoyed coaching, I’ve always enjoyed being sort of a teacher. I’ve always described what I’ve done as being more of a teacher/guidance counselor more than anything else over the last 40 years.”

“I’ve always seen a lot of merit to doing that. I was an athlete so I was around a lot of coaches and teachers all my life,” Hartnett continued, “and those people had really profound impacts on me as I grew up, all the way from junior high to high school, and those people were who I wanted to be like.”

Hartnett coaches football and basketball and stays involved with the baseball program through the club, too.

“I think sports as a way for people, not only the great athletes, but anybody to reach their potential,” he said. He will continue coaching football for the Boys and Girls club.

As only the third director in the club’s history, Hartnett oversaw two multimillion-dollar capital campaigns (that raised just short of $5 million), the establishment of a half-million-dollar endowment, and the creation of the Morristown Boys and Girls Club.

But he said the highlight of his career was seeing kids come through his club grow up and come back and donate or volunteer.

“The most satisfying part of the job is that I’ve stayed long enough to see second-generation people come in with their children,” he said. “A number of young people that I’ve either coached or worked with here in some capacity are coming back as volunteers, coaches, mentors. To see them do that, to see them be good husbands, fathers, good family men, good professional men, working hard at their jobs – that’s a great reward to know that this organization had something to do with that.”

Morristown Boys and Girls Club Director Scott Spahr will take his place. As for Hartnett, he won’t leave the organization completely.

“I’m going to serve as an consultant/advisor here and help with the transition over the next couple of years,” he said. “I’m still going to have some responsibilities to help out with things like fundraising, and I’m still going to help out with the football program and the basketball program.”

But he will use the newfound free time to spend with his sons.

“My older son is in Florida so I’ll have time to go see him, and my younger son is the head basketball coach, so I’ll have a lot of time to spend with him, trying to help him in anyway that I can to use whatever coaching experience I’ve been able to develop over the last 40 years and help him be the best that he can be.”

He will also travel with his wife.

Hartnett said he’s seen a lot of changes over his time here, but the one thing that will always stay the same is the club’s purpose as a guidance agency.

“You want to reach those young people who need the helping hand,” he said. “That’s been our mission for years and years. And to see people rise to that level … who maybe came from difficult circumstances, and now they’re growing up to be responsible people, and their kids are living better than they were – that, I think, is a real testament to what the Boys and Girls Club can do.”


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