Tony Melendez has serenaded Pope John Paul II and performed in front of thousands, but he says he is still shocked by the emotional reaction from the people he touches with his music.
“Some of the people’s responses are so touching,” Melendez said. “I can’t believe the response Some come crying and give me a hug. Some want to kiss the same cheek the pope kissed.”
The strong reactions are not just because Melendez, 26, sings with a smooth tenor voice, or that he plays nearly flawless acoustic guitar.
People are inspired because Melendez was born without arms and plays guitar with his feet, in a seemingly effortless manner.
Whole new world
“The music has just opened up a whole new world for me,” Melendez said before a performance Saturday night at St. Rita’s School, 4433 Douglas Ave.
“It’s been scary,” he said of the reaction he gets. “I’m not used to that overwhelming thrust toward me.”
Melendez, of Chino, Calif., performed for about 200 people at St. Rita’s, combining Christian music, storytelling and a healthy sense of humor.
Melendez is at ease with the fact he has no arms and does not consider himself handicapped. He even calls his company “Toe Jam Music.”
He told the group he stopped using prostheses because “my feet could do it so much faster quicker, neater. People ask me, ‘Do you eat with your toes or your feet?’ ” he said. “I eat with my mouth.”
With the guitar flat on the stage before him, Melendez’s bare feet glided up and down the strings effortlessly, while he sang about hope, inspiration and God.
As he walked to and from the stage, people pulled him aside for a hug, or kissed him like he was their own son.
“It still to me is very surprising,” he said. Crowd response comes from “a lot of young, and old. It’s really neat.”
Melendez earned national recognition last year when he played and sang for John Paul II– a performance that so moved the pontiff he touched Melendez’s legs and kissed his cheek.
Eight months later, Melendez recalls that performance as “a moment in my life I never thought would happen.”
John Paul’s reaction was nothing short of shocking to Melendez.
“I thought I was going to sing, then ‘clap, clap, clap and go home,” he said. “It really was a true blessing for me when he came over and gave me that kiss.”
In the time since, Melendez has been to 29 states, sometimes doing three performances a day.
Melendez was born in Nicaragua in 1962. His mother took thalidomide, an anti-nausea drug that caused the birth defect he has overcome. He spent much of his life in schools for handicapped children, but decided as a high school sophomore he wanted to be in public schools.
It was at about that time, when he was 16 he first tried playing his father’s guitar, after learning how to tune it with his feet.
“I did it and it just worked, and I kept at it,” he said. “I didn’t consider it practice. I loved it so much, I played five to six hours a day.”
While still getting a case of stage fright now and then, Melendez said the music helped him grow. He now promotes a pro-family, pro-love message during performances.
Music opens doors
”Once I start, it just automatically flows,” he said “Once I’m up there, something just takes over.”
Music “opened a lot of doors,” he said. “It’s given me a little more sense of security.
“I think they (spectators) sometimes go home saying, ‘If he can do it, I can do it,’ ” Melendez said. “When people go home, they feel a little bit better about themselves.”
Jose Melendez Jr., Tony’s concert manager, told the St. Rita’s crowd he learned things by watching his brother. He said one day when the pair was younger, he wanted to play Frisbee, but could not bring himself to ask, for fear he would hurt Tony’s feelings.
But Tony picked up the Frisbee in his toes and threw it, striking Jose in the face. It was then, Jose said, he realized his brother’s strength.
“That’s the first time I saw his arms and his hands.” ♦
Postscript: Tony Melendez continues touring, recording music and sharing his story around the world. He performed for Pope John Paul II four more times. He has recorded a number of contemporary Christian albums. He is married and lives in Branson, Missouri.
UNION GROVE, Wisconsin — Louis Armstrong, Liberace and Tiny Tim made concert appearances here Thursday. Well, not really, but it was probably as close as anyone has ever come to imitating the performers.
For nearly two hours, Leslie Lemke, 35, of Arpin, Wis., performed flawless piano and voice renditions of “Satchmo,” the king of the candelabra and the man who tiptoed through the tulips, among others.
If any of the 700 or so students and teachers in attendance at Union Grove High School had closed their eyes, they could have easily imagined Liberace’s glittery Rolls Royce, Tiny Tim’s ukulele or Armstrong’s smiling face and sassy delivery.
All this came from Leslie, a man with no eyes, severe brain damage, cerebral palsy and an IQ of of 58.
Leslie cannot carry on a dialogue or feed himself, and he requires constant care. He has never taken music lessons, plays piano with only nine fingers and cannot see the keyboard.
Yet he is a musical virtuoso.
In 1971, Leslie sat down at the piano and shocked his parents by playing a rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1.
It is difficult to come up with words to describe or explain Leslie’s abilities. Those who see him perform call it amazing. His family chooses stronger terms.
“I feel it is a miracle from God,” said Juanita Voge, Leslie’s niece. “I’ve been around him all my life, and it still amazes me.”
