Category Archives: Tributes

Racine’s Rocky Has His Own Tale of Courage

By Joseph Hanneman
Journal Times

MILWAUKEE – Herman “Rocky” Espinoza has always wanted to be a police officer, but he will never get the chance to realize that dream.

“He’ll wear his police shirts every day,” says his mother, Deborah Exner of Monroe. “I even bought him a police siren for his bike.”

Rocky, 12, a Racine native, counts several police officers among his good friends and owns a toy gun and authentic handcuffs.

“He’s the good guy,” Exner said. “That’s probably straight from his mouth. He really holds that status so high.”

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Deborah Exner holds her son’s hand at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. (Racine Journal Times photo by Mark Hertzberg)

Rocky has always been a boy full of life, rarely complaining and always looking out for his mother. But for seven years, Rocky has battled an inoperable cancerous tumor growing at the base of his brain.

Time after time he fights back from the effects of the tumor, but there is little doctors can do for him.

“I don’t think I ever put it to him that he’s going to die,” Exner said. “I put it to him that this is just a kind of stopping ground. The next stop is heaven. He understands that.”

Despite the troubles that have fallen upon him, Rocky shows the courage and optimism many adults would envy. On Friday, he lay in his bed at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, resting.

Pinned to his hospital gown was one of his favorite police badges. On the cassette stereo, a song from his idol, John Schneider, played softly.

Nice and simple, just how he likes it.

Exner walked around the side of the bed, leaned over and kissed him softly on the cheek. She took his hand, looked into his half-open eyes and said a few reassuring words.

Behind Exner’s kind eyes and smile lie the thoughts of a woman who knows her son’s illness is beyond her control. All she can do now is make him comfortable.

Threat of death
Last month, Rocky had to return to Milwaukee after he began having seizures caused by the pressure the tumor exerted on his brain.

“All through the seven years there’s always been the threat of death,” Exner said. “No matter how bad the doctors thought it was, he popped out of it. (Doctors) don’t believe it. They are just amazed.”

The disease is to the point that doctors cannot keep up with an expanding cyst caused by the tumor. He has had three operations in three weeks to relieve the pressure.

Despite Rocky’s strong will to live, the cancer is exacting its toll.

“He’s been through so much,” Exner said. “I think he’s just real tired of fighting. He’s not giving up – he’s just tired.”

Rocky has trouble responding when people talk to him, but not always. “When I came into the room, I bent over and kissed him and said, ‘I love you,’ ” Exner said. “He said, ‘I love you, mom.’ “

Herman picked up the nickname “Rocky” because his cancer was diagnosed when the “Rocky” movies were popular. Besides, Exner said, he has been a real fighter.

“I took it worse than he did. I cried,” she said. “He took it really well. He has always just said, ‘It’s OK, mom.’ He knew he was real sick. He knew it was something he would have to deal with the rest of his life.

“He used to wake up in the middle of the night, just screaming with incredible headaches. I thought it was nightmares.”

When the headaches would not go away, she took Rocky to a Racine doctor, who referred him to a neurosurgeon at Children’s Hospital.

“Dr. Dunn could tell that the tumor was quite large,” she said. “He told me right away that there wasn’t any hope at all. There wasn’t anything they could do.”

But Rocky kept fighting back and giving himself extra time.

‘I’m not a wimp’
Outgoing and charismatic, Rocky lever lets on if he has any fear of his illness, relatives say. Before he went in for a recent operation, he told the doctors, “I’m Rocky – I’m not a wimp.”

Bob Pitts, of Mount Pleasant, Rocky’s uncle, said he told the boy to get better so they could arm wrestle. But Rocky couldn’t wait – he stuck his arm out and put up a pretty good fight.

“When he was first diagnosed,” Pitts said, “he wasn’t supposed to make it three months. He’s fighting every inch of the way.”

Rocky also enjoys riding a bicycle. “He was just learning to ride the bike again, then he had to come back here,” she said.

Schneider, who played Bo Duke on the “Dukes of Hazzard” television series, met Rocky at a Janesville concert last year and gave him his ID bracelet, which is now one of Rocky’s “most prized possessions,” Exner said.

On Friday, Schneider heard Rocky was back in the hospital and telephoned the family to check on him, relatives said.

A former student at Trinity Lutheran School, Rocky was not real big on the books, but he did like school.

Financial toll, too
Exner said she has accepted Rocky’s illness, but admits it has been hard for her in many ways.

“I don’t work, because I stay home and take care of Rocky,” she said. “It’s very hard. Right now I’m trying to find some ways of getting some more financial support.”

Rocky’s medical bills are paid mostly by Medicaid. But Exner has to pay her way to Milwaukee and back, which she said is difficult on a very limited income.

“Financially, I’m very strapped,” she said. “I couldn’t get any help to buy a car” and had to take a loan. “Now, I’m a little worried about that.”

‘Going to heaven’
The biggest toll is emotional.

“It’s hard to face it,” Exner said. ‘What puts me at peace with death (is) he is definitely going to heaven. That gives me peace.

“Sometimes I just wish I could trade places,” she said. “God has always made me a promise that says ‘I’m not going to push you any more than you can handle.’ “

Exner’s adjustment to Rocky’s terminal illness has included hysteria, a lot of tears and anger. But she said her main concern is seeing that Rocky does not suffer.

“If his life is going to hurt him any more, with the love I have for him, I’d rather see him at peace in heaven, ” she said.

“If he does die, I guess a part of me will die too. But I don’t want to be selfish. He’s been through enough. We’ve done as much as we possibly can and now its time to stop.”

Exner’s pain seemed well hidden on Friday. She and her relatives were able to laugh and recall their favorite stories about Rocky. She knows the pain is not over.

