Alumni Spotlight: Ray Hackett '80
Mark Twain once said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Ray Hackett, a local farmer, has found his purpose. Every year Ray travels to Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) in Southeast Asia. “I spend every January in Burma doing irrigation projects, building wells, installing solar power in schools and clinics, and more.” Ray’s family has been visiting Myanmar since 1913.
Three Generations of Alumni
Paul Richmond Hackett, Ray’s grandfather, attended Drury until his junior year when he was appointed to the American Baptist Mission Press in Yangon, Myanmar (formerly Rangoon, Burma). Paul and his wife, Martha, spent six years there. In 1919, the couple returned to Springfield, Missouri with two sons. Paul graduated from Drury in May of 1920. When the couple returned to Myanmar, Paul became the superintendent of a school for boys, the superintendent of a leper colony and the pastor of a church. Martha oversaw an orphanage. The couple also had two more sons.
Three of the couple’s four children graduated from Drury: Dr. William D. Hackett in 1936, Dr. Herbert L. Hackett in 1938 and Dr. Earl R. Hackett in 1953. Dr. Paul R. Hackett graduated from Denison University.
Ray Hackett, son of Earl and Shirley Hackett, decided to attend his family’s alma mater. “I liked the idea of smaller classrooms. At one point I transferred to the University of New Orleans – I hated that.” When Ray came back to Drury, he came home.
Drury helped Ray develop skills that he would use in his future as an inventor, farmer and philanthropist. “I think being at Drury honed a lot of my critical thinking skills because there was an emphasis on essays and expressing thought verbally.”
Ray graduated in 1980 with a double major in psychology and communications. At first, Ray thought he would become a high school counselor, but his path led him to a youth ranch in Louisiana where he helped emotionally disturbed adolescents. During that time, Ray became skilled at scrimshaw, and he started taking his work to shows.
With his problem-solving mind, Ray created necklace-cozies which allow people to hold beverages without using their hands. He sells his creations to canoe rentals. Ray even travels to the New Orleans Jazz Festival and Mardi Gras celebrations to sell his product. “How ya gonna clap?” is the catchphrase printed on his colorful cozies. Ray’s signature closing line has festival goers expecting to see his familiar face among the street vendors. He was featured in articles from the Times-Picayune and the Associated Press for his longstanding position as a festival icon.
The Family Farm
Now Ray has changed his occupation to full-time farmer of KanHackett Farm, which was once his grandfather’s farm. “I used to visit the farm as a kid. That’s what I always wanted to do – live on the farm. After I developed the can cooler on a strap and that business got going, I took a leap of faith and started making them at the farm. Now, I’m just farming.” Ray enjoys working on the farm and chatting with costumers at farmers markets.
With a group of other producers, Ray established a farmers market in Marshfield, Missouri. Their philosophy is “even poor people should be able to afford fresh vegetables.”
The Hackett Mission Legacy
When produce season is over and winter hits, Ray journeys to Myanmar to continue his family’s legacy.
In 2002, Ray took his first trip to Myanmar and found what he believes he was born to do. “We don’t realize just how well we have it here, even the worst of us. The worst of us here have it better than most of the people who have it better over there.” After that life-changing trip, Ray did not know if he would be able to go back. However, like many aspects of Ray’s life, things seemed to fall into place. He found friends and acquaintances that were willing to donate money to his cause. Since then, Ray has traveled to Myanmar every year with his “Not Next Year. Every Year.” project. He personally oversees and installs well, irrigation, and solar projects, as well as provides funding for other needs.
This year the money donated to the Hackett Mission Legacy changed a girl’s life forever. The Hackett Mission Legacy provided the funds for her to receive lifesaving heart surgery. The funds also supplied fresh water to two villages, helping over 150 families. On top of that, Ray bought bunk beds for an orphanage, medicine for a new clinic and much more. “It just goes so tremendously far,” Ray says.
Over the years, Ray and his family’s efforts have had an unmeasurable positive impact on the individuals of Myanmar. As Ray shares his knowledge, time, and the funds he receives, he also shares his passion for helping others. “People get dopamine from doing good things. I am definitely that guy; I’m addicted to it. I go every year and do what I can.”
For Ray, effective communication is important, especially when communicating with someone who does not speak the same language. His advice to current students is to develop excellent communication skills and learn to embrace adversity. “It teaches you to think on your feet. It teaches you empathy.”
Eventually, Ray would like to retire and move to Myanmar. Until then, he will keep farming, visiting Myanmar every year, and spreading cheer whenever he can. You can visit the Hackett Mission Legacy website or follow Ray Hackett on Facebook for information and updates on his travels to Myanmar.