A Life: Chuck Hunnewell ‘was an intense competitor but a real gentleman’

Hanover boys basketball coach Chuck Hunnewell speaks to his team during a game against Hartford on Jan. 16, 1974. (Valley News - Mal Boright) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Hanover boys basketball coach Chuck Hunnewell speaks to his team during a game against Hartford on Jan. 16, 1974. (Valley News - Mal Boright) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News file — Mal Boright

Chuck Hunnewell, left, a former high school and American Legion baseball coach in the Upper Valley, claps at the start of a Legion exhibition baseball game between White River Junction Post 84 and Lebanon Post 22 on June 25, 2017, at the Maxfield Sports Complex in White River Junction, Vt. At right is New Hampshire American Legion baseball director Rick Harvey.  (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission.

Chuck Hunnewell, left, a former high school and American Legion baseball coach in the Upper Valley, claps at the start of a Legion exhibition baseball game between White River Junction Post 84 and Lebanon Post 22 on June 25, 2017, at the Maxfield Sports Complex in White River Junction, Vt. At right is New Hampshire American Legion baseball director Rick Harvey. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Valley News file — Tris Wykes

Chuck and Alean Hunnewell hang plants along their porch in Lebanon, N.H., on Monday, May 13, 2019. The plants-- a petunia and fuschia--were Mother's Day gifts from their children and grandchildren. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Chuck and Alean Hunnewell hang plants along their porch in Lebanon, N.H., on Monday, May 13, 2019. The plants-- a petunia and fuschia--were Mother's Day gifts from their children and grandchildren. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News file — Jennifer Hauck)

A grim-faced Chuck Hunnewell takes the ball from Alan Brown during a pitching change in the fourth inning of Hanover's 13-6 loss to Windsor on April 26, 1984. (Valley News - Tom Wolfe) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

A grim-faced Chuck Hunnewell takes the ball from Alan Brown during a pitching change in the fourth inning of Hanover's 13-6 loss to Windsor on April 26, 1984. (Valley News - Tom Wolfe) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News - Tom Wolfe

Chuck Hunnewell in a portrait taken in the early 1960s when he was at Michigan State. (Family photograph)

Chuck Hunnewell in a portrait taken in the early 1960s when he was at Michigan State. (Family photograph) Family photograph

By TRIS WYKES

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 04-06-2024 5:17 PM

Modified: 04-09-2024 11:10 AM


LEBANON — A quick trip to the store wasn’t often possible with Chuck Hunnewell.

Ubiquitous on the Upper Valley sports scene for more than 30 years, the longtime teacher and coach would be waylaid in Rich’s Department Store or Johnson’s Home Center on Route 12A.

The grocery store? Forget it.

“It was an hour-and-a-half venture because you ran into so many people who knew your dad,” said Bill Hunnewell, the fourth of his family’s seven children, six of whom were Lebanon High athletes in the 1980s.

Thirty-one years a Hanover High physical education teacher, Chuck Hunnewell was the Marauders’ longtime basketball and baseball coach and a football assistant. After releasing the Hanover coaching reins, the Lebanon resident took Lebanon High’s head baseball job, winning a state title in his first season with the Raiders.

Hunnewell’s summers were first spent coaching in the upper levels of youth baseball and then, from 1976-90, leading Hartford’s American Legion Post 26 baseball team. What amounted to a regional all-star squad played 50-game schedules and captured two Vermont state titles.

“He was an old-school icon,” said Marty Brown, a former Kearsarge High athletic director who was a 1976 student-teacher under Hunnewell. “He was an intense competitor but a real gentleman off the floor. He knew sports are a growth exercise for young men and women.”

Prominent for decades as a burly man with a booming voice, a pompadour haircut and sideburns, Hunnewell was known for his coaching exploits but was highly regarded for his teaching and parenting skills, the latter in concert with his wife, Alean.

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Hunnewell was capable of red-faced outbursts but mellowed as years passed. He settled into a retirement running a downtown Lebanon bed-and-breakfast with his wife.

“I’ve been struggling to resolve all the stories I’ve heard from his students and players and my own experiences at home,” said Susan Hunnewell Duval, the family’s youngest child and a former Cornell University basketball player. “I had a more toned-down version of my dad than my older brothers did.”