“When he actually does die, I think I’m going to fall apart,” she said.

Instead of focusing on the bad things that have happened, Exner counts the good times she has had with her son.

“I’ve had 12 of the hardest but most wonderful years with that young man,” she said. “I’m just thankful for that.”

She said the mother-son bond between them could not be stronger.

“I think that kid is a miracle,” Exner said. “I’m just proud to be his mom. I don’t know what I did, but I’m glad he’s mine.” ♦

– Originally published on Page 1 of the October 10, 1987 edition of the Racine Journal Times. View the original news pages.


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By Joseph Hanneman
Journal Times

Herman “Rocky” Espinoza, the former Racine boy who battled an inoperable brain tumor for several years, died Sunday in a Milwaukee hospital, wearing his favorite police shirt and badge.

Rocky, 12, who dreamed of growing up to be a police officer, died in his sleep Sunday morning at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.

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Herman “Rocky” Espinoza

“I was able to hold him, just like I wanted,” said Deborah Exner, Rocky’s mother, who now lives in Monroe. “When it came right down to it, it was just Rocky and I.”

Exner said she was sleeping on a cot next to Rocky’s bed when a friend noticed his breathing getting shallow. Exner said she got up, put music from Kenny Rogers and John Schneider – two of Rocky’s favorites – on the cassette stereo, then held his hand and waited.

Rocky wore the police uniform Exner had trouble getting off him at home. He will be buried in it, she said.

“l just held his hand and tried to talk to him,” Exner said. “I believe he was very, very peaceful ….I talked him into heaven.”

Diagnosed with cancer at age 5, Rocky was in and out of the hospital many times, fighting the effects of a cancerous brain-stem tumor. Only expected to live months after the tumor was diagnosed, Rocky bounced back time and again

Most every day he would wear the police shirt and badge given to him by a family friend. He also owned a toy gun and a pair of authentic handcuffs.

Even in the hospital, dressed in only a green gown, he wore one of his badges. This time, it seems, the badge was one of courage.

He got the nickname “Rocky” because the Sylvester Stallone movies were popular at the time and because his family felt he was a fighter. Exner said Rocky dealt with the disease without much fear.

“He was a very brave boy,” she said. “There were no tears.”

Rocky’s corneas were donated to the Lion’s Club eye bank and doctors removed his brain to study the large tumor they were unable to stop, she said. Funeral arrangements are pending in Racine.

Relatives described Rocky as an a eternal optimist who was always looking out for other people. On Sunday, Exner recalled one such occasion.

Rocky was being examined at the Shriner’s Hospital in suburban Chicago, Exner said, when the doctor asked to speak to her in the hallway.

“Rocky just spoke up and said, ‘Wait a minute, I’ve got something to say,’ ” Exner said. ” ‘It doesn’t matter if you can do something for me. You just keep on helping all the other kids.’ “

Exner said although the seven-year ordeal has been painful for her, she was doing pretty well on Sunday.

“I’m very much at rest right now,” she said. “He went out like a champ and I was proud of him.”

Bob Pitts of Mount Pleasant, Rocky’s uncle, said, “I’m going to miss him very much. I think he was just a brave little boy. Now he’s at peace.

Late last week, Exner sat in the cafeteria at Children’s Hospital and described how Rocky would wake up screaming in the middle of the night, with what she thought were nightmares. When his headaches persisted, they sought medical help and the tumor was diagnosed.

At times on Friday, Exner laughed when recalling the good times she had with Rocky. At other times, pain seemed to well just beneath the surface when she discussed their pending separation.

“I get real angry sometimes,” she said. “At first I think, ‘Why me? Why not someone else?’ Then I get realistic about it, because who would I want to wish that on? Nobody.”

Exner, who described her son as “a miracle,” said she wants to write a book about the experience.

Family members attributed Rocky’s long survival with the massive tumor to a strong character, medical help and love.

“I think he made it this long because of his doctor (David Dunn) and this hospital,” Pitts said.

Exner thought about that statement for a moment, then added her own reason Rocky fought so hard:

“Because he loved me,” she said. ♦

– Originally published on Page 1 of the October 12, 1987 edition of the Racine Journal Times. View the original news pages.


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By Joseph Hanneman
Journal Times

Herman “Rocky” Espinoza never realized his dream of becoming a police officer, but on Thursday, local police will give him a funeral escort usually reserved for their distinguished comrades.

At least four squad cars and officers from the Racine Police Department, the Racine County Sheriff’s Department and the Sturtevant Police Department will escort Rocky’s procession from the funeral home to the church and cemetery.

After reading newspaper accounts of Rocky’s seven-year fight with a brain-stem tumor, several officers had planned to present him with police badges and hats Monday at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.

Rocky died early Sunday in his mother’s arms.

Deputy Chuck Kwapil said officers then decided on the escort “to have an opportunity to show how he touched our lives.”

“I think it was the bravery,” Kwapil said. “He was a fighter all the way through. He cared about other people and I think that was touching.

“He would have been one heck of a policeman,” Kwapil said “It would have been nice to work with someone like that.”

Racine police provided an Officer Friendly hat and badge that will be placed in Rocky’s casket. The sheriff’s department will also present the family with an officer’s hat and badge.

“It has just been unbelievable,” said Bob Pitts, Rocky’s uncle, of the police response. “I think he would be the happiest little boy on earth.”

Pitts said when the family heard of the police offer of an escort, “We all had tears in our eyes.”

Pitts said Rocky “was always the good cop. To have a will that strong is something.”

A Racine native who most recently lived in Monroe, Rocky spent nearly every day at home wearing a Sturtevant police shirt he got from a family friend.