“I believe it’s a gift that God has given Leslie,” said Mary Parker Larsen, Leslie’s sister and caretaker. “He has the mentality of being 1 to 3 years old, yet, in this field, he’s a genius.”
Leslie has been featured on television’s “That’s Incredible” and in was the subject of an ABC Afterschool Special, “The Woman who Willed a Miracle.”
Leslie’s ability is known as the savant syndrome. Despite his disabilities, he has an island of brilliance that allows him, based on one listen, to reproduce any piece of music, even years later.
And reproduce he did.
A smooth baritone by nature Leslie’s vocal range is as broad as his piano repertoire, from the lowest gravel of Armstrong to the highest falsetto of Tiny Tim.
The Union Grove students, who might be expected to be restless with distraction during an assembly, were mesmerized. They heard Leslie perform near-perfect renditions of Vangelis’ “Chariots of Fire,” Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood,” and Armstrong’s “Hello, Dolly.”
He then accepted challenges from students and teachers, who came on stage and played short songs on drums, trumpet, trombone, flute and oboe. Then they listened to Leslie play the tunes note-for-note.
Union Grove was the latest concert stop for Leslie, who continues his tour into North Dakota and Iowa. He recently played 31 concerts in 33 days in Japan.
“We like to compare Leslie’s story with a rose,” Larsen told the group. “It starts out as a rosebud and it slowly opens up into a beautiful flower.”
Larsen said Leslie – one of 12 known savants in the world – keeps expanding his ability and learning more music. He has never studied a sheet of music. He has always learned by repetition,” Larsen said.
“If we weren’t so busy flying around the world … he could probably master every instrument we gave him.”
Despite a repertoire that includes many classics, Leslie will never admit he doesn’t know a song.
“Leslie always says yes,” Larsen said. “Then he nicely makes up a song to replace the one he doesn’t know.”
Larsen said she and Leslie travel the country performing to try to have an impact on people, as part of a “ministry of love.”
The idea is to “bring a miracle of l love,” she said. “That’s one of our main purposes – to bring happiness to other people.” ♦
– This article originally appeared on Page 1 of the Racine Journal Times on October 2, 1987. View the original newspaper page. This blog post has been updated with more information on Leslie in 2017.
Postscript: Leslie’s adoptive mother, Mae Lemke, died in 1993. According to Dr. Darold Treffert, an internationally recognized expert on savant syndrome, Leslie is doing well and “playing as marvelously as ever.” He lives with his sister, Mary Parker, in north central Wisconsin.
DACHAU, Germany — Forty-six years after it was liberated from Adolf Hitler’s brutal regime, an unsettling quiet hangs over the massive grounds of Germany’s first Nazi concentration camp.
A cool wind rustles through the dead leaves of last season. It whispers what seems to be an audible tale of the cruelty and atrocities committed here between 1933 and 1945.
Village near Munich
The picturesque village of Dachau, a 1,200-year-old community in southern Bavaria, is located only a few miles northeast of Munich. The area has a rich culture of its own, but the world will always associate Dachau with death.
Dachau records show 31,957 registered deaths between 1933 and 1945, but many historians believe the number is much higher. The tally does not include the scores who arrived dead in train cars from other camps.
When American soldiers liberated the camp on April 29, 1945, there were bodies all over the camp. A mass grave was established near the camp, where about 4,000 people were buried shortly after liberation.
The concentration camp site, on the northern outskirts of Dachau, has been maintained by the Committee International de Dachau as a permanent memorial and reminder of what happened here.
Directly inside the original electrified barbed wire fence is a museum that opened in 1960. The rest of the site opened as a memorial in 1965.
The museum holds haunting pictures of the torture, starvation and death that were everyday occurrences here. A stunning film was confiscated from German soldiers when the Allies liberated the camp.
In the center of the museum is a heart-rending picture of an emaciated prisoner laying flat on his stomach, arms outstretched, The look on his face seems like a silent cry for help.
Other pictures show stacks of corpses waiting for incineration at Dachau’s two crematorium buildings, piles of valuables pilfered from prisoners, and two men — hung upside down — being beaten by smiling Nazi SS guards.
There are also depictions of the cruel experiments carried out by the SS, which stands for Schutzstaffel — Hitler’s elite police. Some prisoners were put in special suits to determine how they reacted to depressurization.
An original torture rack stands in the center of one room of the museum.
In a display case hang examples of the identification badges prisoners were forced to wear. Jews wore stars of David. Non-German prisoners wore colored chevrons: green meant professional criminal, black meant “asocial,” violet was for “Bible inquirers,” and pink was for homosexuals.
Outside, the cement foundations of the 34 barracks stretch for hundreds of yards. The barracks were decrepit and rotting when the camp was liberated. They were torn down, but two were rebuilt as part of the memorial.
Each building was designed for 80 prisoners, yet at the height of the war, some held more than 400.
In the courtyards between the barracks, prisoners once stood for roll call. Sometimes, they stood motionless for hours in rain or snow, the so-called “standing torture” that claimed many lives.
