As longtime season basketball ticket holders, Hackemer and his wife, Assistant Vice President for Career Services & Student Success Susan Hackemer, have always cheered for the teams and the pep band.

Todd Cranson, DMA, associate professor of low brass and director of athletic bands at USD, noticed Hackemer’s admiration of the student musicians and invited him to play.

While Hackemer said the presence of a high-ranking university official altered the group dynamic at first, the feelings of the students quickly reversed. “At first they were a little bit wary because they know me as a senior administrator of some kind,” he said. “But they warmed up so quickly. And they’re there to have fun with you, too. We tease each other and enjoy performing with each other.

Kurt Hackemer headshot

“It’s really important for students to have opportunities to interact with faculty and realize they’re not just faculty,” Hackemer continued. “They’re also people.”

Since joining the band four years ago, Hackemer reports with conviction, the best place to watch a game is with The SOUND of USD. “Those students are into it,” he said. “And because they have instruments, they get to be loud and kind of put themselves out there.”

One of his favorite memories with the pep band includes when the women’s basketball team made it to the Sweet 16 NCAA tournament in 2022 after their win over Baylor University.

“There were a couple hundred USD fans in an arena packed with Baylor supporters, and the pep band was courtside giving everything in their being to support their team, playing loud, cheering loud in this distinct minority situation,” Hackemer remembered. “It was intense and fun, and something I think they’ll never forget. I’ll never forget it. It was just an amazing experience with these incredible young people.”

Hackemer’s musical gifts extend beyond the trombone; he also plays the alphorn alongside Cranson and his wife, Amy Laursen, DMA, associate professor of music.

Looking for an activity to do outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, Hackemer, Cranson and Laursen joked about purchasing a 12-foot-long alphorn, commonly used by mountain dwellers in the Swiss Alps. They joked until Cranson and Laursen came across an alphorn dealer in Utah – the only in the U.S.

“They texted me, and said ‘Hey, what do you think? Should we get some of these?” Hackemer recalled. “And so, in the summer of 2020, we bought three alphorns.”

That summer and fall, the trio would often set up on Cranson and Laursen’s driveway at their home on Main Street in Vermillion to play their “showstopper” of an instrument.

“The sound carries for miles, so people would stop by,” Hackemer said. “That became a kind of thing, too, with students. Amy is better than we are, though it’s fun for all of us.”

The trio and their alphorns were featured in the Vermillion Community Theatre’s 2022 production of “The Sound of Music.” They wore lederhosen and dirndl, playing before and during the show.

Hackemer has always been, in his words, a “band nerd.”

Kurt Hackemer, Amy Laursen and Todd Cranson playing their alphorns during the Vermillion Community's production of The Sound of Music

Growing up in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Hackemer vividly recalls that melody was everywhere. The city hosted three musical instrument factories and the Kenosha Unified School District is one of the locations in which Disney tests its high school versions of musicals.

“The community has and still does support music in all kinds of interesting ways,” explained Hackemer. “We did music year-round. There was music all around us – marching, concert, jazz and Dixieland bands, orchestras, madrigals and concert choirs in the public schools. I just kind of fell in love with being a band nerd.”

Hackemer is also a military historian who teaches in the USD Department of History. His classes offer perspectives on what’s happening in the world today. “You have these moments when students suddenly understand the historical background for something, where it came from, and why things like the Russian invasion of Ukraine happen,” said Hackemer. “I’m teaching history, but also critical thinking, analysis, being an engaged citizen and looking at the world around you with a critical eye.

“History is using the past to better understand what the present and the future might bring,” Hackemer continued.

Hackemer notes parallels and differences in his academic and extracurricular responsibilities. Going to school, he maintains, is about what happens in the classroom – and more. “Higher education is this larger experience students are having as they’re becoming independent adults. And, boy, if you can have fun doing that, all the better,” he said.

“One of the things USD does really well is connecting with students – through the arts, classes and community – and helping them to better understand what they’re capable of,” Hackemer continued. “And then they go on and do amazing things in Vermillion, their home communities, across the state and country.”

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