Man who impacted Norwalk High School musical program dies

By AARON KRAUSE

Reflector Staff Writer
akrause@norwalkreflector.com

Jack Carstensen sang from the time he was a young boy.
Recently, more than 90 years later, soft strains of music filtered into his ears while he lay in his Norwalk home, stricken with dementia and near death, under the care of Stein Hospice.
Music was a part of Carstensen throughout his life.
That life, which included teaching more than 32 years, 12 at Norwalk High School, ended Friday when Carstensen died in his home at age 95 with his wife of 34 years, Beverly, at his side.
Carstensen taught music, English — and would’ve made Charles Dickens happy during his 95 years, opined G.W. Mayne in a letter to the editor published on April 17, 1972 in the Reflector.
In addition to teaching, Carstensen directed more than five musicals at NHS. Among them were “The Music Man,” “Oklahoma!” “Lil Abner,” “The Sound of Music” and “Oliver!” 
The latter is a musical adaptation of “Oliver Twist,” Dickens’ 19th century novel criticizing the harsh treatment of children in workhouses in Victorian-era England.
The “Forum” section of the Reflector in that issue carried a headline that read, “Dickens would be proud.”
“So much is said today concerning the ‘ills’ of the younger generation, but no one here in Norwalk could truly say that if they had witnessed the young people ‘doing their thing’ this past weekend in the production of ‘Oliver!,’” Mayne wrote in his letter to the editor. “You could rightly say that ‘People (who saw ‘Oliver!’) are the luckiest people in the world.
“Mr. Dickens would be proud of the job you did with his classic.”
Sue Hakes, Kathy Lasley and Pat Rhoad also wrote a letter, representing the cast, crew and orchestra.
“We wish to thank Mr. Mougey and Mr. Carstensen for all their time and effort in helping us to make the show a success,” they wrote. “Because of their efforts we have enriched our knowledge through experience.”
Ronn Koerper, executive director of Towne and Country Players Inc., knew Carstensen from his years singing with T&C’s Masters Men.
“He was very, very good,” Koerper said about Carstensen as a director. “He knew how to block a scene.”
For what little NHS students had to work with in the early 70s, the musicals were “very well done,” Koerper said. 
Carstensen-directed musicals at NHS included an orchestra, which other schools didn’t necessarily have when they put on shows, Koerper said.
Beverly said people had told her late husband that mounting a Broadway musical on the NHS stage would never work. Beverly added before her husband became the theater director, NHS put on shows, but not of that caliber.
Carstensen apparently wasn’t fazed by doubters.
“He said, ‘Oh no, it’s going to work,’” she said.
“They made it work,” Koerper said. “I can’t say they looked like something you’d see at the Stocker (Arts Center at Lorain Community College) but I thought they were very well done.”
Carstensen came from a musical family. His mother played the piano, while his father and siblings sang, Beverly said.
To this day, she recalled a pact he made with his sister, Mary. Whomever preceded the other in death would have to sing at the deceased sibling’s funeral.
Mary died in 2012 and her brother sang “How Great Thou Art” at her service, Beverly said. She added he started the song off and asked those attending to join in. 
Carstensen directed the choir at First Presbyterian Church of Norwalk for 12 years and also sang in the choir for about a decade, his wife said. He had to stop due to eye problems, she added.
Mary and Carstensen’s stepson, Craig Hakes, of Broken Arrow, Okla., were asked to reveal Carstensen’s key to longevity.
“He was an active guy, he was always tinkering,” Hakes said, referring to his stepfather’s work in a “little woodshop.”
He also ate healthy, they said.
“He enjoyed life and he enjoyed people,” Beverly said.
In what Hakes said was a complete coincidence, Carstensen was his teacher at NHS in the fall of 1974. His mother married him in 1981.
“I had nothing to do with getting them together, that’s for sure,” he said.
The couple met through the church’s choir.
Koerper, Mary and Hakes said Carstensen enjoyed talking with people, although Koerper said the late man didn’t brag.
He was “just (an) all around nice guy,” Koerper said.
Carstensen is survived by his wife of 34 years, Beverly J. (Collier) (Hakes) Carstensen of Norwalk; sons, Thomas (Diantha) Carstensen of Henderson, NV, Erik (Amy) Carstensen of San Diego, CA and Mark (Jennifer) Carstensen of Evanston, WY; daughter, Lynn (John) Hoose of Newhall, CA; step-children, Craig (Bernadette) Hakes of Broken Arrow, OK and Judi (Tim) Storer of Findlay, OH; 17 grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren and one great-great granddaughter.
He was preceded in death by his brother, Richard (Emma Jean) of South Amherst; and his sister, Mary (Emery) of Elyria.
Friends may call from 10 a.m. until the 11 a.m. service June 26 at the First Presbyterian Church, 21 Firelands Blvd, Norwalk.
Interment will follow at Hester Cemetery.
Memorial contributions may be sent to the First Presbyterian Church, 21 Firelands Blvd, Norw

alk, OH 44857, Stein Hospice, 1200 Sycamore Line, Sandusky, OH 44870 or one’s favorite charity.
Condolences may be shared at norwalkfuneral.com.