Charles Otis Hunnewell III was born on Nov. 14, 1935, in Arlington, Mass., to Charles and Alida Bierenbroodspot Hunnewell and spent his early years on a farm in nearby Bedford. He was part of one of the first classes at Alvirne High in Hudson, N.H., adjacent to Nashua, and played basketball and baseball for the Broncos. Starting in junior high, he also worked with horses and elephants at a nearby private zoo, Benson’s Animal Park.

After a year at Boston University, Hunnewell entered the U.S. Air Force and was a military policeman stationed first in Iceland and then in Alexandria, La., where he and Alean met on a blind date in April 1957.

After a seven-month courtship, the couple married in Alean’s rural hometown of Clinton, La., where her family farmed and ran a country store. The groom had previously impressed his future in-laws with his ability to throw baled hay.

Chuck Hunnewell, who left the military five days before the wedding, began driving a delivery truck for Tom’s Peanuts and Crackers while his wife completed her nursing degree. He studied a year at Louisiana State before the pair moved to New Hampshire.

Chuck worked for an electrical-parts company and Alean at a hospital while they saved money for him to finish his undergraduate degree at Plymouth State. Then it was off to Michigan State for Chuck’s graduate school studies before he taught and coached at Blissfield (Mich.) High, a little north of Toledo, Ohio.

Seeking to do the same back in the Granite State, Chuck Hunnewell chose an offer from Hanover in part because it would pay him an annual salary of $6,000. The family, now including four children, rented lodgings from Lebanon High shop teacher and boys basketball coach Lang Metcalf before buying an $18,000 house at 25 Messenger St. It was the family’s seventh move in as many years.

The Hunnewells’ last three children were born in Lebanon and, until 1973, their only car was a station wagon. Alean, tired of having to pack her brood into it to fetch her husband after practices or games (“Charlie was not the type to call and say he was done now”), saved $2,000 and in 1973 bought another vehicle. Grocery runs often included the purchase of half a dozen gallons of milk.

“I don’t know how you did it,” second child Andy Hunnewell said in late March, sitting at his mother’s dining room table. “But we never felt we were missing anything because most of the other kids we knew were as poor as we were.”

Alean recalled almost never being off her feet. Her husband also was busy outside of school with constructing additional bedrooms, regular repairs and the preparation of firewood for winter. Enormous logs were dropped on the family’s lawn and Chuck wielded a chainsaw and a splitting maul while the kids stacked cords to their father’s exact specifications.

Chuck Hunnewell was “strict but not unreasonable,” recalled Andy Hunnewell, who was once accidentally left on the roof after shoveling it free of snow. The family tended an annual vegetable garden and when Chuck sat down, he was asleep within minutes.

If the Hunnewell children weren’t at the nearby Carter Community Building, competing in everything from table hockey to basketball, they were playing at their house or a neighbor’s. Pastimes included disc golf with beach towels as holes, tackle football and capture the flag.

“There was a little bloodshed,” Calvin Hunnewell said, recalling an episode when a baseball bat slipped out of a friend’s hands and broke multiple windows. “He took off for home and later said he could hear my dad’s big, loud voice as he barreled through the neighborhood.”

As a teacher, Hunnewell used businesslike charisma, humor and soft-edged sarcasm to keep generations of students inspired and in line. Drudgery could be broken by Hunnewell taking classes outside to hunt for fictional snow snakes or dispatching a teen to the main office to ask if a shipment of left-handed badminton rackets had yet arrived.

Hunnewell had an uncanny sense of which students needed discipline and which could use encouragement, along with impeccable comic timing and the issuance of nicknames that tended to stick.

Hunnewell’s own widely used nickname, “Stinger,” allegedly emerged from his ability to catch hallway truants without a pass. “How many did you sting today?” a student supposedly asked, leading to a sobriquet that found its way onto an engraved nameplate atop the teacher’s desk.

For many, a lasting image of Hunnewell is of him tipped back in his basement office’s reclining chair, hands folded atop his prodigious belly. The cinder block space was adjacent to the boys locker room and near the auto shop, its unglamorous setting perfect for its occupant.

“He held court there,” said Andy Hunnewell, who attended countless Hanover practices and games with his siblings. “He was in his element.”

The Hunnewell kids grew up Hanover fans but that began to change when Calvin became Lebanon High’s quarterback. One of the family’s cars now carried a Raiders bumper sticker alongside a Marauders decal. The father repeatedly coached against his sons, although Chuck dropped down to JV football so he could watch Calvin play on the gridiron’s varsity level.