Even the dead had to show up for roll call, dragged by compatriots who were forced to make sure the deceased were counted each day.
The original front gate still open-, adorned in iron by the camp motto – Arbeit Macht Frei – a cruelly ironic phrase that roughly means, “Work shall make you free.”
Just outside the perimeter fence are the two crematorium buildings that were once so busy that rotting bodies stacked up in a gruesome backlog.
The oven doors stand open. On the hinge of one door hangs a single, drying rose. A wreath hangs on an oven in the adjacent room.
Prisoners who died here were often shot to death. Others died of disease or torture. No one was gassed to death at Dachau, although a shower room for gassing had been installed. Prisoners marked for gassing were sent to Linz, Austria.
Several chapels were erected on the site in the 1960s, as if in an attempt to heal the destruction wrought at the camp. The Carmelite order of nuns built a convent here.
A huge granite memorial near the entrance sums up the reason the camp has been maintained for so long:
“May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933-1945 because they resisted Nazism help to unite the living for the defense of peace and freedom, and in respect for their fellow men.” ♦
Trickster Makes Short Work of Racine Jail
By Joseph Hanneman
Most husbands gave candy or sent flowers to their wives on Valentine’s Day. Todd Martin escaped from jail.
The 23-year-old Houdini-style escape artist from Sheboygan slipped out of two pairs of handcuffs, a belly chain, a canvas mailbag, three iron-bar jail doors and a locked wooden door Wednesday at the Racine City Jail.
And it took only seven minutes.
After defeating the final lock at the jail Wednesday, Martin chatted with reporters and gave his wife, Amara, a Valentine’s kiss. Another day, another jailbreak.
Relatively long time
“That’s the longest I’ve ever been held,” said Martin, who has broken out of the pokey some dozen times before. “You sure can be proud of yourselves.”
The man who calls himself Anthony the Great wore a black stretch body suit and cape as he was led to his cell, trailed by dignitaries that included Mayor N. Owen Davies, Sheriff Robert Rohner and Alderwoman Dorothy Constantine.
Alderman Michael Vidian patted Martin down and checked his hair and mouth for tools. Police Chief Karl Hansen put two pairs of handcuffs on Martin, and shackled his forearm to a belly chain. He was then placed in a canvas mailbag and locked in the cell at exactly 2:18 p.m.
The gathered throng of local officials, reporters and photographers waited in the hall outside the jail as Martin plied his trade. All they could hear was the rattle of each lock as he made his way closer.
Then, at 2 25 p.m., he emerged.
“I’m glad we’re closing the jail on the first of April,” Hansen quipped. The jail will be gutted to make way for a new communications center and city prisoners will be transferred to the county jail.
Martin said the lock on the jail cell was the most difficult to open, because it had a weighted spring that held down the lock hook.
“It’s difficult to manipulate a lock like that,” he said.
Try it in a coffin
The escape was probably a yawner for Martin, who escaped from a locked coffin in 1988 after being tossed from an airplane 13,500 feet above Sandwich, Ill.
When he was 18, he was sealed in a hole-riddled coffin and pushed into the Sheboygan River while covered in 20 pounds of chains and 500 pounds of rock. He escaped in 50 seconds.
“I think I did a good job,” he said matter-of-factly. “Two hours would have been a good time.”
After the escape, Martin posed for pictures in the locked cell and recreated parts of the escape for a national television crew. When the last photo had been snapped, he called for the jailer.
“Now I need a key,” he said. ♦
Postscript: Now age 51, Martin continues to perform under the name Anthony Martin (Anthony is his middle name). He is also a Christian evangelist. In 2013, he published a book, Escape or Die: An Escape Artist Unlocks the Secrets to Cheating Death.
When one of my sisters first showed me this photograph, I knew it was a major discovery. We know the occasion (Mom and Dad’s engagement party) and the time frame (June 1958). The task ahead is to identify every one of the 26 people in the photo. After discovering the medium-format negative, I scanned the photo larger to aid with identifications.
David D. Hanneman and Mary K. Mulqueen were married on August 9, 1958 at St. Veronica Catholic Church in Milwaukee. About two months prior, an engagement party was held in their honor. I’m not fully sure of the location, but it could be at the Cudahy home of my grandparents, Earl J. Mulqueen Sr. and Margaret (Dailey) Mulqueen.
We’ve made pretty good headway on photo identifications with the help of the then-bride-to-be and her sisters. The result so far? Of 26 people, only five remain unidentified, with one additional identification being tentative. View the full-size version of the photo here.
Since this post was first published, readers have identified several more people in the photograph. Elaine Hanneman reports that No. 2 is Bob Ripp, No. 24 is his wife, Marjean, and No. 4 is Ruby Curtis. At this party, Donn G. Hanneman and Tinker Mulqueen recognized each other from serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Elaine said.
