Hank: Friend & Mentor

“Hank’s overarching contribution was what a beacon of light he was for younger people in Lexington.”

-Doug Lucente, Lexington Select Board


By Cindy Atoji Keene

Hank with his beloved grand daughter Hallie.

Longtime Lexingtonian Hank Manz had a system for everything, whether it was making pancakes for the Patriot’s Day breakfast or setting up dividers for the hockey rink. A former petty officer in the Navy, and engineer, he was a process guy, very methodical and organized. And he had to be: as commissioner for Lexington’s in-house hockey league; town government activist; and Boy Scout troop master, his distinctive 6’2, white-haired, and bearded presence was everywhere around town. Some quipped that they thought Manz, 78, had a twin brother, as his long stride and mild-mannered presence was omnipresent: at the voting booths, tea burning ceremonies, holiday tree lighting, Little League games, town hall, and more. He also had a dry sense of humor and wryly told me in an interview a few months before he passed away in December, “I’m always ready to take credit for other people’s work.”

But there was no system that even the ultra-organized Manz could put in place for beating mesothelioma cancer, which he probably developed after being exposed to asbestos fibers during his time on Navy ships. Despite the incurable disease, the workhorse Manz was active up to the end, doing Zoom calls from his basement office, joking with others about the outdated tech manuals on the bookshelf behind him. And although he was getting progressively weaker and fatigued, when the COVID pandemic hit and others scrambled around looking for masks, the ever-resourceful Manz descended into his basement retreat and came up waving a handful of painter’s masks, saved from an old Boy Scout’s project. Ever the fix-it guy, if something needed to be replaced or repaired, Manz scrounged in his basement archives – “a foreign country to me,” said his long-time wife Wendy Manz – and emerged, proudly holding up exactly what was needed.

Hank and Wendy came to Massachusetts in the early 80s. Hank took a job in IT and they settled in Lexington. The Manz house, tucked away not far from Hastings Elementary School, is oddly quiet now without Hank’s presence. There are still the piles of hockey gear, Boy Scout paraphernalia, old town records that Hank used to love to look through, and his Navy mugs, one for every ship that he served on. “Sure, you collect stuff,” Manz admitted to me. And files and papers, as he was a town meeting member for 26 years and a member of countless committees, including the Transportation Advisory Committee, the Fence Watchers (mediating land disputes), and the Zoning Board of Appeals. Hank’s son, Jonathan, joked that while some people find religion, Hank and Wendy found municipal government. “I get a kick out of the fact that Lexington is a very participatory community,” Manz said. “When you live in Lexington, there’s no chance to retire, as far as I can see.”

“Hank was a man for all seasons,” said Norman Cohen, former selectman and chief counsel for the town of Lexington. “He never lost sight of what he was trying to accomplish.” Everyone knew him, and he was always willing to help, whether it was a microphone that didn’t work or creating the informal Black Cat café with his daughter Erin, which provided a welcome cup of coffee during town meetings. And it was Manz who solved the mystery of the black cat that appeared at town hall every morning – “somehow it got in almost every day and you never knew where it was going to be,” mused Cohen. But Manz was able to discover the black cat’s origins.

Manz used his many connections to provide community service for young people while meeting town needs. In his 17 years as Scoutmaster of Lexington Troop 160, he and the scouts were everywhere, setting up holiday lights at the bandstand, picking up used cartridges at Tower Park after the Battle Road reenactment, or setting up voting booths for elections.
He was exceedingly proud of the fact that 97 scouts – including his own son Jonathan – became Eagle Scouts during his tenure as scoutmaster for Troop 160. Hank was an Eagle Scout himself. Henry Liu, current scoutmaster, remembers sitting around the campfire with Manz, watching the embers fade. “We talked about everything and anything,” said Liu. And sometimes Manz would pull out his harmonica and softly play, the sound echoing in the cold night air.

Doug Lucente, current Select Board chair for Lexington, remembers how Manz used to pore over annual reports from the 1920s and beyond. Manz, who served on the Board for nine years, found it fascinating how the town today was grappling with the same issues as a century ago, whether it was parking in the town center or keeping the downtown vibrant. “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” Manz mused. He particularly enjoyed being on the transportation committee, and sometimes jokingly complained that he was the only committee member who actually used the buses and trains. And, at public meetings, he loved to introduce himself by saying, “I’m Hank Manz, a recovering selectman.”

When Manz was selected to receive the White Tricorn Hat Award, which honors the public service of an outstanding Lexington citizen, he was delighted and genuinely surprised.
He felt slightly cheated because the year he won – 2018 – it rained horribly and the annual parade was canceled and he wasn’t able to ride in the convertible and wave to the bystanders. The next year, two White Tricon Hat awardees rode in the parade, but the banner with the names was misplaced, so “I was just some old dude riding in a car,” said Manz with his typical observational humor.

Manz will also be missed at the Hayden rink, of course, where he seemed to stride across the building with just a few steps. Byrant McBride, longtime Lexington Bedford Youth Hockey volunteer, said that Manz contributed in countless ways to the league, whether it was picking up the pucks under the bleachers, running the annual banquet, or figuring out a better way to draft players. “If I had to use one word to describe Hank, it would be selfless,” said McBride. Last year Hank was awarded the William Thayer Tutt Award Winner by USA Hockey. The distinguished honor is presented annually by USA Hockey to a dedicated volunteer.

What drove Manz, whether it was creating an in-house hockey league or serving hot cocoa at the tree lighting? His wife Wendy said that Hank didn’t “go out with a mission. He was just a person who couldn’t be idle if he saw something needed to be done.” But Manz was human, of course, though, with some pride about his 6’2 statuesque height. He liked being tall and as he got older and starting losing inches, “it depressed the hell out of him,” Wendy said.
But his figurative shoes – well, those will be hard to fill, said Lucente. Even the annual Patriot’s Day pancake breakfast – how will it run without Manz there at 3 a.m., ready to start the batter? And Wendy, admits she is lost without her partner of 49 years. “I turn to talk to him and he’s not there.” But then she pauses. “But he is there – he’s all around, and he always will be.”

Manz loved to teach his grandchildren, —Hallie and Elliot, aged four and one— how to say his name when they were on Zoom. It was an easy name to say and remember, and when they saw his distinctive presence on screen, even the one-year-old learned to quickly say “Hank!” In his final days, Manz grieved that he would no longer be around to see them grow up. But what he probably knew – and still knows – is that “Hank” is a name none of us will easily forget.



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