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Frank Sackton to celebrate 95th birthday

July 26, 2007

Aug. 11 will be like any other day for Frank Sackton. He’ll have his breakfast, get in his brisk morning walk, read his two newspapers, and continue preparing for the ethics classes he will teach at ASU during the fall semester.

Almost as an afterthought, he will mark his 95th birthday that day.

Sackton, a sort of “Renaissance man” who has completed one whole U.S. Army career and served ASU and the state of Arizona in many capacities, will actually celebrate the big day on the following weekend with friends.

Sackton served in the military for 30 years, retiring as a lieutenant general in 1970. He and his wife, June, moved to Arizona, and since he was only 58, his friends tried to persuade him to go into banking.

He agreed to go to a luncheon hosted by First National Bank President Sherman Hazeltine, where a fortuitous meeting would occur: One of the luncheon guests was Arizona Gov. Jack Williams, who soon asked Sackton to be his special assistant for energy planning and economic development.

After three years with the governor, Sackton came to ASU to study for a master of public administration degree.

He earned his degree in 1976, then met another key person: ASU Pres. John Schwada, who offered him a visiting assistant professorship and resident lecturer position.

Ever since then, Sackton has answered ASU’s call for help in a variety of ways, serving as founding dean of the College of Public Programs, vice president for business affairs, athletic director, and finally, professor.

Though he is technically “retired,” Sackton teaches a class every semester at ASU – and this is the activity that stokes his intellectual engine.

“I teach an ethics class three days a week in the fall, and government and budgeting in the spring. That’s an eight-hour class on Saturdays,” he said.

Sackton’s office is at the Downtown Phoenix campus, and his classes are on the Tempe campus. He also regularly meets two doctoral students in Tempe to advise them on their dissertations.

The “disconnect” between office and classes doesn’t bother Sackton. He just hops in his sporty Cadillac and drives himself wherever he needs to go.

Sackton said his teaching methods have changed a great deal in the last 26 years. “I started, like most teachers, with the textbook reading and lectures. I’ve discarded that all now. I operationalize the material into a scenario and devise a case study. The students have to read the literature to solve the case study.”

Sackton divides his class into teams of three or four students each, and pits them against one another in a competition. “I do all my work months in advance, and I just listen in the classroom.”

Part of the homework in Sackton’s classes is reading the newspaper. Or, more precisely, two newspapers a day – and clipping articles that pertain to the subject they are studying.

“I recommend that my students read two newspapers a day, one being the Wall Street Journal,” he said. “Students are surprised at how much they learn by reading the newspaper.”

Sackton plans to keep on teaching as long as he gets good ratings from his students, and given his past record, that should continue to be the case.

The obvious question for a person who is about to reach 95 is “how do you get there?”

“Part of it is in the genes,” Sackton said. “My parents both lived to 99. And you have to take care of yourself and watch your diet.”

Sackton said he tried smoking for about a week when he was in the Army – when cigarettes were part of the daily rations for soldiers, but “it just didn’t take,” he said. “I found that I could trade the cigarettes for chocolate bars.”

He used to have cocktails before dinner, but when he was stationed in Turkey, he quit drinking out of deference to the Muslims. Now, he says, even a sip of wine gives him a buzz, so he abstains from alcohol.

Sackton’s wife died three years ago, but he finds solace in his “family” at Westminster Village in Scottsdale, where there is always something to do.

He enjoys fishing from time to time at Chaparral Lake in Scottsdale, and is active in St. Barnabas Episcopalian Church. Plus, he occasionally visits the Children’s Center at Scottsdale Healthcare Shea to cheer up the children who are ill.

Sometimes that encouragement requires a little more than words, however. “One little boy had some little cars, and he asked me if I’d race him,” Sackton recalled with a smile. “I said yes, and we sat on the floor and raced the cars.”