Possibly Lois (Detlaff) Mulqueen (Identified by Jean Mulqueen Maule)
Bob Ripp (identified by Elaine Hanneman)
Vina M. (Tucker) Seely (1919-2008)
Ruby Curtis (identified by Elaine Hanneman)
Donn G. Hanneman (1926-2014)
Elaine M. (Kline) Hanneman
Ruby V. (Treutel) Hanneman (1904-1977)
Margaret M. (Dailey) Mulqueen (1895-1982)
Ruth (Cieszynski) Mulqueen (1926-2008)
Mary K. Mulqueen
David D. Hanneman (1933-2007)
Eleanor (Deutsch) Mulqueen (1929-1963)
Donald J. Dailey (1935-2009)
Thomas H. Dailey (1904-1983)
Joan (Mulqueen) Haske
Friend of Joan (Mulqueen) Haske
Earl J. Mulqueen Jr. (1923-1980)
Tinker Mulqueen (1926-2007)
Joseph A. Mulqueen (1944-2015)
Edward J. Mulqueen (1931-1991)
Marie A. Mulqueen (1925-2010)
Lavonne (Hanneman) Wellman (1937-1986)
Marjean Ripp (identified by Elaine Hanneman)
Florence (White) Dailey (1869-1966)
James Grattan Seely (1916-1990)
If you recognize any of the unknowns, leave a comment below so we can update this post.
Most family history never makes the newspaper, so unless it is documented or passed down in oral stories, it can be lost. Even items that made the papers over the decades and centuries can be hard to spot. With that in mind, The Hanneman Archive has added a NewsBits page with a growing collection of “all the little news that was fit for print.”
Historic newspapers carried regular columns on what might be called “neighborhood news.” These items varied from who had dinner at whose house last night, to births in the family, to strange happenings like the poisoning of a farmer’s horses. We are fortunate, especially with our Hanneman and Treutel family lines, to have relatives who enjoyed reporting their comings and goings to the local paper. One of our favorites was when Donn Hanneman brought a tomato in to the offices of the Mauston Star in September 1942, showing the salad fruit seemingly had a V for victory grown into its skin. During World War II, patriotism was the order of the day.
Read more NewsBits and enjoy! We try to update the page weekly.
After more than 10 years publishing the Hanneman Archive history web site, your humble correspondent can no longer cover the operating costs involved in this enterprise. So rather than risk having to take the site down, we turn to our readers and relatives to ask for support.
Since just 2014, the Archive has drawn nearly 33,000 visitors from around the world who accessed close to 84,000 page views. Our article count has topped 185, and the site includes thousands of photographs and videos.
As we make our way through the recently acquired vintage family photo album, we turn our attention to more unnamed faces. In this case, a boy and young man who could be the earlier faces of Henry Adam Treutel (1864-1962).
Henry Treutel was the third of seven children born to Philipp and Henrietta (Krosch) Treutel. The earliest confirmed photo of him in our collection shows him as a member of the Vesper Cornet Band, a local music group that performed around Wood County in the early 1900s. Other family-related members of the band included Charles Treutel and Orville Carlin.
Henry has a distinctive face and a somewhat different look than his siblings. Based on the shape of his face and his expression, we found two unidentified images that seem to fit him.
Henry Adam Treutel was born in Mukwonago, Wisconsin on October 5, 1864. He learned his blacksmithing and carpentry skills from his father Philipp in Mukwonago and Milwaukee. On October 11, 1900 in the village of Eagle, he married Josephine Adelia Garlach at the home of her parents, Constantine and Josephine Garlach. Shortly after, the couple moved with the rest of the Treutel family to Vesper in Wood County.
Almost immediately, Henry and Charles Treutel established Treutel Bros. blacksmith shop. They also sold Deering farm implements, and made and repaired wagons. Business was good, as evidenced by the large barn the brothers built on their property. Henry also secured construction of what the Grand Rapids Tribune described as “one of the most modern residences in Vesper.” Sadness filled the Treutel home on January 31, 1902, when Henry and Josephine’s firstborn child, Warren Mark Treutel, died at just 1 day old. Their second and only other child, Harold James Treutel, was born on September 2, 1903.
The Treutel Bros. excelled in music as well as business. “The Vesper people did not know there was a band in town until Wednesday evening, when the four Treutel Brothers came out and surprised the people by playing a few pieces,” the The Daily Tribune reported. “Come out again, boys.” It appears that Oscar and Walter Treutel joined their brothers in the performance, although I don’t believe Walter was part of the Cornet Band.
In 1917, Treutel Bros. expanded their facilities to add a large garage for the repair of automobiles. It later became a gasoline filling station, selling Red Crown fuel. Henry retired from the business in 1940.
Josephine Treutel died on June 14, 1955 in Wisconsin Rapids, where the couple moved in 1952 after retirement. Henry died on July 19, 1962 at age 97. The couple were survived by their son, Harold, daughter-in-law Genevieve (Senn) Treutel, and grandchildren Robert, Frederick, Barbara and Kathleen. A grandchild, Rose Marie, preceded them in death in January 1928.