When a relative recently gave Rocky a bicycle, his mother bought him a police siren. Even when he was struggling for his life in the hospital, his favorite badge was pinned to his hospital gown. And the day he died, he wore the uniform in which he will be buried.

“I don’t know of anybody that read (news articles) that couldn’t be moved by his courage, what he was facing and his concern for others,” said Racine Police Sgt. Thomas Cooper.

“If somebody cared that much about being a police officer, it’s the least we can do, to show him the same respect we would show an officer,” said Sheriff’s Deputy Jim Aiello.

“I’ve never come across anything like this, and I’ve been on this department 14 years,” said Sturtevant Police Sgt. Robert Mallwitz.

“There you’ve got a real, legitimate hero.”

The escort will begin about 10 a.m. at Strouf-Sheffield Funeral Home, 1001 High St., then proceed to Trinity Lutheran Church, 2065 Geneva St. After a funeral service, the procession will head to Calvary Cemetery, 2510 Kinzie Ave. ♦

– Originally published on Page 1 of the October 14, 1987 edition of the Racine Journal Times. View the original news pages.


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Racine area law enforcement officers form an honor guard for Rocky Espinoza. (Racine Journal Times photo by Mark Hertzberg)

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By Joseph Hanneman
Journal Times

Herman “Rocky” Espinoza did not win his seven-year struggle with an inoperable brain tumor, but on Thursday, his dream came true.

The buoyant 12-year-old’s strongest wish in life was to serve the public as a police officer, but terminal cancer ended his life Sunday. Even in death, his wish was not forgotten.

Dressed in a blue police shirt, tan pants, badge, handcuffs and holster. Rocky was escorted to Calvary Cemetery by a procession of 13 law enforcement officers and eight squad cars.

The officers, representing the Racine County Sheriff’s Department and police from Racine, Mount Pleasant, Sturtevant and Caledonia, said they were not just honoring a courageous boy, but one of their own.

“He’s one of us now,” said Sturtevant police Sgt. Robert Mallwitz, a member of the escort. “It was just an honor to help a kid realize a dream.

“I was very proud, very honored to be there,” Mallwitz said.

At the funeral home, one officer stood at attention in a silent watch outside the visitation room. Others passed through the room in a show of solemn respect.

The procession to the church and cemetery was complete with a line of squad cars with emergency lights flashing. Nobody would have been prouder than Rocky.

At the cemetery, a police honor guard stood watch as Rocky was moved to his final resting place under a sugar maple. Atop the casket was perched a lone hat with the Racine Police Department logo on the front.

Inside the casket was Rocky’s collection of badges and hats from several other police departments. Even a teddy bear tucked inside wore a sheriff’s hat and miniature badge.

These were the symbols of a child’s very existence.

The officers who attended did not know Rocky, but the pain of loss was visible in their faces. They knew what their presence meant.

“We’re thinking that his dream did come true – finally,” said Racine Patrolman Scott Barrows, known to many children as Officer Friendly.

“He probably did see us there,” said Caledonia police dispatcher Pam Vanko. “I was glad that we could kind of help him with that dream.”

Mount Pleasant Patrolman Steve Swanson said he was proud that a young boy had such strong feelings for police.

“He came as close to being an officer as anyone has come without being sworn,” Swanson said. “(We) were in awe of his courage and strength.”

The escort was a fitting end to the story of a boy who, from the time he knew what the word police meant, wanted to be an officer. Despite a cancer that for seven years grew in his brain stem, Rocky spent his days and nights thinking of a time when he could wear the real uniform.

Officers in attendance Thursday believed Rocky wore the real thing.

“If he would have pulled through, he would have been one hell of a cop,” Mallwitz said. “It just seems unfair, a kid that’s so good gets taken so early.”

“I don’t think I could have gone through what Rocky went through for as long as he went through it and have the attitude he had,” Swanson said.

Students from Rocky’s former school, Trinity Lutheran, said goodbye with several songs at a funeral service. The school’s bell choir played music that for a brief moment drew a smile from Rocky’s mother, Deborah Exner.

The Rev. Patrick Baynes, of Trinity Lutheran Church, summed up what many in the church were undoubtedly feeling.

“Death can leave us helpless, because for once there is nothing we can do,” Baynes, said. “No treatments. And more frustratingly, no more words.” ♦

– Originally published on Page 1 of the October 16, 1987 edition of the Racine Journal Times. View the original news pages.


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Deborah Exner visits the grave of her son, Rocky, at Calvary Catholic Cemetery. (Racine Journal Times photo by Paul Roberts)

Headline_Remember

By Joseph Hanneman
Journal Times

Deborah Exner knelt over her son’s grave, quietly arranging the fresh flowers she placed in a decorative orange jack-o’-lantern.

She carefully plucked blades of grass from around the small wooden cross that marks the site, pulled a daisy from the planter and slowly walked away.

The mixture of pain and acceptance on her face went a long way toward explaining what her life has been like for the past eight years.

For the mother who one year ago lost her only son, Rocky Espinoza, to an inoperable brain tumor, it is still hard to come to Calvary Cemetery. “I don’t go to the cemetery very often,” she said. “It doesn’t do anything for me at all. It’s a very empty feeling.”

Rocky died of cancer after a seven-year fight with the slow-growing tumor that expanded at the base of his brain.

An optimistic 12-year-old Racine native, Rocky lived a dream of one day becoming a police officer. He wore a police shirt, hat and holster every day at home. His bicycle was proudly outfitted with a siren. Even while at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, he wore a badge on his green gown.

But despite his strong dreams, the cancer proved to be stronger, claiming his life on Oct. 11, 1987.

Racine County’s law enforcement community was touched by Rocky’s respect for the badge. At the visitation service, dozens of Racine police officers filed past the boy’s casket during shift change.

