You are the owner of this page.
A1 A1
‘Always there to help’
'Always there to help': Friends, family remember Mason City couple found dead in their home


MASON CITY | Neighbors, friends and colleagues used the same words to describe Kenneth and Kathleen Hackbart.

Kind, loving, caring and wonderful people.

“Whenever I needed help or something, they were there, and vice versa,” former neighbor Bob Grant said. “It was a horrible shock.”

Kenneth Hackbart, 61, and Kathleen Hackbart, 64, were found dead, stabbed, after police conducted a welfare check at their home, at 327 27th Ave. S.W., Tuesday morning.

The Hackbarts lived the single-story blue house, across the street from the former Madison School property, surrounded by neighbors who remember them well.

“They were wonderful people,” Grant said. “You couldn’t ask for better neighbors.”

Grant, of Mason City, is an employee at the Globe Gazette. When he heard two bodies were found in the little blue home he lived next to for 17 years, he was devastated.

“To me it was almost like someone just slapped me,” Grant said.

The shock caused Grant to look back on his friendship with the couple. 

Though they were no longer neighbors, Grant still saw the Hackbarts.

He would drive through his old neighborhood on 27th Avenue Southwest, and stop by to talk if they were home. Grant had known Ken for about 30 years and had just run into the couple a few weeks before they died.

Ken built the deck on Grant’s former home, the yellow house next to the Hackbarts' home.

“I needed a new deck, and he was in between jobs,” Grant said. “I just wanted to help him out; hired him to do it. I never could have done one (deck) that nice.”

The couple loved camping and had a few motorhomes over the years. Ken loved riding motorcycles, as well.

Angela Rose McLuer, of Mason City, is one of Kathy's cousins.

“They loved all four of my kids and would come to my place for dinners and just to get out of the house,” she said. “My kids are devastated, especially my 5-year-old, as he has autism and doesn’t understand.”

The family has been through some rough times, but Ken and Kathy seemed to weather the storm, friends said.

Some hard times came in 2011 when Ken was laid off from his job.

He then decided to attend Kaplan University in Mason City where he met Rindy Johnson, his student adviser. 

“He was certainly a go-getter and wasn’t about to let the circumstance get him down," said Johnson, who left Kaplan about a year ago and now lives in Eugene, Oregon. 

Ken enrolled at Kaplan in 2011 and graduated with an associate degree in business and information technology in 2013.

“He was seriously so proud of himself,” Johnson said. “I was very proud of him as well. It’s not easy to have the same job for 20-plus years, have that unexpectedly taken away and then go enroll in college classes in your late 50s. But he was a champ and really rolled with it.”

Johnson called Ken a “whiz on the computer” and an exceptional student with a terrific attitude.

“He tackled a really tough program with a low graduation rate and excelled and helped his fellow students do well,” Johnson said. “He was definitely the ‘Papa Bear’ of his class.”

When Johnson helped him, he would say, “You’re a good egg, Rindy!”

Johnson met Kathy at Ken’s graduation and said she was beaming because she was so proud of him.

“She was a huge support system for him throughout his degree,” Johnson said. They lived their lives to serve others and bring joy to others and help in any way they can, and the most tragic part is that seems to be what led to their tragic departure.”

Police believe the two were killed by their grandson, who they loved and helped over the years. 

Codie Matz, 25, of Mason City, was charged with two counts of first-degree murder Tuesday evening. Court documents indicate he lived with the Hackbarts.

“All I have to say is that they loved Codie to the moon and back,” McLuer said.

Grant was not shocked that the police started looking for Matz after the bodies were discovered.

“It didn’t surprise me, but I just couldn’t believe it, you know?” Grant said. “They’ve done so much for him.”

Whenever Grant saw him, Matz was always cordial and would greet him.

“The day before this happened, I seen him, and he just looked like he didn’t even know me and he walked right by me,” Grant said. “Must have been something in his head going on.”

Johnson said Ken talked about his grandson, Matz, all the time. The couple wanted to help and support him in his struggles. 

“Ken even took a few psychology electives to try to understand better where Codie struggles,’” Johnson said. “Man, it’s just devastating. They did everything for their grandson. Really, anything for anyone.”

Those who knew Ken and Kathy say they were the type of grandparents, friends and neighbors anyone would want.

“Ken had the sweetest smile and was always rocking an impressive beard,” Johnson said.  

Ken and Kathy always left their door open for people in need.

“They could never say no to anyone,” Johnson said. “Lots of prayers for their daughter and those grieving this horrible loss."

The couple’s kindness touched many people, even those who they didn’t stay in contact with.

Robert Peterson worked with Ken in the late 1980s at Sieg Auto Parts in Mason City.