Many years ago when I first attempted to transfer old 8mm films to digital format, I made a series of “Glimpses of the Past” DVDs with footage from the 1950s and 1960s. Over the years, with several moves and changes in computers, the source material for those was lost. But now I located one of those DVDs and ripped it to digital using Handbrake software. The result can be seen below in the Vimeo player.
The compilation includes:
Footage of my parents in the first year of their marriage.
Grandpa Carl and Grandma Ruby Hanneman at Mauston.
Mom, Dad, Grandma Ruby, Grandpa Carl and Aunt Lavonne on a trip to Arizona in 1959.
Christmas scenes with my Minneapolis cousins.
Scenes with my Grandma Margaret Mulqueen.
A priceless scene where my Aunt Lavonne has Grandpa Carl stuff oranges down his shirt and then show off to Grandma Ruby. She wasn’t amused.
My brother David’s first birthday. His birthday cake had one large tapered dinner candle on it. Also other birthdays and a Christmas at our former Michigan home.
My sister Marghi’s first birthday, with the obligatory dinner candle in the cake.
Those pictured in the video include David D. Hanneman, Mary K. (Mulqueen) Hanneman, David C. Hanneman, Joe Hanneman, Marghi Hanneman, Carl F. Hanneman, Ruby V. (Treutel) Hanneman, Jane (Hanneman) Olson, Mary (Hanneman) Cochrane, Tom Hanneman, Margaret Madonna (Dailey) Mulqueen, Tom McShane Sr., Ruth (Mulqueen) McShane, Lavonne (Hanneman) Wellman, Laura (Mulqueen) Curzon, Edward Mulqueen, Sally Schaefbauer and family, and a number of people I can’t identify. Venues include Mauston, Cudahy and Sun Prairie in Wisconsin; and Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The house was silent and the wooden bookshelves were empty, yet a small something caught my eye. In the corner of one shelf stood a tiny metal figurine: an Indian in headdress, from a cowboys and Indians play set from long ago. The man was kneeling with a rifle pointed off in the distance. The figurine was hand-painted; possibly made from lead. It was just the kind of little toy I recall seeing in the house in which my father grew up in Mauston, some 70 miles from where I now stood. There was a box in my Grandpa’s den office that contained cowboys and Indians, toy soldiers, wooden blocks and other assorted goodies that we grandkids played with.
I looked around the room, amazed that this one little item remained hidden after all of the furnishings were gone. The house I grew up in was nearly ready for market, mostly empty of content but not of memories. After days helping clean and polish the house, I found myself saying goodbye. Yet here, some 52 years after first setting foot in this place, the house was saying something to me as well.
The Indian figurine was the second surprise of the day as I made my way around my parents’ home. A few minutes before, I noticed some crumpled salmon-colored construction paper jammed into the corner of a cupboard beneath the basement bar. I figured it was a random scrap that should be out in the trash. But as soon as I picked it up, I realized it was anything but. It was a play program from Mauston High School’s January 1950 production of The Atomic Blonde, a play my father starred in. As I carefully opened the brittle paper, I recognized my Grandmother Ruby’s handwriting across the top of the first inside page: “Jan. 6 – 1950.”
This sure was a treat. The Atomic Blonde, the program read, “takes place in the lobby of Bob Nickerson’s and Skid Weiling’s hotel and and healthitorium in Silver Springs, a summer resort town in the mid-west.” On the other inside page was the cast listing for the play, “presented by the junior class of 1950.” Dad played Skid Weiling, one of the main characters. I recognized many of the cast names from when I helped Dad design a program for his 55th high school reunion in 2006. Mary Crandall, Carol Quamme, Roger Quick, Robert “Jigger” Jagoe, Clayton “Ty” Fiene, Bob Beck and others.
I dug around in my news clippings and found an article, “Atomic Blonde Scores Hit Here,” from the January 12, 1950 issue of The Mauston Star. That article made the play sound more interesting: “Take a couple of love-sick guys, one of their pals masquerading as a blonde glamour gal, a headless ghost, a gigolo or two, an ambitious mother and several lovely gals and stir them into a broken-down resort hotel warmed by a steam bath.” Pretty spicy stuff for 1950. The paper was effusive in its praise of the student actors. “Heading the cast were Dave Hanneman and Pat Dougherty, who were well chosen and able in their resort-operator roles.”
It appeared that my late father, who died in April 2007, was here in this empty house, reminding me there are still memories to be preserved and celebrated. So, as I did years ago when I said goodbye to my own home,I walked the three levels and tried to unearth as much as I could from 52 years of memories.