The biggest clashes came when Metcalf and his Lebanon boys basketball teams, often featuring a Hunnewell in the lineup, went up against Hanover. The gyms were usually sold out before the JV undercard tipped off, and scuffles in the bleachers, lobbies or parking lots weren’t uncommon.

West Lebanon radio station WTSL broadcast the games throughout the Upper Valley and excitement reached a crescendo during the first half of the 1970s, when Lebanon won a state title and Hanover reached a championship game.

Mary Hunnewell, the family’s third-youngest child, recalled being surrounded by irate Lebanon fans while her father orchestrated a late-game stall, the Marauders holding the ball to keep it away from the run-and-gun Raiders.

“Everybody’s yelling, ‘Play ball, Hunnewell!’ and I’m shrinking down because they’re screaming at him from all angles,” she said.

She was also a fan one day during a baseball game at Lebanon, sitting beside an opening in the backstop fence. A wild pitch settled nearby and Hanover catcher Mike Hayes shouted to her by name, asking that she toss it his way.

Mary did so and the play should have been called dead at that point. However, a Raiders runner was ruled to have scored and Chuck Hunnewell began a voracious argument with the umpire.

“That little girl, right there!” he bellowed, pointing at his daughter but not admitting to any familial ties. “She touched the ball!”

Hanover baseball fell on hard times during the 1980s, including a winless campaign. Of particular irritation to its coach was families’ willingness to depart for distant climes during spring break, meaning the Marauders often began seasons with patchwork lineups and losing streaks.

Hunnewell, who never kept track of his career records, stepped down from Hanover coaching after the 1984-85 school year. However, he soon took over Lebanon baseball, guiding a dedicated and gritty group of Raiders to a 1986 NHIAA title.

Doug Bridge, who played for and coached with Hunnewell at Lebanon and on Hartford Legion teams, recalled his mentor instructing pitchers to hurl an imaginary first inning while warming up. The bullpen catcher called balls and strikes, and Stinger had an uncanny ability to discern shortcuts for those who hadn’t thrown nine of the latter before entering the game.

In basketball, Hunnewell sometimes had his players run numerous laps while holding balls over their heads. Coming to a stop, they’d each shoot 25 free throws and have to report their success rate to the boss.

“He ran us into the ground but we could throw four different full-court presses at you, and the Valley News called us ‘Hunnewell’s Hustlers’ because we were in such good shape,” said former player Dan Crory. “He was a great fundamentalist and strategist and you listened to him intently.”

Hunnewell’s stewardship of the Hartford Legion baseball program was more relaxed. Post 26 played games most days of the week, using Dartmouth’s Red Rolfe Field as its home base. It featured a litany of future college and professional athletes including Lebanon’s Rob Woodward and Rich Parker, South Royalton’s Mike Ballou and Oxbow’s Bobby Valliant.

Hartford twice appeared in the Northeast Regional, memorably upsetting two-time defending champion New London (Conn.) at Manchester’s Gill Stadium in 1987. Hunnewell chatted with the Valley News postgame.

“Their reputation?” said the coach, who for the rest of his life often wore a tattered Post 26 ball cap. “If we let that bother us, then we would let it affect our game. They’re not the champs anymore and we got nothing to lose. We’re from Vermont.”

Hunnewell retired from teaching in 1996. A Type II diabetic, he got out of baseball in 2002 and focused on improved health and physical fitness and managing the bed-and-breakfast alongside Alean.

The Hunnewells, longtime parishioners at Hanover’s Our Savior Lutheran Church, frequently traveled to visit an extended family that includes 19 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. The couple attended sports games, musical recitals and graduations, even flying to the Pacific Northwest every other year to see Bill and his brood.

“I told him once that he was looking slim and trim, and he said he was starving,” Bill recalled with a chuckle. “He said all those vegetables weren’t filling him up.”

Heart issues and dementia wore Chuck Hunnewell down toward the end of his life but he and Alean were able to enjoy a well-attended family reunion last summer that left the pair in tears. The family’s patriarch spun stories, posed for photos and positively glowed.

Last December, a pair of heart attacks sent the 88-year-old Hunnewell to the emergency room. He died Feb. 20, and the wait in his wake’s receiving line was longer than an hour. Roughly 250 attendees paid their respects.

“When my dad’s mom died, he put his arm around me and said, ‘Well, the planet’s not going to be the same,’ ” Bill Hunnewell said. “I did the same thing with my kids when he left us.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.