Sage City Symphony to perform Nov. 17

Sage City Symphony, seen here at Bennington College, is parting ways with composer and professional oboe player Robert "Zeke" Hecker, 74, because of allegations of sexual abuse of students while he taught English at Brattleboro Union High School in the 1970s and ’80s.

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Sage City Symphony is parting ways with composer and professional oboe player Robert “Zeke” Hecker, 74, because of allegations of sexual abuse of students while he taught English at Brattleboro Union High School in the 1970s and ’80s.

Michael Finckel, the longtime music director and conductor for Sage City said Thursday, “We are letting Zeke Hecker go due to these allegations.”

When asked whether Sage City knew of Hecker’s past when he joined the group, Finckel replied, “I was not that aware of the depth of the matter with Zeke. I was aware some years ago of some transgression, but now it’s come much more to light. All of this is information I just received. Had we known there would be any danger for students or any threat, he wouldn’t have been here.”

Windham Southeast School District, the umbrella organization for Brattleboro Union High School, is presently looking into the decades-old allegations stemming from an Aug. 11 essay in The Commons, a weekly independent newspaper based in Brattleboro. The essay was written by Mindy Haskins Rogers, a former student of Hecker’s. In the piece, she details allegations of sexual abuse involving Hecker and fellow students, as well as her own experiences with Hecker while she was a student.

Hecker taught in numerous area schools between 1974 and 2008. Some of the allegations date back as early as 1978.

Haskins Rogers recounted a day in 1984 when the teacher allegedly took her to several Boston museums and then to his house, where his wife “walked into the room, naked.” Haskins Rogers soon distanced herself from Hecker after feeling what she described as “growing discomfort” with his affinity for literature with sexual themes and “a cloying hug I hadn’t asked for.”

In her essay, Haskins Rogers went on to describe a classmate, identified by the pseudonym, Sally who confided in her about “a ‘taboo’ relationship she had entered, one so ‘taboo’ that telling anybody could ruin the other person’s life, career and family.” That memory prompted Haskins Rogers to request Hecker’s police records and discover a second unnamed complainant who was 16 in 1978.

Two different police investigations into the matter, in 1985 and again in 2009, were concluded without any charges being filed. According to authorities, the first complainant later recanted her claims of “an affair,” and the second revealed hers two decades after the then-statute of limitations had expired. Police uncovered a letter from 1982 addressed to one of the alleged victims in which the longtime teacher, playwright and musician unrepentantly acknowledges statutory rape and violations of professional ethics.

“If you wish to avenge your injustice and save your younger sisters from my imminent threat,” the letter said, in part, “a word to the right person would take care of it nicely. According to the law, I committed statutory rape. … I also, as [you] point out, violated professional ethics. Within 24 hours, I would be suspended, and shortly I would be not only an ex-teacher but a convicted felon.”

Haskin Rogers forwarded to the Banner an email she sent to the generic Sage City email address on their website, dated Oct. 28th. In the email, Haskins Rogers detailed the allegations against Hecker to Sage City, including the fact that he had been banned from Windham County schools. She asked whether Hecker was part of their organization, especially in any capacity where he might interact with minors. Haskins Rogers stated that she never received an answer from Sage City.

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In response to the #MeToo movement and the increased attention given to victims of sexual abuse, Vermont became the first state to eliminate the statute of limitations to those seeking to bring claims for compensation against the people and institutions who have caused them such pain. The bill signed into law eliminated the previous six-year statute of limitations for civil child sexual abuse cases and now allows many victims to bring claims for attacks that occurred many years ago.

Although the age of consent in Vermont is 16, state law prohibits any older person “in a position of power, authority or supervision” from having sexual contact with someone under 18.

Hecker penned a letter shortly after the publication of Haskins Rogers’ essay.

“First, I deeply apologize to any former student who may have been affected by my behavior, which I regret. I went into teaching with high ideals and never intended to hurt anyone. I also want to apologize to the parents of my students, who trusted me to be a caretaker and role model.”

Hecker went on to say, “I apologize to my friends and family, especially my wife, Linda. Many good people have taken heat because of me, through no fault of their own. As for Linda, she is an admirable person in every way. She has suffered as much as anyone.” He finished the letter by stating, “I do not ask for or expect forgiveness, but I will try to help heal any wounds that remain.”

Hecker was set to perform with the Sage City Symphony during its fall concert this weekend at Bennington College. Sage City works with numerous organizations, including many student programs at the college and high school level.

Finckel told the Banner, “The well-being of students and any kind of bad relations with Bennington College is something that we would like to stay as far away from as possible. We have been under the good graces of the college for more than 50 years. This program is vital for not only the community but also for all of the players involved. To consider damaging those relations and possibly putting students in harm’s way would be heartbreaking.”

He hesitated, then added, “It’s apparent that young people were wounded in this, and that it’s still an open wound. I feel for them and their families.”

{span style=”font-size: 12px;”}Hecker recently parted ways with The Windham Orchestra when the allegations surfaced. He’s been practicing with Sage City since September.{/span}

Efforts by the Banner to reach Hecker were unsuccessful.