A Final Lesson Imparted, Then Heavenward

“…The time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the Faith. From now on the Crown of Righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the Just Judge, will award to me on that day…”    — 2 Timothy 4: 6-8


Suddenly, the world will never, ever be the same.

Mary K. Hanneman stepped gently into eternity Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018, after a long struggle with vascular dementia and congestive heart failure. Our Blessed Lord summoned his precious daughter, my mother, at 11:50 p.m. from her home at Brookdale Senior Living. She was 86 years 2 months and 5 days young. Mary was a loving wife, mother, grandmother and longtime Catholic school teacher in Sun Prairie, where she has lived since 1965.

Mary Katherine Mulqueen was born in Cudahy, Wisconsin, on Oct. 21, 1932 — the seventh of 11 children of Earl J. Mulqueen Sr. and the former Margaret Madonna Dailey. On Aug. 9, 1958, she married David Dion Hanneman at St. Veronica Catholic Church in Milwaukee, beginning a more than 49-year marriage. He preceded her in death on April 14, 2007. He was 74.

For Mary, every day was a good day to teach. She had the heart of an educator, the discipline and courage of a gunnery sergeant and, under it all, the strong yet soft heart of an Irish grandmother. Above the entrance to her kitchen hung a sign that read Failte, — an Irish welcome. Over the years, countless relatives, friends and strangers were welcomed within those walls to incredible cooking, good cheer and, very likely, a game or two of sheepshead, Kings in the Corner or cribbage.


“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”

― William Arthur Ward.


Like most things in the Hanneman family, good teaching started at home. Mary’s kitchen table was just as likely to serve up arithmetic flash cards and sentence diagrams as it did Thanksgiving turkeys or chocolate chip cookies. She imparted many life lessons in her kitchen, from the academic (long division and phonics) to the culinary (corned beef with cabbage, lasagna and state-fair-quality bread and cinnamon rolls). Through the chaos and bustle of the annual  Thanksgiving dinner, we came to appreciate the gift of family — warts and all.

David D. Hanneman and the former Mary K. Mulqueen were married for more than 49 years.

Mary’s academic career began at St. Frederick’s Catholic School in Cudahy and St. Mary’s Academy in St. Francis, from which she graduated high school in 1950. After a brief postsecondary discernment at the suburban Franciscan convent, she took courses at Cardinal Stritch College and Marquette University. She studied reading literacy for elementary students for two years in Madison. Mary began practice teaching in the Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. She eventually became a full-time teacher in the newly built 17-room St. Veronica Catholic School on East Norwich Avenue in Milwaukee.

After their marriage in 1958, Mary and Dave moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he held a job with E.R. Squibb & Co. She paused her teaching career to start and raise a family that came to include two boys and two girls. As a doctorate-level domestic engineer, she honed her skills wrangling hungry toddlers through the bedlam of birthday parties, sewing costumes, darning socks and hosting couples’ bridge. She set high standards for her children and expected them to reach even higher. Especially at school. She modeled her own saintly mother’s family virtuosity with things like bunny-shaped birthday cakes topped with coconut flakes and jellybeans. Or trips to Devil’s Lake and Storybook Gardens with four children in tow.

Mary learned her lessons well from “Ma,” Margaret M. Mulqueen. Her mother went out of her way to make family events special for her husband Earl, who lost both of his parents young and was denied most of childhood’s delectations.  “Every year, we always celebrated Christmas. My mother made Christmas really special,” Mary said in an oral-history interview with granddaughter Ruby in 2009. “But especially his birthday. He never had a birthday cake growing up. Isn’t that sad? And yet grew up to be such a nice man.”

In 1965 Mary and Dave built their dream home in Sun Prairie’s then-new Royal Oaks neighborhood. Seventeen stately oak trees towered over the property. Much love went into building and maintaining the family homestead that stayed in the Hanneman family for 53 years. She spent those years caring for her family with special birthday meals, wonderful Christmas mornings and a thrifty way with money that allowed her and Dave to put four children through Madison Edgewood High School.

In 1980, Mary resumed her teaching career at Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Catholic School. She started as a substitute, but before long was a full-time reading specialist. She helped along the students who otherwise would fall behind. It was her passion to teach reading, and she opened the world of books to many hundreds of children. Students came to Mrs. Hanneman for extra help in reading, math and other subjects. She sent them back with the skills and desire to learn. Her career at Sacred Hearts stretched nearly three decades. Even after retirement, Mary tutored students several days a week for many years.

When her husband was dying of cancer in 2006 and 2007, he helped make his last wish come true. The couple donated four sections of beautiful stained-glass windows back to St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison, where they were incorporated into the design of a new wing of the hospital that opened in 2007.

