Modest family man brings message of hope to Minnesota
AMY MAYRON STAFF WRITER
There were many times when Joseph Hartzler wanted to quit his job as lead prosecutor in the federal case against Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Having multiple sclerosis motivated him to see it through, he told Minnesota members of the National MS Society on Saturday.
``I was desperately homesick, and the defense attorneys were like little Chihuahuas nipping at our heels,'' he said. ``I was worried they'd blame the MS. I feared that if I left it would reflect not only on me but on everyone with MS.''
Hartzler, a U.S. Attorney from Springfield, Ill., spent two years away from his home, first in Oklahoma preparing for trial and then in Colorado where the proceedings took place. He was diagnosed with MS 10 years ago, with symptoms mainly affecting his mobility. He cannot walk now without help and gets around mainly in a motorized scooter.
In addition to being a dedicated federal prosecutor and devoted family man, Hartzler also has been a strong advocate for the MS Society and medical research. In 1995, he was named the National MS Society Father of the Year, and in 1997 the Hartzlers were named Family of the Year.
Hartzler and his wife, Lisa, have three sons.
The couple traveled to Minnesota this weekend to speak at the National MS Society Minnesota Chapter annual conference held at the Earle Brown Heritage Center in Brooklyn Center. The Minnesota Chapter recently donated $300,000 to MS research -- the second-largest donation ever made by a state chapter. That's in addition to the $1.7 million the local chapter will devote to expanding educational programs in Minnesota next year.
As keynote speaker, Hartzler talked about his childhood as an avid sports lover and athlete, how he found true love while in law school and how having MS has affected his family, his job and his future.
A modest and intense man, Hartzler never welcomed media attention during the McVeigh trial. He repeatedly refused interviews, as did his family. He said he didn't want anything to distract him and he didn't want to give the impression that he sought fame.
His life since has been pretty routine.
He spends a lot of time supporting the MS Society and hopes that someday researchers will find a cure to what he describes as ``an uninvited guest'' in his body.
``There's no cure yet, and maybe we're not close,'' he said. ``It's
clear we are headed in the right direction. Now, we are in the healthiest
time of all -- you can look at the future and see hope.''
Amy Mayron can be reached at email@example.com or at (612) 338-6872.