“I also knew Kathy; they were two of the nicest people you’d ever meet,” Peterson said. “I haven’t seen them for about 15 years, but they will be truly missed. (It's) so sad.”

Casey Wilson of Princeton, Kentucky, said the couple never had much, but they were always willing to help those in need.

Whether it was clothing, toiletries, food or money, they would try to help in any way they could.

“It is truly saddening to hear about their unfortunate and violent separation from this world,” Wilson said.

Wilson hoped their kindness will be passed on from the people they helped. 

Cutting historic tax credits could cripple economic development in Iowa, officials warn

DES MOINES | The Historic Park Inn in Mason City. 

The Orpheum Theatre in Sioux City.

Hotel Russell-Lamson in Waterloo.

The Hotel Blackhawk in Davenport.

Those are just a few among hundreds of renovation projects across Iowa that have been aided by a federal tax incentive program that is on the chopping block in Congress’ tax reform proposal.

The federal historic rehabilitation tax credit was used by more than 250 projects in Iowa between 2002 and 2016, helped spur more than $1 billion in development and produce nearly $230 million in tax revenue, according to the National Park Service, which implements the program.

The program also helped create nearly 9,000 temporary construction jobs and nearly 11,000 permanent jobs in the state, according to the National Park Service.

But that tax credit soon could be gone.

Republicans in Washington, D.C., are crafting legislation that would reform federal tax laws; it’s one of the top priorities for the party after taking control of the federal lawmaking process in the 2016 elections.

The two proposals that have been introduced include significant cuts to the historic rehabilitation tax credit, which has been around for more than three decades.

The U.S. House tax reform bill eliminates the historic tax credit.

The U.S. Senate tax reform bill cuts the credit in half.

Local officials, especially in economic development, expressed concern that ending the historic rehabilitation tax credit could severely limit future renovation projects.

“It’s crazy,” said Amy Gill, a developer with St. Louis-based Restoration St. Louis, which has done work in the Quad Cities. “Studies back up the fact that these tax credits work. They provide jobs and renovate downtowns. How do you argue with that?”

The House and Senate tax reform bills make significant changes to a number of tax credit and incentive programs across the business and industry spectrum. The historic rehabilitation credit program is just one of them.

But it’s one that local officials are loathe to lose.

“In general, as an economic development professional, I favor tax cuts and stimulating the economy through tax reform and so on. But, in this case, I think they haven’t really considered the implications of (eliminating the historic credit),” said Marty Dougherty, economic development director for Sioux City. “Absolutely, we’re very concerned about it.”

The state of Iowa also has a historic tax credit program. That is not impacted by the proposed federal legislation.

Economic development officials say the federal historic rehabilitation tax credit program is worth maintaining because it provides a return on investment.

In Iowa, from 2002 to 2016 nearly $195 million in historical tax credits were awarded; the resulting renovation projects produced $230 million in tax revenue. By that math, every $1 in tax credits produced $1.17 in tax revenue.

That is roughly in line with national studies that have showed the historic credit returns $1.20 to $1.25 in tax revenue for every dollar invested, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

“I just don’t see why they’re messing with a tax credit that actually puts people to work and returns money on the investment,” said Jim Hobart, of Hobart Historic Restoration in Cedar Rapids.

The historic tax credit program allows developers to claim 20 percent of eligible expenses against their federal tax liability. The program is designed to provide financial assistance to expensive renovation projects involving old buildings; such projects might not ever happen without the financial boost given by the tax credit, economic development officials say.

“There are a lot of buildings that would continue to sit empty or would have been demolished by now had that tax credit not been available to make the project economically sound,” said Steve Dust, president and CEO of the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance and Chamber. “And that’s repeated all over Iowa.”

Common projects include restorations of old buildings and converting abandoned warehouses into both commercial and residential properties.

“This is one of the few government programs where people can actually see and feel the impact,” said B.J. Hobart, also of Hobart Historic Restoration in Cedar Rapids.

Dougherty said the program has helped a number of projects in downtown Sioux City, including the Orpheum.

“It’s really sparking a renaissance in the downtown area,” Dougherty said. “I’m not sure any of (the renovation projects) would be successful without that tax credit program.”

Economic development officials said they have pleaded with Republicans in Congress to maintain the historic rehabilitation tax credit program. At least one of Iowa’s federal representatives, U.S. Rep. Rod Blum, has pledged to fight for the program.

Blum, a Republican who represents eastern Iowa, said he has lobbied U.S. House leaders to preserve the program.

Dubuque, which is in Blum’s district, has featured 36 projects totaling nearly $180 million in historic tax credits, according to the National Park Service data.

“I am continuing to work very hard to educate my colleagues of the benefits of historic tax credits to ensure they survive tax reform,” Blum said in an emailed statement. “Although they were absent from the version that recently passed through the Ways and Means Committee, the fight is not over. I am hopeful the Senate version will include this important program and I will continue to push for its inclusion through conference.”

