As a board member of the Rockport Chamber Music Festival who chaired its education committee, Carol Ackerman played a pivotal role in bringing music into the lives of young people.
A former high school and middle school teacher, she worked closely with the Gloucester, Rockport, and Salem school systems to bring professional musicians into classrooms, which benefited students who otherwise wouldn’t have that opportunity.
“Those efforts combined her two great loves, education and music,” said her close friend Susan Gray, a trustee emeritus of the organization that is now Rockport Music. “She believed that music can transform lives.”
Gray added that Mrs. Ackerman “had a very strong sense of social justice and was a natural leader. She projected a kind of quiet authority and possessed a great generosity of spirit.”
Mrs. Ackerman, who was active in civic life on Cape Ann for nearly 50 years, died of cancer in her Gloucester home on Oct. 31. She was 75.
Over a 30-year career, she taught French and Spanish to more than 2,000 students in Gloucester, Rockport, Ipswich, Natick, and Bourne, and at Shore Country Day School in Beverly.
“She was very proud of her chosen profession and regarded teaching as the most valuable thing one could do in life,” said her husband, Jerry. “She loved seeing a student’s face light up when he or she grasped a new concept.”
Mrs. Ackerman’s civic contributions included chairing the board at Wellspring House in Gloucester, which offers shelter to the homeless, adult education, career planning, and job training, and at North Shore Universalist Church in Danvers.
She was also on the boards of the Sawyer Free Library and its public lecture and performance arm, the Gloucester Lyceum, and at the Gloucester Unitarian Universalist Church.
During her time on the music festival board, Mrs. Ackerman’s efforts helped raise funds for the centerpiece of Rockport Music, the Shalin Liu Performance Center, which opened in 2010.
“She had a sense that we are all interconnected, that the well-being of one person is linked to the well-being of another,” said longtime friend Barbara Braver, who served with Mrs. Ackerman on the Lyceum committee that made decisions about which programs or speakers would be a good fit.
Mrs. Ackerman’s input, Braver said, was selfless and invaluable.
“Carol knew the pulse of the community because she was involved in so many aspects of community life,” she said. “People admired her willingness to step in and do things that needed to be done, but it was never about promoting herself. It was about getting things done with a certain lightness of heart.”
An avid gardener and quilter, Mrs. Ackerman was always willing to share that expertise. She also hosted exchange students and brought her own students on trips to France, which she first visited as a Fulbright scholar.
A recipient of the Gloucester Unitarian Universalist Church’s citizenship award, she was a strong advocate of helping the less fortunate, said Dick Prouty, a friend and former board chairman at the church. “I admired her integrity and deep caring for others, he said.
Born Carol Nieter in Racine, Wis., Mrs. Ackerman attended Oak Park and River Forest High in Oak Park, Ill., and graduated with a bachelor’s degree and a master’s from Middlebury College in Vermont. She perfected her Spanish at a University of Arizona program in Guadalajara, Mexico.
She met Jerry Ackerman in Orleans through mutual friends. They married in 1967 and moved the following year to Gloucester, where she became a Girl Scout troop leader. Her husband, who is a mentor for start-up entrepreneurs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was an editor and reporter at the Globe from 1971 to 2001.
“Dinner with Jerry and Carol was always a delight, and the conversation was always enlightening and entertaining,” Braver said.
Mrs. Ackerman’s son, Steven, of San Francisco, said she taught him a love of the outdoors and nature, an appreciation of music, art, and culture, and about fine food and how to cook it. She also taught him “to be guided, even against prevailing attitudes, by one’s personal values,” he added.
A service was held in the Shalin Liu Performance Center for Mrs. Ackerman, who in addition to her husband and son leaves two daughters, Laurel and Suzanne, both of Arlington; a sister, Mary Nieter of Gaithersburg, Md.; and four grandchildren.
“She taught me through example that it’s possible to learn to focus on what you truly want, not just what you think you should, and then build a plan to reach that goal,” Laurel said.
Mrs. Ackerman, knowing she was terminally ill last summer, had a plan to deal with it.
“She mapped out how she would approach that,” her husband recalled. “First, we would go ahead with a planned trip in July to introduce two of our grandchildren to London and Paris. Then we would go ahead with a previously planned party to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary.”
Mrs. Ackerman insisted that her husband then go through with a twice-postponed knee surgery, reasoning that she would still be well enough to help his recovery, and then he could help her.
“And that’s the way it worked out,” he said. “Just as she planned.”
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