The Hanneman house was built and then occupied in 1965. It was one of the first homes in the Royal Oaks subdivision of Sun Prairie. And royal the oaks were, with 17 of them towering over the rear of the half-acre property. The house’s blueprints came from Better Homes & Gardens magazine and its signature home design for 1965. While the house was under construction, we lived in a rented home on Lake Wisconsin in Columbia County. Dad made frequent stops at the house and often found things on site not to his liking. One day he was so disgusted by the builder’s sloppiness, he redid an entire window frame. Dad complained for many years that the builder messed up the plans. One room was too big and another too small. We couldn’t tell the difference, but Dad was very exacting.
Over the years, many hundreds of people came and went through the front door, including grandparents, neighbors, school friends, card buddies, bridge club members, foster children, cousins, a couple of reigning Misses Wisconsin, doctors and, in later years, paramedics. I won’t describe here about the events surrounding Dad’s lung cancer and death, since I wrote about that extensively in my book The Journey Home.
I was now standing in the family room, which was the heart of group activity. On one side I could see my Grandpa Carl, rocking in the mahogany recliner. On this day, he looked rather sad. It was probably 1978, not long removed from the July 1977 death of Grandma Ruby. Many a Friday we drove from Sun Prairie to Mauston to bring Grandpa back for a visit. He was so sad and lonely after losing his wife of 52 years. It always started the same way. One of us would pick up the phone on a Friday afternoon and hear a long pause before Grandpa burst into tears. He couldn’t even get the words out. “It’s OK Grandpa, we’ll come get you! Don’t be sad!” I still get a lump in my throat thinking about it. A few of those calls took on serious urgency, like the time Grandpa said he was laying on the floor and could not get up or walk. Dad quickly drove to Mauston to retrieve him, discovering Grandpa had a case of gout that needed attention. Our home became a haven for Grandpa Carl up until he fell to liver cancer in 1982.
A few feet away stands the white-brick fireplace with double mantle. What a treat it was when Dad would bring some firewood from the woodpile out back and build a roaring fire. We would lay in front of it, propping our bare feet on the lower mantle and toasting our toes. Each kid jockeyed for position to get the best “seat” for the fire. I noticed the upper mantle was decorated with greens for Christmas, interspersed with fake fruit covered in glitter. I can still see the Christmas stockings. Most of them were not hung but set on the lower mantle due to the weight of the oranges and apples always at the bottom of each. The fireplace became a critical asset one spring week in the 1970s when a massive ice storm hit Dane County. We had no heat or power for three days. Dad was gone on business and could not get back due to the icy weather. Mom kept things going. The experience was surreal, especially the creepy groans and creaks the tree branches made under weight of the ice. Then came cracks like thunder just before branches fell to the ground. We used the fireplace for heat. We took turns bailing out the basement sump pump to prevent the house from flooding.
The television set always stood under the bookcase to the left of the fireplace. I vividly recall watching one of the Apollo moon landings with the Greens, our next-door neighbors. Way back then, the television was a black-and-white console with vacuum tubes that glowed in the back of the cabinet. The TV had to “warm up” before it showed a picture. Every so often, repairman Phil Wedige came over to replace a tube or some other part. We watched countless hours of programs as a family. Among the most memorable were “Jesus of Nazareth,” the “Roots” miniseries and the four-part “Holocaust” miniseries recounting the Shoah. Dad loved his Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne westerns, and we all enjoyed Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter and Pale Rider.
Televised Green Bay Packers games were always memorable, even when the Packers were forgettable. The kids sat on the floor and the adults had the real seats for the Sunday spectacle. Our usual guests for the games were Dr. and Mrs. Joseph Behrend. Dr. Joe was our family physician. I remember more groans of pain from him and Dad during those games than I ever heard at the medical clinic he founded in Sun Prairie. I was too young to really remember the Lombardi glory years, but I sure remember the painful seasons under Dan Devine, Bart Starr, Forrest Gregg and Lindy Infante. It wasn’t until 1992 that the Pack really was back, and those sad little bumper stickers we put on the car finally meant something.
A Love of Reading
A couch once stood in various places in the family room. We went through several couches over the years, from one with solid green upholstery to a truly gaudy scotch plaid number that made up for its appearance with comfort and extra length. I recall Mom reading to me from toddler age on. Even busy with five kids, she found time to read to each of us. My favorites included “Harry the Dirty Dog,” by Gene Zion. “Harry was a
white dog with black spots who liked everything … except getting a bath,” the story went. Then there was “Crictor” by Tomi Ungerer, a story about an old lady and her boa constrictor. Perhaps my favorite, though, was “Are You My Mother?” by P.D. Eastman. The charming illustrations in this book (edited by Dr. Seuss) captured my imagination. They detailed in colored pencil the adventure of a baby bird who fell out of the nest and went on a grand search for his mother. Mom read these books countless times. I never tired of the stories.