Her penultimate lessons were largely delivered in the silence of advancing dementia, which eventually crippled her ability to think clearly and communicate verbally. Yet she showed patience in this frustrating infirmity. If she could not form the words to say what was on her mind, she sighed deeply and simply said, “Oh, dear.” As illness struck its blows through a heart attack and repeated cardiac events, she rallied time and again to regain strength and show a smile. When hospice nurse Heidi leaned close and told Mary it was almost Christmas, she smiled and said, “I love Christmas.”

Mary’s final and lasting lesson was delivered over days of speechless suffering. Her body conspired to drain her energy. Yet she trusted. She lay still. She prayed. During her final hour, she opened her eyes, lifted her head and looked intently — at something. She tried to speak, but words were not needed. The look of awe on her face explained it all: she had a glimpse of Heaven. All things would soon be new. That realization was reflected on her face. It was her final gift. She spoke in deeds what words could not say:

My work here is complete. My struggles were never in vain. Even in my brokenness, my trials fit in His design and served His redemptive plans. Watch! Hold fast to your Catholic faith — and you will one day follow me.

Mary is survived by her children: David (Lisa) Hanneman of Naperville, Ill., Joe Hanneman of Sun Prairie, Margret Mary of DeForest, Amy Bozza of Woodstock, Ill.; and special niece, Laura (Doug) Curzon of New Berlin, Wis. She is further survived by nine grandchildren: Abby, Maggie and Charlie Hanneman; Stevie, Samantha and Ruby Hanneman; and Justin, Kyle and Claire Bozza. She leaves two sisters, Ruth (Tom) McShane and Joan (Dick) Haske, both of Cudahy. She was preceded in death by her husband, her parents and eight brothers and sisters.

A visitation will be held from 10:00 a.m. until 11:45 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019 at Tuschen-Newcomer Funeral Home, 302 Columbus St., Sun Prairie. The Mass of Christian Burial will be held at noon Saturday, Jan. 5 at Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Catholic Church, 227 Columbus St., Sun Prairie. Monsignor Duane Moellenberndt will preside. Burial will be at Sacred Hearts Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, memorials are suggested to the Sacred Hearts School Endowment Fund, 221 Columbus St., Sun Prairie, WI 53590.

 

Fatal Rickman Plane Crash Caused by Faulty Part, Fire

The September 1960 Chicago plane crash that killed all six members of the Richard Rickman family was caused by a faulty engine valve and an intense oil fire, according to a federal investigation report obtained through the National Archives.

Richard E. Rickman, 34, was flying his wife and four children from Wisconsin Rapids to Detroit on Labor Day 1960 when his Beechcraft C35 Bonanza (tail number N-5816C) plunged into Lake Michigan with flames trailing from the engine. Rickman, his wife Helen and children Richard, Robert, Catherine and Patricia were killed in the crash. The plane and its passengers sunk into the dark waters of Lake Michigan off Chicago’s Oak Street Beach. [See related: Entire Rickman Family Killed in 1960 Plane Crash]

It was a horrific, haunting tragedy. The Rickmans, native to central Wisconsin, were returning home to the Detroit area after a Labor Day vacation. Following the advice of the airport manager in Wisconsin Rapids, Rickman flew across Wisconsin and then along the Lake Michigan shoreline to Chicago. That’s where the trouble started. Rickman radioed the tower at Meigs Field in Chicago that he had an emergency and needed to land. [See an aerial view of Meigs Field] He never got the chance. The plane nose-dived into the water about 1 mile offshore from a crowded Oak Street Beach. All six Rickmans were killed.

The Civil Aeronautics Board began investigating the crash just as the sections of damaged plane were recovered from the depths of Lake Michigan. The wings were sheared off on impact. Witnesses on the beach reported seeing flames coming from the engine as the  single-engine plane dove into the water. The probe was led by Clifford G. Sheker, the CAB’s air safety investigator.  The 205-horsepower Continental engine was recovered and sent off for analysis. Sheker testified before a Cook County coroner’s inquest jury twice — in September and October 1960. His preliminary finding in October was that engine trouble caused the crash.

That’s where the public attention stopped. The probe continued and led to a report of findings in April 1961, but there was no media coverage on the final cause of the crash. The Hanneman Archive began a search for Sheker’s report back in 2015. It was not on the Federal Aviation Administration’s online database of old CAB crash investigations.  The CAB was a predecessor to the National Transportation Safety Board.

We enlisted the help of the National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, Maryland. After several months, an archivist named Amy R. found the answer in April 1961 meeting minutes from the Civil Aeronautics Board. She was kind enough to snap digital photos of the report narrative and send them via email. As far as we can tell, these details were not published by news outlets at the time.

The report said Rickman was about a mile offshore headed south at 7:26 p.m. when he broadcast a Mayday call: “I have an engine failure or something – I am coming in!” The flight was immediately cleared for emergency landing at Meigs Field, a single-runway airport on Northerly Island, a peninsula along Chicago’s lakefront. Sheker’s report described what happened:

“About this time ground witnesses and the occupants of another plane saw the aircraft afire in flight. They observed the plane make a left turn and go out of control twice before it crashed into Lake Michigan and exploded.”