And 13 officers gave him a police escort to the cemetery and a full honor guard – the kind of respect usually reserved for fallen colleagues.

Rocky was buried in his favorite police uniform.

Exner said she saw her son’s death coming, but was not prepared for the pain that would rack her existence and lead her to question the worth of her own life.

“I don’t think I really believed it was going to happen,” she said. “I felt, ‘It can’t happen to us – we’ve succeeded too many times.’ “

Those successes included Rocky’s recovery from numerous operations to relieve pressure from the tumor.

Exner recalled one day after Rocky was home from the hospital, he fought with determination to push his “police” bicycle up a steep hill in order to keep riding. Dreams of being an officer “motivated his whole life,” she said.

But trips to the hospital got more frequent. The tumor began exerting a heavy toll. One day, Exner told doctors enough was enough. She told her son it was OK to die.

Grieving process
Nearly one month after Rocky died in his sleep, that decision sparked doubts and guilt in Exner’s mind and began a tumultuous grieving process.

“I really felt like I was selfish,” Exner said. “I should have kept on doing everything I possibly could.

“Sometimes I even felt like he cheated me,” she said. “He shouldn’t have went, he should have fought harder “

After seven years of caring for a terminally ill child, the death left Exner without direction.

“I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with my life, and I still don’t,” she said. “He was all I knew.”

In November 1987, Exner hit rock bottom. All the calm she experienced directly after Rocky’s death gave way to painful emotions and thoughts of suicide.

“I felt there was nothing left in this world for me,” she said. “Everything I fought for and lived for was gone.”

Guilt continued to plague her.

“Did I do the right thing?” she asked rhetorically. “I felt like I had been selfish, because I wanted it to be over. I felt it was time to just stop and let God take over.”

Period of escape
There was a period she didn’t want to think about Rocky or be near children or hospitals.

She sought to have her fallopian tubes tied, but her doctor asked her to wait. She backed away from the idea and now says she might someday adopt children.

It took months to realize there was no blame to be laid for the cancer, Exner said. She became comfortable that she made the right decisions.

“The doubt is still there at moments,” she said. “But Rocky and I had this understanding about the whole thing. He trusted me and I trusted him.”

The healing has come slowly, but Exner said the grief is starting to ebb. She’s now able to remember the good times and can read news articles about Rocky without crying.

On his birthday last month, she bought toys and gifts – the kind Rocky liked – and gave them to sick children at a hospital in Monroe, where she now lives.

She cleaned out his room and donated much of his belongings to charity. She saved some favorite mementos, however.

‘Not really gone’
“Whenever I still feel real, real low, I’ll go in and open the trunk and look through that stuff,” she said. “I realize he’s not really gone, he’s inside of me.

“I think, ‘If I could have one more hug, or say, I love you, one more time,’ ” she said.

While it was Rocky’s illness and death that led to the pain Exner continues to endure, he may well be the key to healing.

Sense of pride
“The main thing that keeps me above water is that his life was for the good,” Exner said. “It makes me proud, he was such an understanding and caring child. It makes me feel I did my job as a mother. I don’t think I’ll ever meet anyone like him in my life.”

Asked whether she was starting to heal, Exner looked away in careful thought, seeming for a long moment to be somewhere else. “I feel more stable. I don’t think Rocky would have wanted me to quit,” she said. “He was always proud of me – it always made me feel good. I still have to go on.”

The future might well hold opportunities for working with the terminally ill and their families, she said. But for now, Exner is trying to remember.

She wants to someday write a book about her son and what they went through together. But first there are questions and conflicts to be resolved.

“I’m still searching for the reason all this happened to me,” she said. “I couldn’t see it being for nothing.” ♦

– Originally published on Page 1 of the October 16, 1988 edition of the Racine Journal Times. View the original news pages.

Video: Mayor Dave Hanneman Assesses His First Term in Office

During his two years as mayor of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, David D. Hanneman made several appearances on the local television public-affairs program called “City Talk.” You might think that local cable access programming would be uninteresting, but in this case, you would be wrong. Hosted by former Sun Prairie alderman Don Hooser, the show on KSUN always featured thought-provoking, in-depth discussions of issues facing the city. Topics included the city’s master plan to develop its west side, something that has beautifully come to fruition in the years since.

When Dad passed away in 2007, Hooser arranged to re-run theses programs in Dad’s memory. Hooser still hosts a local public-affairs program, now called “Talk of the Town.” The program below, in which the mayor discusses his first term, was taped in late 2004.

Related: New Mayor Weighs in on the Issues

God Bless America – A Beacon and a Promise

It was just after daybreak on a Saturday when Father M.W. Gibson climbed to the spire of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Racine, Wisconsin. In a bold sign that faith and patriotism go hand in hand, he hoisted an American flag onto the spire, where it waved in the breeze for all to see. It was April 20, 1861 and the War of the Rebellion had just broken out. Father Gibson wanted to remind area Catholics what was at stake in defending the country’s sovereignty.

Later that same day, a crowd of 1,000 people gathered in Racine’s Market Square (now called Monument Square) and marched north across the Root River to St. Patrick’s. They sought to thank Father Gibson for his patriotic statement. Gibson implored the crowd to recall that the country for which their forefathers lived and died was calling to them. The time had come, he said, to answer that call.

BeaconPromise

This true story is from a ceremony I wrote for the Knights of Columbus in 2009 to honor the American flag and those who have died defending it.

“Let us commit to always honor our flag and protect it. Protect it from enemies without – and within – who seek to diminish its honor, lower its stature or desecrate it in protest.”