When the house was first built, it had a back patio under roof with posts that supported the overhang. Eventually, Dad framed it in and installed screen panels. That was a luxury, having a screened-in porch. It was quite a treat to dine al fresco, without Wisconsin’s state bird (the mosquito) interfering. My most vivid memory of the screened porch came in July 1975, when we hosted a reception for Grandpa Carl and Grandma Ruby for their 50th wedding anniversary. Grandpa wore a dark blue blazer, crisp white dress shirt and silver-blue patterned tie. Grandma wore a pearlescent seafoam green dress. Her corsage was a lily; his was a yellow rose. I stood at the entrance to the back porch and noticed how the late afternoon sun cast itself warmly across the happy faces of people no longer with us, such as Uncle Wilbert, the “rock hound,” and my dear Aunt Lavonne, who was taken from us just 11 years later at age 48.
The kitchen of course held a special place in our hearts. As I walked in on this day, I saw Grandma Mulqueen, Mom’s mother. For some reason, we never called her by her beautiful given name, Margaret Madonna. She was just Grandma Mulqueen. She rode the Greyhound bus from Cudahy to Sun Prairie to spend a few days. Her visits meant fresh bread and cinnamon rolls; her own secret recipe. She and Mom mixed up huge batches of dough in a green plastic tub, then tucked it away under the sink, where heat from the dishwasher and water pipes helped the dough to rise. Of course we couldn’t resist pulling back the dish towel that covered the green tub and taking a pinch of dough. “Don’t touch that bread or it will never rise!” came the admonition from another room. Too late.
I sat in Grandma Mulqueen’s lap and she told stories. About what I don’t recall, but I do remember her voice was kind and soothing. We begged her to make us a big pot of oatmeal, acting like Mom never fed us. At night, after Grandma retired to her guest room, we peeked into the bathroom to see if her dentures were sitting in a glass of water. They always were. We always looked. It was always gross. Such memories!
The kitchen was also the main spot for playing board games and cards. It was the site of many bitter losses in Monopoly. Bitter for us children, who were almost always bankrupted by landowner Dad. Usually you could tell the game was nearing an end when Dad said to one of us, “I’ll tell you what I’m going to do.” This was usually followed by confiscation of property, and for some players like my sisters Marghi and Amy, occasional tears. Dad laughed, but not in a mean way. It was more of an “evil but loving” thing. He was competitive like that.
Other games that graced the kitchen table included cribbage (which I regret never learning), poker and dirty clubs. It was the latter card game that was responsible for some epic battles. One night, Grandpa Carl got especially upset, slammed his cards on the table and stormed away. He then uttered words that will forever live in Hanneman lore: “Baby bullcrap! I’m walking home!” If Grandpa Carl lost that game, it was a rare letdown for the veteran card shark. He was every bit as competitive as Dad. One night in high school, I sat at that table until midnight and took an unparalleled pounding at dirty clubs. When the smoke cleared, it was Carl with 80 wins, Joe with 1. One. Win. Every time he won, Grandpa patted my hand, giggled and said, “I’m so sorry.” Ha. He enjoyed every one of those 80 wins.
Back to Nature
One of the great features of our home was the huge backyard. At one time, there were 17 huge oak trees creating a dense canopy. It’s down to about six now. When I was a preschooler, I hauled my bedroom pillow down into the yard, lay in the grass and just looked up. The giant limbs swayed in the breeze, only occasionally letting a ray of sunlight pierce the cover to reach the ground. The high canopy provided a test to us budding athletes, too. If one of us could punt a football high enough to hit one of those high limbs, an offer from the Green Bay Packers was sure to await us. I’m still waiting.
In the early days before neighboring houses were built, my brother David and I liked to make our own “snow” in the back woods. We rubbed Styrofoam on the bark of the oak trees. One time we got bawled out by some nosy lady who happened upon us. She yelled that we were going to kill the trees. Pah! Never happened. On one side of the lawn near the house, Dad built an incredible rock patio out of sandstone. It included a horseshoe-shape wall and a patio surface that was probably 10-by-20 feet. The borders between the rocks were filled with tiny pebbles, which we were forbidden to mess with. Of course we did, although quickly discovering the unpleasant duty of sweeping them back into place.
During at least a few winters, Dad poured an ice surface in the back yard. It wasn’t as smooth as the local ice rink, but heck, who else could say they had a skatable ice sheet in the back yard? In the fall, we all worked to rake up what seemed like millions of oak leaves. We never had a fancy lawn vacuum like some of the neighbors. So it was a bamboo rake, blisters and arm aches for all. Our efforts created a leaf mountain that we all jumped in, which at least partially made up for the pain of raking. The video below shows my firstborn child, Stevie, romping in the leaves on a 1990s fall afternoon at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, along with Bailey the golden retriever. Aunt Marghi was behind the camera.