The Continental Motors E-185 engine became disabled by an “intense oil fire” that originated in the area of the exhaust heater muff. The No. 3 exhaust valve showed “fatigue failure” that led to the fire. The engine crankcase was broken open and the Nos. 3 and 4 pistons and connecting rods were broken. The “intense, in-flight fire” entered the cabin in the area of the rudder pedals and “subjected the entire cabin to fire.”

Rickman was an experienced pilot with 379 total flight hours, including 228 hours with the Beechcraft C35. His Beechcraft was manufactured in 1951 and licensed to Rickman in 1957.  It’s unknown if the CAB or later the FAA took any action as a result of the Rickman crash, such as issuing an airworthiness letter. There was no indication in the CAB report of the maintenance history of the plane, or if the No. 3 exhaust valve had caused other engine fires.

Just 18  months before, superstar singers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson were killed when the Beechcraft C35 Bonanza in which they were traveling crashed near Clear Lake, Iowa. February 3, 1959 became known as “The Day the Music Died,” memorialized in Don McLean’s 1971 song, “American Pie.” The Civil Aeronautics Board faulted the pilot for taking off in poor weather when he was restricted to visual flight rules.

Lifeguard Fred Rizzo carries the lifeless body of little Catherine Rickman from a police marine boat to a Chicago Fire Department ambulance on Sept. 5, 1960. Efforts to revive the girl were unsuccessful. (Screen grab: Chicago Tribune Photo by James O’Leary)

One of the most heartbreaking scenes from Sept. 5, 1960 was the sight of little Catherine Rickman, 4, being carried from a rescue boat to an ambulance by lifeguard Fred Rizzo. Boaters found her floating in the water shortly after the crash. She had burns on her face, legs and feet. The girl was revived briefly in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, but she died a short time later. Her grandparents, Edwin and Renata Rickman of Saginaw, Mich., identified her body. The search for her parents and siblings went on for days.

A lifeguard gives oxygen to Catherine Rickman in a Chicago Fire Department  ambulance on Sept. 5, 1960. (Screen grab: Chicago Tribune photo by James O’Leary.)

The diver who first found the bodies was Jeffrey Daxe, 34, a Chicago pilot and lifeguard. Daxe lived just across Lakeshore Drive near the beach. He was able to quickly gather his diving gear and have a lifeguard row him out to the crash site. The experience haunted Daxe for decades, according to his son, Jeff Daxe of Dayton, Ohio:

“As he told the story of the recovery of the victims, his face would transform to one with a look of concern. He would look away from his outstretched hand almost as if he could see, or didn’t want to see, the faces of the victims as he brought them to the surface.”

The senior Daxe went on to a career in aviation, and moved to Valparaiso, Ind. He told the story of the Rickman crash often. Even in recent years, when visiting Lake Michigan, his son said, he spent a long time gazing out on the water, expressing concern for the safety of boaters and windsurfers. “I believe the experience had a tremendous impact on his life.”

Pilot Jeffrey Daxe in the 1950s with his Stearman biplane. Daxe, who was also a lifeguard and diver, was the first to find the bodies of Richard E. Rickman, his wife  and three of their  four children. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Daxe)

Tom Metcalf remembers the Rickmans well, growing up for a time in the same neighborhood in Redford Township, a western suburb of Detroit. “I remember playing with Richard and Robert,” said Metcalf, who was 6 at the time of the crash. “I also remember flying with them in their aircraft. My father was a military pilot and he and Mr. Rickman were friends with a common interest in flying. I also remember my mother chasing some news reporter out of our back yard after catching him trying to ask me questions after the accident.”

Like Daxe, Metcalf was deeply affected by the Rickman tragedy. He said he hopes to visit the family’s graves at Forest Hill Cemetery in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. “I have thought of them often and sent prayers their way throughout my life,” Metcalf said.

Richard E. Rickman, the son of  longtime shoe-store proprietor Edwin J. Rickman, grew up in Wisconsin Rapids. He was a descendant of pioneer resident Matthias Hanneman, who came to Wisconsin in 1866 from Pomerania. He served in the U.S. Naval Reserve in World War II. His father had served in WWI. A factory representative for the Ogden Manufacturing Co., Rickman married the former Helen Anderson in December 1949 and they later moved to Michigan. Their first child, Richard Edward, was born in Lansing in May 1953. Robert John was born in Lansing in March 1955. Catherine Helen was born in Detroit in June 1956; and Patricia Ann joined the family in Detroit in September 1957.

The epitaph on the Rickman Family monument at Forest Hill says simply: “Not my will, but Thine be done.”

© 2015, Photo Courtesy of  Ben Chitek