My great-grandfather, Holger Hansen, lived from 1891 to 1977. I have one vague memory of going to the airport with my grandmother to pick him up for a visit. It was likely the last visit he ever made here to the Northwest. I'm actually lucky enough to have several photos of myself with him, though I have only vary vague recollections of that one visit.
His has always been the line most thoroughly researched in my family tree, because my grandmother and her sister spent a great deal of time with their extended family, visiting during the war, and continued those visits long after, including a family get-together for a time down in California in Idyllwild where my aunt lived.
Despite this, though, I really didn't know much about him until I started to research a paper on my grandmother and her mother for a Women's Studies class at the University of Washington. And even after that, I didn't know a whole lot more. This year, I've finally begun to truly learn who he was from the papers my grandmother left behind. Stories about her father, her mother, her life.
This was part of a letter my grandmother got from her sister shortly after their father's death in 1977. The first is the letter to her, the second the piece my aunt wrote up, and the third an article by my aunt's husband about my great-grandfather and another of their relations.
I believe that the TC she is referring to in her letter was the Paper she and her husband ran—the local Idyllwild newspaper.
Feb 1 [ed: 1978, I believe]
A quick note the accompany these papers—which I mislaid.
We have an inquiry on the TC. Lu is eager.
M had a marvelous Christmas trip—Randers and then France, Austria and Switzerland. She + Tina swam where Mark Spitz won all his medals! Then she came home to a pile of mail, too much about 3 family deaths ("Now I don't have any grandparents" she wailed) plus the death of a Swedish friend. Poor kid. She keenly feels what can happen in a short time, especially if you go away.
Personnel changes again at TC. I changed past-up artists—the old one went to Vegas. Lu's asst, the reporter-photog John Ponce is moving to bigger things next week. A new printer starts Monday, + tomorrow Jan Hansen, of our front office goes to the hospital for a week—knee surgery. When it rains it pours.
I got a perm + a short hair cut + feel much better. Also a new suit + shoes!! Lu got a new suit, too.
Rain, rain, rain. No snow. Are you skiing?
untitled – by Marilyn Hansen Weare
A person's lifetime is his legacy in the way he touches other peoples' lives or changes the course of events, great or small. I would like to recount the course of my father's life and be glad that we knew him rather than to mourn that we have lost him.
Holger Hansen lived 86 years, was a citizen of two nations and was loyal to both. He married twice – to Oline and to Rose – and outlived them both. He fathered three children, Margaret, me (Marilyn) and Torben and was stepfather to Rose's two daughters, Ruth and LaVerne.
Dad was born on a farm in Denmark, one of 9 children of very poor parents. Karen Margrethe Fischetti, Dad's niece, recounted a story that she learned from a grand aunt of ours, Dagmar. When Dad was little, perhaps about 5, he was very ill with pneumonia. His mother carried him in her arms several miles into town to the hospital – they were so poor there wasn't even a cart for the trip. When Dad was well enough to leave the hospital, he went to live with his grandmother nearby until he was strong enough to walk home. His aunt Dagmar was still at home then and remembers that Holger was such a nice little boy that his grandmother wanted him to stay, and she kept him for 5 years.
Home with his parents on the farm later, Dad was given the duty of tending the milk cows when he was old enough – to take them out to pasture in the morning and tether them and bring them in at night. He had the opportunity for schooling until he was 14 and then his father taught him his own trade – that of being a mason, or bricklayer. They did small jobs together – basements, chimneys, etc – around their little town of Thyregod, and then, about 1912 or 1913 good fortune struck. The railroad line was extended to Thyregod and Dad and Grandpa got the contract to build the station. That gave my father enough money to buy his passage to America in 1914. I once asked him how much money he needed, and he thought it was about $50 for the boat fare and $25 in his pocket when he reached Ellis Island. Dad said his only requirement for entry to the United States then was that $25 in his pocket and the ability to read – in Danish. The inspector gave him a book in Danish and had him read just a few lines.
Dad did not know a bit of English and had to learn the language after he came to the United States. But he had an aunt and uncle in New York – Jorgen (or "Jack") and Margrethe Isaaksen. They were doing well in this country, and their example encouraged dad to come to the United States, for greater opportunity. And he found it. Dad was able to find work and save enough money to return to Denmark for a visit in 1916.
In later years, I visited Tante Margrethe and Uncle Jack many times when I was a WAC in Washington, DC. One time they said to me, "Your father was the nicest, the finest and the most pleasant young man we have ever known, even taking into account our own 2 fine sons."
