Education was businessman's true passion


Rodika Tollefson, KP News

Editor’s note: This is part 2 of a story highlighting some of the accomplishments of Lakebay’s Fred Haley. To read more, see the February issue of the Key Peninsula News.

Long before Gov. Gary Locke introduced a $1 billion per year plan to help Washington’s education, a group of citizens outlined a proposal to reform public education in the state. Calling it “The Paramount Duty” as a reference to the constitutional statement about public education, the group spent more than two years to come up with 53 recommendations and a $260 million per year price tag.

That was 21 years ago, and the man who chaired that committee, Key Pen resident Fred Haley, says public education still has a long way to go.

He tried to do his share. While his hands were on the wheel of the candy company Brown & Haley (famous worldwide for its Almond Roca), his eyes were on education. Haley became president of the company nearly by default—he says he was the best salesman of all his siblings—but his true heart showed through his decades of work to advance education at levels from preschool to college.

While on Tacoma’s school board, he refused to fire a teacher who invoked the Fifth Amendment when accused of being a Communist by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Margaret Jean Schuddakopf, a school counselor who lived in Gig Harbor, kept her job by a 3-2 vote of the board. The deciding vote was Haley’s — the chairman.

“Fred wrote a letter to the FBI saying if they had proof (of her being a Communist), they should show it,” said his biographer, Ron Magden. Instead, the FBI noted in its file on Haley that he was a Communist too.

Haley is one of the local leaders credited with opening a University of Washington campus in Tacoma. A free thinker, he recognized that higher education was more than professional training.

“His vision always was that the university is a place to expand your mind and think about the world,” said Mike Honey, a UW professor who has worked side by side with Haley for many years. “His open-mindedness came from his own college career. He was a student of the humanities.”

Haley tried to pass that open mind on to his children. All of them spent time studying in foreign countries. “I wanted my children to grow up in a world that’s not all-American,” he explained. The all-American world at the time saw Haley as a person who pushed unpopular views. His attempts to integrate segregated schools, neighborhoods and even upscale clubs were particularly troubling, and businesses boycotted the candy factory. Some civil rights fights made him such an eyesore that he said he eventually had to quit being a member of the Rotary Club.

His battles in education were successful, although some of his successes could be considered controversial today. In Tacoma, for example, he proposed assigning the best teachers to the poorest schools with low achievement levels. “The ‘No child left behind’ issues were happening back then,” Magden said.

Haley moved through various education boards through the decades, and was recognized by the state Legislature in 2000 for his contributions to education and civic service. Ironically, when he ran for the state Senate previously, he didn’t make the cut.

But Haley didn’t need a legislative title to leave his mark. “You’re my mentor for education. You have contributed to kids more than anyone will ever know,” then Sen. Al Bauer of Vancouver said in a note to Haley.

As much as he worked in the public eye, Haley worked privately to help individuals. Anonymous scholarships to students, letters to help a Tahiti family, and contributions to various causes and organizations ran like invisible threads through the canvas of his life.

Fred Haley had wanted to be a professor of English literature. There is hardly a simile or metaphor to sum up his 90-some years of life. As his biographer and good friend Ron Magden explained, “there are many inconsistencies.” After all, the man who “was born with a silver spoon in his mouth” still drives a Geo Metro, dings and all.

“The biography was a hard book to write because I couldn’t get to the fundamental roots of why he was who he was,” Magden said.

It appears that the would-be professor Haley still has some lessons to teach.