Those words were used in a ceremony providing a reverent retirement by fire for American flags that were no longer fit for service. On this Independence Day, they also offer a look at how previous generations viewed the United States and the symbol of its freedom. We quoted the stirring words of Father Raymond Mahoney, who as chaplain of the Racine Knights of Columbus penned a poem in May 1920 honoring the American flag:

“Heaven itself is unfurling the flag of the land we love, and I hear Columbia telling her children the story of how the flag came to be”

In the blood that they gave for the cause of right
A thousand true martyrs lay
And the angel that tends on hero souls
Came down at the close of day
To gather them in, and to carry them
Before the Lord of all
Then as over their forms she kindly stooped
Her snow white wings let fall

On the ground that their blood had incarnadined
And it left on them a stain
And she feared that the Master would chide her
When she came to His presence again
Because on those wings once so undefiled
Now glowed that crimson stain

But as she passed on through the evening skies
The souls to her bosom clung
She tore from the skies a bit of the blue
And over her shoulders flung
That azure so deep, that was star begemmed
In thought perhaps it might
When she came to the throne of the Master, hide
The stain of blood from sight

So she lay at his feet those hero souls
And bent low with wings outspread
And he saw that those wings were star sprinkled blue, and white, and bloody red
He asked what it meant, why the wings were stained
In fear the angel said
“Oh, the red is the blood that theses heroes spilled
The blue is Your own fair sky
And with it I have sought to hide the stain
Lest it displease Your eye”

“The stain on your wings,” he answered her
“Is truly a blessed one
And is always the mark of a crimson tide
That for liberty has run

“For it tells of service and sacrifice
Of a life and a death or right
And the blue speaks of hope, the white as truth
Sends forth a welcome light
To gleam for mankind as for travelers beams
The building star of night

“Spread out your wings o’er the universe
That all who behold may see
The flag that speaks of love, truth and hope
The virtues that make men free”

You can watch the entire flag retirement ceremony below.

Read More: Flag Retirement Ceremony Script

Read More: Father Mahoney’s Flag Tribute

 

Video Glimpses of Evelyn, a Mother Gone Too Soon

Before I embarked on this ongoing genealogy voyage in 2006, I’d never seen so much as a photograph of my Aunt Evelyn (Deutsch) Mulqueen. All I knew of her is that she died very young, leaving my Uncle Earl Mulqueen to try to raise six children. It was this tragedy that led to a blessing in my life, when Earl and Evelyn’s daughter Laura came to live with the Hanneman family in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.

As I made my way through thousands of images in the photo collections from my father, my Grandpa Carl Hanneman and my maternal grandparents Earl and Margaret Mulqueen, I was happy to discover more about this forever young mother, gone too soon. 

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Evelyn Mulqueen holding son Mark, circa summer 1962.

Most recently, my project to digitize the 8mm film collection of Earl J. Mulqueen Sr. has brought forth the first moving pictures of Evelyn Mulqueen. The newest batch can be viewed below. These are very short glimpses of a beautiful young woman tending to her family in South Milwaukee. Carrying her infant son, Mark, or engaging with Laura, Tom, John, Brian and Earl Jr. (Bud). These are moments frozen in time. More than 50 years later, we get to witness the gathering in front of the Mulqueen home, the Christmas present opening, and the family barbecue. Normal family events, but now given such weight with the knowledge of how many of those pictured have died. 2008_01_16-31

Evelyn A. Deutsch was born in Cudahy, Wisconsin, on April 24, 1929, the only daughter of Michael Deutsch (1882-1963) and the former Theresa Ulrich (1891-1967). Her parents, who emigrated from Austria, married in April 1917.

Evelyn married Earl James Mulqueen Jr. on December 14, 1949 in Cook County, Illinois. Her husband was a U.S. Marine war hero who lost a leg in May 1944 while preparing for the U.S. invasion of Saipan. The couple had a large family, with Bud (1950), Thomas (1953), John (1956), Brian (1959), Laura (1960) and Mark (1962) rounding out the bunch. An aggressive brain cancer took Evelyn from her family on February 2, 1963. She was just 33.

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Evelyn Mulqueen (center) at a family wedding in the late 1950s. Earl J. Mulqueen Jr. is see at left in profile view.

The family experienced more than its share of suffering with and after the death of Evelyn. Earl died in August 1980 at age 57. The family also saw the premature deaths of Tom (age 51), Brian (age 40) and Mark (age 46). Those tragedies are in part what makes these video images so compelling and precious. Viewers get to share a time when these heartaches were far away, and only smiles graced the frames of the 8mm film.

A Proud Moment for Our Youngest Daughter Ruby

Every parent rightly feels great pride when their children reach milestones such as high school graduation. For our youngest child, Ruby, her June 7 graduation from Wisconsin Virtual Academy came with extra meaning.

A number of years ago, Ruby had to withdraw from our local public high school after being diagnosed at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin with a rare health issue. On many days, poor health kept her from being able to sit upright, much less be in a classroom environment. We remembered the online school system powered by K12, since her older brother Stevie attended online middle school. Using Wisconsin’s school choice program, we enrolled her at Wisconsin Virtual Academy, administered by the McFarland School District. It turned out to be a Godsend in so many ways.

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Ruby Hanneman (center) with counselor Tanya Steger (left) and Wisconsin Virtual Academy high school administrator Cindy Worden. The photo was taken at the Kohl Educational Foundation banquet held at Middleton High School. 
The online school allowed Ruby the flexibility to do her schoolwork during times she was feeling good. She had great teachers and excellent support, provided using K12’s interactive internet-based school system. Online school requires strong discipline and organizational skills. It was at times a struggle, but Ruby thrived in the online learning environment. She had her own educational guardian angel named Tanya Steger, who watched over Ruby and kept her on track. Tanya used encouragement and positive reinforcement to help Ruby succeed in school. When rough patches came up, she steered Ruby to resources that helped her get caught up again. There was no scolding or shaming, but always cheerleading and positive solutions. WIVA should be proud to have such a caring, dedicated person like Tanya Steger on its staff. Ruby would not have made it without her.

