John J. Hartz devoted his career to the betterment of North Babylon students, and North Babylon residents loved him for it.
The longtime teacher and administrator was woven into the fabric of the town, first as a young resident and then as an educational leader.
“He was really an advocate for youngsters, for kids in the special ed program, and for all kids in North Babylon,” said his son John Hartz, 46, of Massachusetts. “His whole belief was that kids had tremendous potential. All he wanted to do was help them unleash it.”
Hartz, a North Babylon native and longtime Deer Park resident who worked in the North Babylon School District for 34 years and was a principal in the district for six, died June 21 at the Hospice Inn in Melville after a battle with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a degenerative lung disease, his family said. He was 75.
Hartz, a father of two, was the principal of W.E. DeLuca Jr. Elementary School in North Babylon from 1994 to 1997 and North Babylon High School from 1997 to 2000. He finished his career with a 2½-year stint as associate superintendent for the district. Before becoming a principal, he was a special-education teacher at Robert Moses Junior High School and Peter J. Brennan Junior High School, and then worked as an administrator in the district’s special education department.
“John had a genuine affection for kids,” said Janet Hartz, his wife of 49 years. “His philosophy of teaching was to find joy in it and to treat mistakes and errors with kindness.”
In the early-to-mid-1970s, North Babylon schools began bringing special education students into the district after years of teaching them in out-of-district schools. Hartz was instrumental in easing their transition into the mainstream schools, and calming some of the concerns of staff members, said former co-worker Kathy Hartnett.
“John had the tough job of convincing the community, bringing the understanding of the students and their needs, and what programs they would need to have,” said Hartnett, who lives in East Islip. “When I was hired in 1978, I was the second special education teacher in the building, and there were older staff members that really were not open to the idea that these kids were going to be in the building. You had to change the mindset of faculty, the students, and the whole community.”
Hartz was the perfect man for that job, said Hartnett.
“John’s personality just bubbled over,” she said. “His career choice was perfect. He was very bright and had all the mandates and knew the laws and what needed to be done. He had the personality to keep people’s attention and present the pros and cons of everything he wanted. He always fought for the students.”
Hartz was the co-founder of the North Babylon Chapter of the Special Education PTA, his family said.
Hartz, who played football, basketball and baseball at St. Agnes Cathedral High School in Rockville Centre in the 1960s, coached junior varsity boys basketball and football at North Babylon High School for about 10 years. He was named JV Coach of the Year in the 1983-84 and 1984-85 seasons. He was a varsity assistant on the 1983 team that won the state Class A boys basketball championship. He also coached the 1980 Peter J. Brennan Junior High School ninth-grade girls basketball team to a 15-0 record, his family said. He was elected to the North Babylon Athletic Club Basketball Hall of Fame in 1986.
Hartz was an assistant coach with the Long Island Team Handball program, which played in the Empire State Games, an Olympic-style competition for amateur athletes in New York State. North Babylon students Joe and Tom Fitzgerald, who played for Hartz and head coach Don O’Shea on those handball teams, went on to play the sport at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
“I remember walking into opening ceremonies in the 1996 Olympics, high-fiving the Dream Team, people like Hakeem Olajuwon, and thinking to myself that people Mr. Hartz and Don O’Shea got us there,” said the Rev. Joe Fitzgerald, now the pastor at St. William the Abbot Church in Seaford.
Fitzgerald continued: “Whether you were a mediocre student or a mediocre athlete, he got every ounce out of you. You were the best that you could be and were proud to be a [North Babylon] Bulldog.”
Hartz loved music and sports, and was in attendance for historical moments in each. He was there when Bob Dylan was booed relentlessly at a 1965 Forest Hills concert early in the singer’s "electric era" and he was there with his son when Hall-of-Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan won his 300th game in Milwaukee in 1990.
“Nolan Ryan is my favorite player and it’s a one-of-a-kind experience that he gave to me,” his son said.
In addition to his wife and son, Hartz is survived by his daughter, Kerry Weir of Babylon, sisters Barbara Lynch of Medford, Rosemary Iannarone of Setauket, Noreen Hoglund of Florida and Regina Finn of New Jersey; brothers, Jerry of South Carolina and Joseph of Connecticut; and four grandchildren. Hartz was buried at St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale, his family said.