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.”
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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.