Not only did Tanya help Ruby in school, but she nominated her for the Kohl Initiative Scholarship funded by the Kohl Educational Foundation. The foundation is run by former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, whose family founded Kohl’s food stores and Kohl’s department stores. Tanya wrote a very moving endorsement of Ruby’s work and the obstacles she overcame in completing high school. We were thrilled to later learn that Ruby was among the winners of the Kohl Initiative Scholarship. Tanya and WIVA administrator Cindy Worden drove to Middleton High School near Madison in late April for the scholarship banquet. It was announced at the banquet that Sen. Kohl was doubling the size of each scholarship from $5,000 to $10,000. What a blessing.

Sen. Kohl was very gracious and stayed for a long time after the banquet to pose for photos with award winners. When Ruby went on stage to get her photo taken, I showed the senator a snapshot taken in 2003 or 2004. He was pictured at the U.S. Capitol, standing next to Ruby’s grandfather, David D. Hanneman, then mayor of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. The senator said he remembers Dave, which of course made the day even more special to us.

At the graduation ceremony held at McFarland High School on June 7, Tanya stood before the graduates and family members and talked about Ruby and how she came to excel at school in spite of her health. Ruby had tears in her eyes as she came onstage to give Tanya a hug. When it was Ruby’s turn to get her diploma, we all had some extra tears. Mostly tears of joy, but also of nostalgia, since Ruby is the baby in the family.

Such challenges and success! Ruby worked so hard to achieve her diploma. WIVA, its teachers, administrators and counselors, along with Ruby’s mom, deserve great credit for helping her reach graduation. This fall, Ruby will join older sister Samantha in enrolling at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Life goes on. And one father is so very proud.

©2017 The Hanneman Archive

 

Ten Years from Eternity

It hardly seems ten years could have passed since the night of April 14, 2007. How fortunate we were to be present to witness my father draw his last breath and step from the troubles and sicknesses of this world into eternity. Around 11:30 p.m. that night, Dad left us, just after we stood around his bed and prayed the Our Father and the Hail Mary. The world will never be the same.

For David D. Hanneman, that night was the end of his journey through life, through lung cancer, and pain. For everyone who knew him, it was the start of a new path, one without those silvery locks, that dulcet baritone or those big, strong hands that built and fixed so many things in this world. On that day, I learned a death is like a fork in the road. It changes everyone. The path forward is suddenly different. Those left behind feel an immense loss, even while comforted at the though their loved one has received the crown of righteousness from Our Blessed Lord, the just judge.

Over the past ten years, I lost track of the number of times I’ve thought, “I wonder what Dad would think of that?” or wondered what advice he might impart on issues in my life. I often ask him just those questions. But since 2007, the answers do not come so directly as a spoken word, a laugh or a hand on the shoulder. But with the ears tuned to heaven, the answers still come.

It has been a long ten years, Dad. We miss you more than ever.

New Video Trailer for ‘The Journey Home’

The book about my father’s battle with lung cancer and his final months on this earth has been in print for nearly five years. It seems a good time to update the book’s official video trailer. The new version, posted below, is in high definition. Back when the original trailer was created, HD video was still fairly novel. But now HD is the norm on home televisions and computers, so it was time to upgrade this important promotional video. You can also view the video in a larger format here.

Here is a 1992 Letter for Your 23rd Birthday

Jan. 20, 2015

Dear Stevie,

I wish I could get you a big birthday gift this year, like prepaid college tuition or a new car. But I can’t. I think I have something much more valuable to share, though. I wrote the letter below almost 23 years ago, when you were barely two weeks old.

Much has changed in our lives and in the world since then. You grew up and overcame big challenges on your way to high school, and then college. You’ve gone out into the work work and supported yourself as you pay for your own education. I know that has been hard, but it is a great credit to you, and I’m very proud of you.

When I wrote the letter, we had no idea who you would become. You were at times a cranky baby, with lots of colic. But you were mostly happy. It was a sheer delight watching you grow up. As I see you ready to celebrate your 23rd birthday, I can say that I could not be a more proud Dad of my only son. Just like the letter says, you’ve grown up to be a good man. I love you.

Dad

 


 

Feb. 2, 1992

Dear Stevie —

You probably don’t like us calling you Stevie anymore, but right now, it fits you perfectly. It’s 10:30 p.m. on a Sunday. I’m watching a rerun of M*A*S*H on television as your Mom naps on the couch. You are asleep in your crib down the hall. I can hear you breathing over the nursery monitor.

There are a lot of things I want to say to you. The first is that your Mom and I love you very  much. You’re only 2 weeks old, but you’ve added so much to our lives. And now we sit and imagine what kind of a person you will grow up to be. We know you’ll be a good boy, and eventually, a good man.

The letter sat in the bottom of my dusty Sentry safe for 23 years.
The letter sat in the bottom of my dusty Sentry safe for 23 years.

First, some history. You were born at 8:41 p.m. on Jan. 20. You weighed 7 pounds 13 ounces. I’ll never forget your little hand clutched around my finger as you lay on the incubator table. You were so alert as you waited to be put in a blanket.

The day you were born, George Bush was President of the United States. Tommy Thompson (a good friend of your great Grandpa Carl) was governor of Wisconsin. Your Dad works as a reporter for the Racine Journal Times, covering state government and politics. Your Mom works for Communications Concepts in Racine, doing graphic arts on a computer. The top TV shows are Cheers, Murphy Brown and L.A. Law.

