Song-filled reunion honors former teacher battling ALS

Yes, ice water was involved. Maybe you’re tired of seeing pails poured over heads, but Jim Hashman’s story is so much more than anybody taking the Ice Bucket Challenge.

A former Mountlake Terrace High School music teacher, Hashman was diagnosed a year ago with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He knew something was wrong when he began losing the use of his left hand and arm. It has spread to his other limbs.

“I can still walk, but it’s limited,” said Hashman, who on Monday used a wheelchair to enjoy the Evergreen State Fair with his wife, Marica.

For Hashman, this has turned out to be a summer of love, not the summer of ice. That said, he is all for the Ice Bucket Challenge. By midweek, the Internet phenomenon had raised $94.3 million in less than a month for the ALS Association, a nonprofit working to fight the disease, which so far has no cure.

On Aug. 22, Hashman celebrated his 53rd birthday. He had lots of help at a sentimental, song-filled reunion organized by former members of the Mountlake Terrace High School Dynamics. Hashman was the choral group’s teacher during his years at the school, 1985-1990.

The performers spent weeks rehearsing for the event, which was held at Calvary Fellowship in Mountlake Terrace.

“He is a remarkable man, one of those teachers who inspired his students and developed deep connections,” said Wendy Becker, Snohomish County’s cultural and economic development manager and a 1987 graduate of Mountlake Terrace High. Once a singer with the Dynamics, Becker said the group put “their big hair and big vocals back to the test for a fundraiser to help the Hashman family.”

Krysta Carson, a former Dynamics member and 1989 Mountlake Terrace High graduate, describes Hashman as “one of those teachers they make movies about.”

“He’s a friend and a mentor. We all loved him so much,” Carson said.

The celebration had its star power. Frank DeMiero, retired music educator, composer and founder of the Edmonds Community College Soundsation Jazz Choir, conducted the reunion singers. And Greg Kyte, a Mountlake Terrace alumnus who performs stand-up comedy, was the emcee.

The concert was also an auction that raised thousands of dollars for a “Helping the Hashman Family” fund set up on the YouCaring website. The fund has raised almost $13,000 to help with medical expenses and home remodeling.

The Ice Bucket Challenge wasn’t conducted at Hashman’s party, but Becker said the singers were doused with ice water at a rehearsal the night before. Hashman saw it on video at the concert.

He knows that some are posting enough-already comments about the Ice Bucket Challenge, which even had Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson and the city’s economic development director, Lanie McMullin, getting cold and wet atop the Wall Street Building Wednesday.

The former teacher, who can no longer work, hopes those criticizing the stunt will think about people stricken with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

All those people braving the ice have renewed Hashman’s hopes. “Sometimes it’s hard to keep hoping a treatment will be found. This gives you strength to keep going, keep fighting,” he said. “Even if most people don’t donate, that’s OK. Awareness has shot up. Donations are coming in.”

About $94.3 million has been donated since July 29. During the same time last year, the ALS Association saw $2.7 million in donations.

ALS affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. It eventually ends the brain’s ability to initiate and control muscle movement. Without voluntary muscle action, sufferers may be totally paralyzed.

“It’s diagnosed at about the same rate as MS,” said Oliver Ross, who heads the Northwest section of the ALS Association Evergreen Chapter. The group runs support groups and provides other help. Ross, who works with about 68 families including the Hashmans, believes there is little awareness of ALS because “there are no survivors.”

For Jim and Marcia Hashman, life has changed entirely since last summer. Hashman left the Edmonds School District in 1990 to teach in schools for Department of Defense dependents. He taught in Panama and Japan, and was most recently living on the Japanese Island of Okinawa, where he was fine arts coordinator for the Pacific region. Marcia Hashman worked in Japan for the U.S. government as a secretary.

Last August, Hashman’s ALS diagnosis was confirmed. Earlier that year, he had run two half marathons. In July 2013, although he was already feeling effects of his illness and had heard the initial diagnosis, he and his wife climbed 12,389-foot Mount Fuji.

“We felt we had to do it,” he said. “Now, you live kind of by the attitude of carpe diem, seize the day. We try to get the most out of every day and be as happy as we can.”

They now live in Bellingham, where their son attends Western Washington University. Their daughter was recently married. Hashman qualified for disability retirement and gets Social Security disability payments. His wife is his full-time care giver.

“There are no treatments to stop the progression of ALS. There are certainly things that help you cope with the symptoms,” said Hashman, who uses massage therapy to ease muscle cramping.

They hope to find a one-story home close to family in south Snohomish County. If they stay in Bellingham, they will need to remodel their multilevel condo for first-floor living, and install a shower room.

The birthday concert wasn’t a surprise. Marcia Hashman said her husband needed to prepare for the emotional evening. “With ALS, the emotions are affected. People tend to cry more and laugh more. It might have been very difficult if it had been a real surprise,” she said.

There were tears all the same.

“Here was the tearjerker,” Becker said. “Back in 1989, Jim wrote a song called ‘I’ll Never Forget You.’ The group sang it back to him.”

Hashman recorded the song as a surprise for his students before he left Mountlake Terrace. He put it on the singing group’s annual cassette tape, which was recorded in a Seattle studio. “They learned it for this event. I was shocked, I never gave them the words and music,” he said. His former students still had their old tapes.

“It’s a little reminiscent of ‘Mr. Holland’s Opus,’ ” Marcia Hashman said.

“When you’re a teacher, you just can’t predict the impact you’re going to have on people’s lives,” Jim Hashman said. “I’m still so overwhelmed.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

How to help

A fundraising drive to help Jim Hashman is online at www.youcaring.com/other/helping-the-hashman-family/103031.

To donate to the ALS Association, go to www.alsa.org.

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