Earl Hatten, Fridley’s premier volunteer, has been delivering food to shut-ins, driving seniors to their doctors and planting trees at the Fridley Community Center for several decades.
After living better than half a century in the north metro city, he is receiving recognition for his selfless efforts. Next week, Hatten, 84, will be inducted with four others into the Fridley History Center’s Hall of Fame. And in July he was chosen Anoka County’s outstanding male senior citizen of the year.
“He is very energetic and unassuming, very giving,” said Allen Taylor, chairman of the History Center’s Hall of Fame committee. “He was not expecting the award and that’s not his goal. He does it because he enjoys people and wants to give back.”
Hatten keeps busy planting and watering maple and ash saplings, geraniums and pansies outside the Community Center. The Korean War veteran has given more than 1,000 church mugs to visitors at St. Philip’s Lutheran Church, where he also has taught Sunday school and confirmation classes since his family joined in 1959.
That’s also the year the Hutchinson, Minn., native became a draftsman at Medtronic, when the now-global medical products company had about 10 employees and was located in a big garage in northeast Minneapolis. Hatten and his wife, Charlene, moved to Fridley in 1960, and raised four children.
When Meals on Wheels asked St. Philip’s for volunteer drivers about 35 years ago, Hatten signed up. Years later a church member on the board of Stepping Stone Emergency Housing in Anoka asked Hatten if he could pick up surplus lunch food from three Anoka schools for the shelter. Hatten agreed, and still ferries food on Mondays.
“I enjoy it and I feel I should” volunteer, he said recently, sitting in his living room with his two amiable cats, Fat Emma and Astrid. “I feel you should serve God and your neighbor.”
The Hattens had been married 54 years when Char died in early January 2009, a few weeks after their son Craig, 51, passed away. Char’s china plate and bell collections and family photos of kids, grandkids and a great-granddaughter are displayed in the living and dining rooms.
Hatten said that friends and family members helped him get through his loss and that volunteering helped fill the void. He said he’s brought meals to some folks for 20 years. He makes sure they are OK when St. Philip’s delivery week rolls around every three months.
Char Hatten, an area Girl Scout leader and swimming instructor for decades, also will be inducted into the Hall of Fame for her volunteerism, Taylor said. She co-founded the Community Center’s Latch Key program, which provides before- and after-school day care. Taylor noted the couple were chosen from about a dozen nominees.
“What separated Earl from the others was his extreme level of volunteerism in the community,” Taylor said. “One of his big things was volunteering at the Fridley Community Center.”
Besides his civic gardening, Hatten also was a large donor to a preschool outdoor playground built at the center, said Toni Craft, Community Education director. She said Hatten and his wife earned her agency’s Lifelong Learning Award in 2007 for their “positive influence on youth, adults and peers.”
“Earl is tireless. He is really something. He and his wife, both,” Craft said.
Hatten said he gardens many more than 40 hours a year at the Community Center, which earns an annual $500 contribution to senior center programs from Medtronic.
“Medtronic gives them $500 to keep me off the streets,” Hatten cracked with a hearty laugh. The plants “make the place look so much nicer. I pull them [potted plants] inside so we can have flowers in the winter.” He said he began center green-thumb duties years before he retired from Medtronic in 1994.
“Earl is fabulous. He keeps things so bright and welcoming at our front entrance,” said Connie Thompson, who runs the senior center, nestled in a wing of the Community Center. “He is self-motivated. I don’t have to worry about plants or anything. It just happens.”
When he’s not delivering food, gardening or taking nutrition and wellness classes at the senior center, Hatten tends his own back-yard garden. It boasts grapevines, tomatoes, green beans and cucumbers. He carries his surplus crops across the street for seniors to take home. He said he gave half his grapes to his sister and made 16 pints of grape juice from the rest.
Besides keeping an eye on shut-ins, Hatten also fosters wildlife. He keeps a currant berry patch for birds.
“The robins like them,” he said.