You are a beautiful baby. You have dark eyes, red hair and soft, rounded cheeks. You’re only 2 weeks old, but already you can lift your head in the crib. I wonder what you are thinking when you gaze up at us while you’re feeding or playing. We nicknamed you “Popeye” because when you want your bottle, you look up with only 1 eye open and open your mouth.

You were conceived at the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Your Mom was in the Army Reserves and was called off to war in Dec. 1990. She was stationed in Augsburg, Germany, as a food inspector. When she came home from war in April 1991, we had you. You were part of what was called “Operation Desert Stork,” named after the war, “Operation Desert Storm.”

As I write this your Mom and I are looking forward to seeing you crawl, take your first steps, and all the things that come after. But for now, there’s one thing we’re sure of — how happy we are you’re here.

Love,

Dad

 

Dying Wish Brought Chapel Windows Home to St. Mary’s Hospital

As kids growing up in Sun Prairie, any time we ventured into the back room of our basement we were likely to hear a voice from upstairs shout, “Don’t you go near those windows!” Of course we knew what that meant: the antique stained-glass behemoths covered in blankets in the farthest reaches of the basement, next to the furnace. I never gave a great deal of thought to them, until one day in 2006 when my father was dying of cancer.

I fully tell the story of the stained-glass chapel windows in my book, The Journey Home: My Father’s Story of Cancer, Faith and Life-Changing Miracles. It’s worth covering here, too.  It shows how sometimes, things all come together to create something beautiful, even out of sadness.

The St. Mary's Hospital chapel as it looked in the 1950s.
The St. Mary’s Hospital chapel as it looked in the 1950s.

Founded in 1912, St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison always had a chapel as part of its facilities. In 1926, a new, ornate chapel was built as part of an expansion of St. Mary’s. The chapel had 10 window frames, each with two beautiful arched stained-glass windows that rose 20 feet from eye level to midway up the wall. In between each were two Stations of the Cross. The windows remained part of the chapel until 1973, when that section of the building was razed to make way for a new hospital wing on Mills Street. My Dad obtained two of the windows, a total of four panels, carrying them home in blankets to rest for more than three decades.

The windows are prominently visible in this newswire photo from 1946, from a Mass to celebrate presentation of a papal medal to Leo T. Crowley of Madison.
The windows are prominently visible in this newswire photo from 1946, from a Mass to celebrate presentation of a papal medal to Leo T. Crowley of Madison.

When Dad was being treated for lung cancer at St. Mary’s in the fall of 2006, he got an inspiration to give those windows back to St. Mary’s. He asked for my help in doing some research, but he was so impatient he wheeled himself down to the administrative offices to talk to someone about it. That someone, vice president Barbara K. Miller, was enthralled with the idea, but it was her last day on the job before retiring. She promised to get the ball rolling on the donation. “I want these windows to come home to St. Mary’s,” he told her.

The chapel window sections as they looked in 2007 in the Hanneman basement.
The chapel window sections as they looked in 2007 in the Hanneman basement.

Dad was a little worried that his donation wouldn’t get done. The idea occupied his mind more than anything else in November 2006. He knew his time with us was short. He told the story and his idea to his physician, Dr. Gregory Motl. Dad made Dr. Motl promise that if he didn’t survive the cancer, the donation would be completed. Motl grasped Dad’s hand and said reassuringly, “I will Dave. I will.”

To say the hospital embraced Dad’s idea would be an understatement. His timing was perfect, since St. Mary’s was planning a $182 million expansion that would add a new east wing with operating rooms, a cardiac center, outpatient offices, patient rooms and more. St. Mary’s  was looking for ways to tie the new facility to the hospital’s heritage. The architects designed special spaces for each of the four window sections. St. Mary’s had a new internal champion for the windows, Steve Sparks, public relations director.

After months of planning, St. Mary’s was finally ready to take possession of the windows. On March 22, 2007, Sparks and workmen came to Sun Prairie to transport the windows. He snapped some photos of Mom and Dad with a window section. Dad looked pale and drawn, but I know he appreciated the milestone that day represented. “It was humbling for me,” Sparks recounted later. “This gift demonstrated exceptional courage and generosity. It is an experience I won’t forget.”

David and Mary Hanneman pose with one window section on March 22, 2007.
David and Mary Hanneman pose with one window section on March 22, 2007.

Tears were shed that afternoon as the windows were lovingly carried outside. It was the first daylight to penetrate the stained glass in more than three decades. For Dad, it was the accomplishment of a mission of giving. His part was finished; now St. Mary’s would take over. Not two weeks later, Dad was admitted to St. Mary’s and then discharged to HospiceCare Inc., where he died on April 14, 2007. 

In early December 2007, Mom  and I were invited to the dedication day at the new St. Mary’s east wing. We attended a luncheon and heard very kind words about Dad from Dr. Frank Byrne, president of St. Mary’s Hospital. They were similar to what Dr. Byrne wrote right after Dad’s death. “It is clear from Dave’s accomplishments that dedication to community was always a part of his priorities,” Byrne wrote, “and we will all benefit from that dedication for years to come. At this sad time, we hope it will be a reminder that though life may seem short, the contributions made by one individual have a significant impact in building a future for us all.”

The window section placed in the atrium of the new east wing at St. Mary's Hospital in Madison.
The window section placed in the atrium of the new east wing at St. Mary’s Hospital.

When we walked into the atrium and first saw one of the window sections, it was enough to bring tears. There it was, set into the wall and brilliantly backlit in a way that brought out the green, red and amber hues of the glass. It was, as designed by the architects, a welcoming beacon for everyone visiting St. Mary’s. Mom posed next to the window, and even did an impromptu interview with Madison’s Catholic newspaper, The Catholic Herald. The three other window sections were placed on different floors of the east wing. One is in a waiting room. The others are in prominent spots.

