A ‘quiet hero’: Glenn Hartmann honored for work with disabled

  • Glenn Hartmann with Linh. Linh is now back home in Vietnam attending school in second grade. During her stay with Hartmann, Linh learned to speak English. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Glenn Hartmann with Linh, a Vietnamese child who stayed, along with her mother, with him and his wife while receiving treatment at Shriner’s Hospital. Currently, Linh is back home in Vietnam attending school in second grade. During her stay with Hartmann, Linh learned to speak English. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Glenn Hartmann is shown in this undated photo with Linh, a Vietnamese child who stayed, along with her mother, with Hartmann and his wife while receiving treatment at Shriners Hospital. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/17/2019 9:45:17 AM

In 1981, when Glenn Hartmann was 18 years old, he broke his neck after being run over by a car and had to go into rehab. The accident left him a quadriplegic.

Recently, Hartmann was described by Stavros — an independent living center in Amherst that helps people with disabilities and hearing loss to develop the skills they need to take charge of their own lives — as a “quiet hero.” He was recognized by the agency for doing what is needed in whatever way he can when he received the agency’s Ted Martineau Award for his work with others who live with disabilities.

The award, which is presented annually, was named after a Montague resident who won the Greenfield Recorder’s Citizen of the Year award about 10 years before his death in 1997. Described as “an extraordinary man who saw one of his primary volunteerism efforts as representing people who were devalued,” Martineau believed it was important to let the public know that people with disabilities exist and have needs like everyone else, and also can contribute to society.

“We honor both his memory and legacy of activism with this award,” said Stavros spokeswoman Jessamyn Smyth.

Among other things, Hartmann has been instrumental in getting six Vietnamese children access to otherwise impossible orthopedic treatment at Shriners Hospital and Springfield Orthopedics for conditions that include spina bifida and burns, taking them into his home when treatments were too extensive for short-term stays, according to Smyth.

“I do what I do because I can, and it is something we should all do,” said Hartmann, who now lives in Ludlow and works at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “Working together, caring for, and about, each other makes life better for all of us.”

Hartmann has done a lot of volunteering and has served on Stavros’ board for 28 years. He said what led him to volunteering was “connections.”

“When you open one door, you never know where it will lead you,” he said. “One door connects to the next door. If you keep opening doors, there is no end to the opportunities you can become involved in.”

When he first started working for the UMass controller’s office, a Vietnamese student working there asked him for help with her accounting homework. A short time later, he was holding nightly tutoring sessions for a group of students, and year after year, he continued to help, even when one of his students asked if he could help her older sister at Springfield Technical Community College.

“I said it was too far, but I agreed to help on the weekends if she could come to my house,” he said. “We became very good friends. Several years later, we got married. You never know where an open door will lead you.”

Smyth said Hartmann also delivered desperately needed durable medical equipment to Haiti just before the 2010 earthquake hit, a natural disaster that made circumstances even more dire for people with disabilities there. She said he’s always looking for ways to help people.

Hartmann has been involved with a lot of students over the years and had one from West Africa approach him about the African Education Support Organization.

“He needed help with filing the nonprofit status for the group,” he said. “I did the statements, some tax work and then, I joined its board — I never just do the accounting, I always get involved.”

When the war ended there, the organization shut down.

“We ended up hooking up with the Amherst school system, and we tried to set up a school in Senegal,” Hartmann said. “We gathered all the books being discarded from the Amherst schools and sent them to Senegal to support existing schools with books, pencils, paper. ... So from there, people started asking about medical supplies. There were people stepping on land mines, losing limbs, who did not have crutches. People were using branches for crutches. I got in touch with Stavros to see if we could send durable medical equipment over.”

After that, Hartmann started working with students who were working in Haiti. They rented a truck, backed it up to Stavros and emptied an entire room filled with wheelchairs, commodes, crutches and more. The New York City Haitian Embassy worked and coordinated with them, unloaded the truck and sent it all to Haiti.

Hartmann has connected with the children in need of care at Shriners hospitals in Boston or Springfield and started to help by first finding them translators.

In 2016, Hartmann and his wife started Health and Education for Vietnamese Youth, which sends money to Vietnam — primary school is free there, but after that, students have to pass a test and if they don’t, they can’t continue in school unless they pay for it. Hartmann said it costs about $75 to keep a child in school.

“Sometimes we buy a bicycle so a child can ride to the small rural school 10 miles away or other support. We are currently supporting 75 Vietnamese kids,” he said. “We’ve brought six kids here to Shriners Hospital and Springfield Orthopedics, so they can get medical care that isn’t available to them at home. Kids with burns go to Boston, kids with orthopedic problems go to Springfield.”

Hartmann gives presentations on depression, something he is familiar with from back when he was injured. He said when he has something to offer, he’s happier.

“Glenn is a quiet hero who simply does what is needed at home and internationally in every way he can,” Smyth said. “Like Ted Martineau before him, Glenn serves as Stavros’ board chair, but it is his quiet, personal dedication to making independence for people with disabilities more possible globally, as well as throughout this area, that makes his work shine. He has saved and changed countless lives.”

Hartmann said he knows firsthand that it is important for people with disabilities to be recognized, respected and appreciated. He said it is important for everyone to be recognized for their contributions, and respected and appreciated for who they are, not what has happened to them.

Starting life over with a disability is incredibly hard, Hartmann said, but eventually, one learns how to move on, to focus on the future and to cut the cords that keep people focused on what they lost and can no longer do.

“I found my way to happiness by getting involved and helping other people,” he said. “I am no longer depressed. In fact, I never get depressed about anything. Life is a gift. I love my life and I enjoy reaching out to people who find themselves stuck and unable to move forward.”

Hartmann said the words he lives by are simple: “The secret to happiness? Get up, get out, get involved.”

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