Back inside the house, I continued my tour with the dining and living rooms. We usually were not allowed in either unless it was a special occasion like Thanksgiving or Christmas. Thanksgiving was a big deal in our house. I recounted in my book The Journey Homehow exacting Dad was in preparing for and then carving the turkey. Those celebrations changed over the years as grandparents left us and grandchildren appeared on the scene. Eventually, the dining spread spilled onto several tables, with the grandkids assigned to the card tables. I never felt so adult as when I carved the turkey one of the first years after Dad’s death. It just wasn’t the same. The large group in a smallish space created lots of chaos, noise and stress. One of the last years we had a large Thanksgiving gathering around that table, Mom’s nerves were a bit frayed. During a particularly loud time during the meal, she snapped at my youngest daughter, Ruby, “Would you shut up and eat your dinner?” Whoa. Poor Ruby looked around the table in stunned silence, since she hadn’t said a peep.
Christmas was another chaos-inducing holiday at the Hanneman home. Everybody talked at the same time, which is evident on the video below from December 1994. When we were little, my parents made sure we had lots of things to open. I don’t know how they did it, especially when money was tight. One of my favorite Christmas gifts was a die-cast metal Batmobile with a missile launcher. It actually shot tiny plastic missiles off the back. Perhaps the most lasting, beautiful gift was an art print by Wisconsin wildlife artist Owen Gromme, which Dad exquisitely framed and signed on the back. When my son Stevie was 11 months old, my brother David taught him a disgusting skill on Christmas Day. Grandpa Dave walked in to the bathroom to discover Stevie flushing toilet paper and splashing in the water. “Don’t teach him that,” grandpa boomed. Watch below and chuckle.
Back in the 1970s, Mom and Dad decided to turn the basement into a rec room. About two-thirds of the basement was covered with a commercial-grade red carpet. Dad put wallpaper on the east wall. The pattern showed chess pieces on a board. That was OK, but the way it hung on the wall made the whole wall appear to be tilted. Even though the paper was hung with total precision. I know this bothered Dad to no end.
The centerpiece of the basement was always the pool table. I don’t know where he got it, but Dad in the 1960s put in a gorgeous full-size billiards table from the Sydney Laner & Co. of Chicago. Sydney Laner established his billiards firm in 1918. It operated in Chicago until 2010. Dad carefully laid the huge slate on the supporting beams of the table, then leveled the entire table using playing cards as shims to ensure every area of the playing surface was level. Even after 50 years, the green felt has no wear marks, and the cushions have just as much pop as the day they were installed.
As was the case with cards, action on the pool table was dominated by Dad and Grandpa Carl. Both wielded the cue stick with power and precision. There was nothing like the sharp cracking sound when the cue ball hit the racked pool balls to open each game. I learned all I know about pool from them: how to line up a shot, figure angles on the bumpers, properly chalk the cue tip, etc. My skill never rose to the level of our resident pool sharks, but it was so fun to play against them. I’ve not played pool in many years. I have fond memories of my own children playing “rollin’ bowling” with the pool balls. I will miss that table.
During the early years, the basement frequently got rainwater and an occasional sewer backup. Dad got into an epic battle with Sun Prairie city hall over the drainage for the entire subdivision. One backup was awful. It burped brown sludge 3-4 inches deep across the entire basement. This was just after the new carpet was installed. Outfitted in rubber boots, gloves and masks, we used shop vacs to slurp up the mess. We each got a 2-by-4 to squeegee the filth from the carpet. Dad used Nolvasan, a surgical scrub, to help disinfect the entire basement. What a horrid mess. I vaguely recall there was litigation over the sewer backup.
Eventually, Dad contacted NBC 15 television about the drainage controversy. They sent Bob Richards, the ‘Contact 15’ consumer affairs reporter, to city hall to cover hearings on the issue. Dad, a former Sun Prairie alderman, was interviewed on TV. The publicity helped pressure the city to put in new drainage pipes and tiles at Main Street and Thompson Road. Ultimately that solved the issue for the entire subdivision. I was so impressed with the TV reporter, I went to watch him in the studio during a 6 p.m. newscast. It was a major influence in my decision to become a journalist.
The final memory I have of the basement was of the beautiful stained-glass windows that stood hidden across from the furnace for decades. Dad obtained them from St. Mary’s Hospital as the hospital demolished its old chapel in 1973. The two tall windows included four sections. When Dad was being treated for lung cancer at St. Mary’s in November 2006, he got the idea to donate the windows back to the hospital. It was providential timing, since St. Mary’s was in the midst of a $182 million expansion. The hospital not only accepted the donation, it asked the architects to incorporate the windows into the new hospital wing. Today, there are four waiting areas at St. Mary’s graced by the windows, backlit with beautiful dramatic effect. “I want these windows to come home to St. Mary’s,” Dad said at the time. And so they did. You can read more about the windows in The Journey Home and on the Hanneman Archive website.
I walked the house a final time, impressed by how many memories flooded back to me. They could fill a book. This home has ably done its duty for more than five decades. The man of the house has gone back to God, and Mom needs the sale proceeds to ensure good ongoing healthcare. How do you say goodbye to such a special place? I thought I accomplished that by quietly pulling shut the door into the garage. On second thought, no goodbyes. Only memories, written here and displayed in the photo gallery below. My hope for this place is it takes such good care of another family for many decades to come.