The story of these chapel windows gives testimony that beauty can emerge from the depths of the darkest tragedies. Dad kept the windows safe for 35 years, and he got them safely home to St. Mary’s just weeks before he, too, made it home.

This post has been updated with additional window photos.
©2014 The Hanneman Archive

A Mauston Reunion: Requiescat in Pace, Uncle Donn G. Hanneman

I just learned with sadness of the death of my Dad’s older brother, Donn Gene Hanneman, who died in Minneapolis at age 88. Uncle Donn was the last of the Mauston Hanneman family to pass away. My Dad, David D. Hanneman, died in 2007 at age 74.

I have many memories of my uncle. He was foremost the father of nine wonderful human beings, my cousins Diane, Caroline, Tom, Jane, Mary Ellen, John, Jim, Nancy and Thomas Patrick (March 1-4, 1949). The cousins were raised by a saintly mother, my aunt Elaine Hanneman.

Donn G. Hanneman

Donn was a veteran of World War II and served as a seaman-second class on the USS Hoggatt Bay. The USS Hoggatt Bay (CVE-75) was a Casablanca-class escort carrier (crew of 860) commissioned in December 1943.

Donn G. Hanneman lounges outside his Grandpa Treutel's home in Vesper, Wisconsin, circa 1930.
Donn G. Hanneman lounges outside his Grandpa Treutel’s home in Vesper, Wisconsin.

Donn was born on August 20, 1926, in Wisconsin Rapids to Carl Henry Frank Hanneman (1901-1982) and the former Ruby Viola Treutel (1904-1977). In 1936, the Hanneman family moved to Mauston in Juneau County, where Carl took a job as a pharmacist attached to the Mauston hospital and clinic. By that time, my father had come along (March 1933). In August 1937, the family expanded to include Lavonne Marie Hanneman Wellman (1937-1986).

As a boy, Donn had his share of illnesses and injuries. He spent more than a week in the Marshfield hospital in September 1929, then returned there in April 1930. Just before my Dad was born in March 1933, Donn was hospitalized in Wisconsin Rapids for more than a week, after an operation for appendicitis.

Donn Gene Hanneman, son of Carl F. Hanneman (1901-1982) and Ruby V. (Treutel) Hanneman (1904-1977), sits in an indoor baby swing at the Hanneman home in Fond du Lac, Wis, ca. 1927. Carl Hanneman was a pharmacist for the Staeben Drug Co. in Fond du Lac at the time.
Donn Gene Hanneman sits in an indoor baby swing at the Hanneman home in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, ca. 1927. Carl Hanneman was a pharmacist for the Staeben Drug Co. in Fond du Lac at the time.

Just after his 11th birthday in August 1937, Donn was standing on the running board of a moving vehicle while leaving the Juneau County Fairgrounds when he fell and suffered a head injury. He was seen at the Mauston clinic and taken home, but soon after “lost his power of speech and all consciousness,” according to an account in The Daily Tribune in Wisconsin Rapids. “He was then rushed to the hospital.” Donn was diagnosed with a concussion and put on two weeks of bed rest, although that was extended. The September 8 edition of The Daily Tribune said Donn “is making a satisfactory recovery, although he will be confined to his bed for two more weeks.”

Back in those days, a family’s every move ended up in the newspaper. In the case of the Hannemans, it was thanks to the faithful correspondence of Ruby Hanneman. “Mr. and Mrs. Carl Hanneman and little son Don Gene were completely taken by surprise last evening when forty friends arrived to give them a house warming on the occasion of moving into their new home on Hale Street,” the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune reported on April 8, 1932.

Some of the most charming photographs in our library are of a 5-year-old Donn dressed up as a cowboy playing with friends on the sidewalks on the 1200 block of Washington Avenue in Wisconsin Rapids. We detailed those photos in a previous post.

Donn in his cowboy threads at Wisconsin Rapids.
Donn in his cowboy threads at Wisconsin Rapids.

As a youth Donn enjoyed books, and collected enough that his father built him a bookcase that held up to 175 volumes. Carl wrote to my then 6-year-old father about it in August 1939. Dad was staying with an aunt and uncle in Waukegan, Illinois. “Say David, I made a book case for Donn for his birthday, and you know that you still have something coming,” Carl wrote, “so what would you like to have Dad make something for you too, if so tell mother and I will try to start it as soon as I can.”

Donn G. Hanneman with Sister Emeric Weber of St. Patrick's Catholic Grade School, circa 1948.
Donn G. Hanneman with Sister Emeric Weber of St. Patrick’s Catholic Grade School,  1948.

For a time Donn attended St. Patrick’s Catholic Grade School in Mauston, then run by the Benedictine Sisters. He was among the graduates attending the school’s 100th anniversary in 1995. At the event, he ran into one of his teachers, Sister Emeric Weber, who was just 19 when she started teaching at St. Patrick’s.

“Sister Emeric, I’m sorry I’m late,” he quipped, to which the aged nun replied, “What’s your excuse now? What’s your excuse?”

Like his brother David and father Carl, Donn was a longtime Fourth-Degree member of the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal and service organization. He most recently belonged to Council 1013 in Rochester, Minnesota.

There are many others better qualified to provide more recent stories about Donn. And even though he tossed my father through the bay window of their Mauston home when they were boys, my Dad didn’t hold it against him. When he was ill with cancer in the fall of 2006, Dad put it simply and succinctly: “He’s my brother and I love him.”

©2014 The Hanneman Archive