On that first trip back home, Dad met Oline Hansen, a young Danish woman who had been working in Chicago and was also returning to her home in Denmark for a visit. But in 1916 the United States had entered World War I and travel back to the US was prohibited for six months, so Dad had a chance to court Oline in Denmark.
When Dad returned to the United States he could not find work in New York. Hearing there were jobs in Cleveland, he moved here. Oline left her Chicago domestic job and took work in Cleveland as a seamstress. They were married in 1918 and made Cleveland their home. Dad became a contractor, bought a few lots and built and sold several homes. His young brother Alfred came over from Denmark to try his luck in the land of opportunity. Neils Kirk was one of his pals, and another was Otto Nielsen, 10 years his junior and now a part of our Danish family clan in California. Otto told me that he worked for my Dad in those early years in Cleveland, and he said to me, "He was fun to work for – Holger could always see the funny side of a situation."
And that reminds me of an evening about 20 years ago in my home in California. Dad and Mom were visiting, so I invited their old friends in for the evening. Neils Kirk, Otto Neilsen, Alfred and Holger were together at the table reminiscing about their youth in the old Country, and they fell to talking about shoes – or the lack of them. Of course, they said, they could easily go barefoot in the summer, but if they had no winter boots, they simply tied straw around their feet and made out that way – but Oh! it was so darned cold! – and the men began to laugh so hard they rocked in their chairs. They could see a funny side to a situation.
I loved to watch my father lay bricks. I remember the grace of his movements, his large strong hands holding the bricks, the choreographed, rhythmic way he used his pointed trowel to dip and smooth the cement, the clear sound of the tapping of his trowel to trim a brick or to settle it into place. He was an artisan.
Oline died in 1928 and Dad married again later. He married Rose Basch, and she and her daughters, Ruth and LaVerne, merged with us into a large family of 7. Then the depression struck, and the difficult years that followed were a struggle for everyone. With Rose's business acumen and ability to work hard, they weathered those years, and we always had food on the table.
When I called my cousin Elsa Sunday night to tell her Dad had passed away, she wept and said, "He was such a GOOD man."
And so he is remembered – fondly and generously as a good man, a nice person, a fun-loving fellow, a master at his craft – overlooking his human failings (and of course he had them) and leaving a legacy of so much good will that we are happy his life was part of ours.
My husband and I own and publish a small weekly newspaper in California. Luther writes a column of his personal observations, and I read the galley of his column for this week's paper before I left for Cleveland. Luther's family also lost one of its members over the holidays, and in his column Luther Sums up so much of what I feel, too. I would like to share it with you.
Death struck our family twice, not unexpectedly, over the holiday. In each case a lesson could be derived for the rest of us.
My nephew lived under a two-year death sentence from leukemia. What does one do under such circumstances? Some of us fear that we would fall apart emotionally, but it has been my observation that that usually does not happen. Nature provides us with strength and emotional resources we normally are unaware of. And so this youngish man lived his last two years with gusto and enthusiasm. His seeming good cheer made us cheerful. He gave us an example of grace under terrible pressure. We in turn had the opportunity to express our affection and to say goodbye – something that is denied to those who lose loved ones by sudden accident.
The lesson Richard taught me is to accept life's tragedies as well as triumphs and not feel sorry for oneself.
(left - Holger Hansen sometime after 1919)
My father-in-law was an old man whose work was done. A north European farm boy, he had come to the United States as a young man – one of the millions of post-World War I European emigrants who still envisioned America as a promised land. He had a trade and a strong body and he was willing to work. That was all that America asked of her new citizens; in return she promised rewards, and lived up to the promise.
He saw good times here and bad, as most of us have, but on balance it was good and he lived out his days in comfort. When his time came, it was the passing of an era. He was the stuff of which this great country has been made and he did his work well. He showed us that life provided opportunities for those who are capable of seizing them.
My wife is in Ohio, gone there to bury him. But she plans no mournful farewell service. Rather she pictures his passing as the completion of a story and she wants to celebrate his life. He and millions like him helped to make this nation great.
(Left: Holger surrounded by the three generations following him: his daughter to his left, his grandson and great-granddaughter to the right)
God rest your souls, Richard Perkins, who gave us an unforgettable example of gallantry, and Holger Hansen, who made us understand what America is all about.
LW (Luther Weare)
(Segments of the above article were read at Holger's memorial service, according to the notes on my copy.)