The Senate version keeps the program, but reduces the percent of eligible, deductible expenses from 20 percent to 10 percent.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said tax reform is about growing the economy and increasing wages and jobs by lowering rates and reducing deductions and loopholes. But he added the Senate bill recognizes the importance of the historic tax credit by maintaining it at 10 percent for the future while allowing projects already under way to retain the 20 percent credit.

Jim Hobart said the Senate version would “save a few more buildings.”

“Would I rather see 10 percent than zero? Yeah,” Hobart said. “Would I rather see them not fool with it at all and leave it at 20 percent? That would be my choice.”

Dougherty said economic development officials will continue to lobby their federal representatives and in the meantime will be “holding our breath to see what they’re going to do.”

“A lot of these buildings are part of the fabric of your community, part of the character of your community. I just can’t imagine Sioux City without the Orpheum Theater,” Dougherty said. “I think (cutting the historic tax credit program) is a little bit short-sighted.”

top story
How historic tax credits have helped projects in Mason City


MASON CITY | When Sharon Steckman was first elected to the Iowa House of Representatives about nine years ago, one of the first major pieces of legislation she worked on was the Historic Tax Preservation Bill.

There was a learning curve, the Mason City Democrat admitted — there's a long process for cities and towns to apply for the corresponding historic tax credits, and several benchmarks each proposal they must meet. She soon determined, however, that the benefit of the credits is invaluable for the communities that use them.

"I see it as a win-win for the state and community," Steckman said by phone Friday. "(Cities) can keep the character of the community, and at the same time upgrade the infrastructure so they can stay up-to-date."

Since the state started awarding these credits in 2001, Cerro Gordo County has received just over $5.17 million in money for seven projects, according to the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. The average award was $738,651.

According to Mason City Chamber of Commerce President Robin Anderson, a fair share of these awards have helped the city's downtown area. The Historic Park Inn, Moorman Clothiers, Central Park Dentistry and multiple other projects have received state assistance through historic tax credits.

"They are such an important part of community development projects," Anderson said. "It just doesn't make financial sense to convert historic property without the use of a tool like historic tax credits."

For businesses and interested parties to apply, there is a long process. First, the Historical Society of Iowa must determine the building's "significance and project eligibility," according to the organization's website.

Then, there are multiple registration and review processes. Many involve the state's secretary of the interior, and whether they meet that office's standard for rehabilitation. 

After that, there is at least a 90-day review period by the State Historic Preservation Office of Iowa. If the office likes what it sees, tax credits are awarded.

Scott Moorman, co-owner/operator at Moorman Clothiers, said he benefited from the program when his building needed rehabilitation about 10 years ago. 

The process to apply was long, he said, but earning 20 percent of the overall $300,000 project cost in tax credits was needed.

"To do it right, $300,000 is a substantial amount of money," Moorman said of the building restoration process. "Every little bit helps. And as long as the tax credits are still there ... there's no reason we (businesses) shouldn't use it."

Perhaps one of the most famous uses of both state and federal historic tax credits is the restoration of the Historic Park Inn Hotel.

Scott Borcherding, president of Wright on the Park, the nonprofit that owns the hotel, said $3.8 million in federal and $3.3 million in state historic tax credits were instrumental in restoring the hotel.

The process for applying for that money occurred more than six years ago, and was extensive, Borcherding said. The reward, however, was an invaluable addition to Mason City's downtown area, he added.

It also was important for another reason.

"When this project happened, the country was in a recession," Borcherding said at the Historic Park Inn on Friday. "We kept a lot of people employed for two-plus years, so we were kind of lucky in that respect."

Now, however, federal historic tax credits could get the axe. Congressional Republicans have proposed a tax bill that eliminates those credits, which have been used in hundreds of projects across Iowa since 2002.

Both Steckman and Borcherding are worried about how that will impact the state moving forward.

"It could hurt a lot of communities like ours, (or) communities even smaller," Borcherding said. "And cities bigger than us that just kind of reinvigorate older parts of their towns." 

Dr. Jay Lala — who used federal and state historic tax credits for the Central Park Dentistry building improvements about five to six years ago — agreed. He added the impact of them is vital.

"It literally would be the difference between the project going ahead and not, Lala said. "I think they’re worth it, they (the buildings) have the character, they have the history … I would not have done anything if I didn’t have these credits."

Steckman said she understands that all tax credits need to be awarded carefully. But she pointed to where historic tax credits are used, and notes the long-term impact of them on towns across Iowa is important.

"I believe it preserves the character of a community, which I think is very important for the community," she said. "Every community has its shining star, and this helps with that."