In the winter of 1966 or 1967, a young father designed and hand-crafted an outdoor nativity scene to decorate the family home in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. David D. Hanneman (1933-2007) painted the set freehand and put it on display just under the garage window of his home on Wisconsin Avenue. The nativity scene was a fixture at the home in those early years, but eventually was put in storage and forgotten.
Forty years later, after David Hanneman died, the badly weathered Nativity figures were rescued from a trash can in the garage. Over the next 18 months they were restored to almost original condition and put on display in the Village of Mount Pleasant.
The original backers and braces were removed from the cutout figures of St. Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus. New 1-inch-thick plywood backers were crafted with a jigsaw, then glued to the figures and anchored with wood screws. Heavy L-shape stabilizing braces were screwed into the backers to give the figures sufficient weight to withstand winter winds.
Samantha J. Hanneman, David Hanneman’s granddaughter, did most of the paint restoration work. With a special set of art brushes, she applied metallic gold and flat black paint to maintain the original look. Touch up paint was applied sparingly to the faces and hands of the figures to keep the hand-drawn details.
The newly restored Nativity scene was put on display at the Hanneman home in Racine County in December 2008, making the old tradition new again for another generation. The crèche was displayed for several years, but had to again be put in storage when we lost our home. Now the figures again wait patiently to have a new home where their warm glow will fill the Christmas night.
St. Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the first Nativity crib or crèche on Christmas Eve 1223 in Greccio, Italy. St. Francis was eager to make the birth of Christ something tangible for the faithful. He had a manger built, brought animals to be part of the set, and had Holy Mass said before this representation of the birth of Christ. After the preparations were finished, St. Francis and some of his followers went to the crèche for the Mass. After a short prayer by Francis, a vision of the Christ child appeared on the hay.The miracle stirred the animals and greatly moved the faithful who witnessed it.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
As any serious genealogist will tell you, a visit to a cemetery can provide a wealth of family history information. But it can be much more than that. Each year as we approach All Souls Day (November 2), the season presents an opportunity to renew and maintain family connections, just by walking through a cemetery.
One of the most touching scenes I’ve encountered was at a small cemetery in Augsburg, Germany. Walking past after dark, I looked through the small gate to see dozens of flickering vigil candles. These were not solar lights but real candles. Someone cared enough to visit there each night and light the votives.
A 20-minute walk through any cemetery will provide you access to family stories. Parents who lived long, full lives. Others who died much too young. Babies, some just one day old. Some who were never born. John and Jane Does, victims of murder. And in many older cemeteries, some of the departed rest with no visible monuments. Their markers were damaged or swallowed up in soft ground or by encroaching woods.
Observe the different monuments. Some are massive obelisks, others plain, square markers. A few are made from unusual materials. Some display incredible artistry. In many German cemeteries you will see monuments with engraved hands pointing to Heaven. Angels, crosses and even anchors are common subject of monument carvings.
Some cemeteries are known more for their infamy, such as Oak Grove Cemetery in Eagle, Wisconsin. We chronicled that story earlier in “A Sad Resting Place for Little Ida.” It is sad to see a cemetery fall into neglect and disrepair. It’s especially angering when a cemetery is targeted by vandals. A few years back, thugs toppled more than 100 monuments at Calvary Cemetery and Old Holy Cross Cemetery in Racine, Wisconsin. My Knights of Columbus council spent several weekends righting the monuments and making extensive repairs. Most of the damage was fixed, but some especially old stones were beyond repair.
Military cemeteries and the graves of soldiers are especially touching. I recall walking row after row of World War I grave markers in Ypres, Belgium, where the famous poemIn Flanders Fields was composed in 1915. All of those young lives cut short by “the war to end all wars.” Such sacrifice. World War I cemeteries dot the landscape in Belgium; some in the middle of farm fields.
While our loved ones are gone, they can teach us still. There are great resources available to help you find where your relatives are buried. My favorite online database is the Find A Grave web site. Take a camera along on your next trip to the cemetery and help your fellow genealogists document history.
I have nothing but good memories of Halloween. Growing up in the late 1960s and early 1970s, October 31 was a date we looked forward to. Whether we got to buy a costume at the dime store or made our own, it was always an exciting night.
One of my most vivid Halloween memories was documented in my book, The Journey Home. I recall Dad tearing out the front door in his sock feet. I wondered what was happening. We figured it out a few minutes later when he dragged two teenagers into the front door and made them apologize for smashing our lit pumpkins. He then turned them over to Sun Prairie police.
We had one sad Halloween when my brother David fell into the neighbors tree well and spilled all of his candy. We all shared to make up for it. Another year, we went across town to “trick or treat” at a few houses of family friends. At one door, I was shocked that the lady who answered called me by name. “How does she know me with this costume on?” I wondered. My brother chimed in, “You forgot to put your mask down.” D’oh!
Perhaps the most fun we had was creating our own costumes. Lighting the end of a cork on fire, then using the charred remains to paint black whiskers on our faces. Stuffing pillows up an oversized shirt helped complete the hobo look.
It wasn’t until toward the end of my trick-or-treating days that the scare over supposed razor blades in candy apples occurred. Hospitals offered to X-ray candy bags to check for pins or razor blades. That made me wonder if the candy would then glow? Ah, as it turned out the whole thing was a fraud that took on the sheen of urban legend.
Once I had my own children, Halloween took on a new dimension. Our firstborn was too shy to go door to door, so we made our main stop at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Eventually, Halloween became a major event. French onion soup or chili simmered in a crock pot while we took the kids around the neighborhood collecting goodies. Then we retreated into the warmth of the house for good food, warm apple cider and pie. The kids also ate candy.
With the more recent controversies claiming Halloween as un-Christian or even satanic, it was refreshing to read this article on About.com regarding the Catholic roots of Halloween.
CRACK! The sound of the first rifle shot left an echo that trailed onto the horizon. We flinched just a bit when the first volley was fired, then heard the barely audible jingle of the ejected brass shell dancing across the pavement. Then silence, followed by orders to fire again. CRACK! A third report rumbled across the landscape. Men and women alike clutched tissues and dabbed tears at the sights, sounds and emotion of the military honor guard that paid tribute Tuesday to my father-in-law, Ronald C. LaCanne.
Darkness had already fallen outside of the Draeger-Langendorf Funeral Home in Racine, Wisconsin, adding to the drama. Everyone stood motionless as two uniformed veterans folded the American flag and presented it to my mother-in-law, Eileen. The slow, steady salute they gave before the flag was a sign of deep respect. It was followed by the playing of Taps. Everyone was choked up to witness such a moving ceremony.
Ron served in the United States Army in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the height of the Cold War era. He was an intelligence officer stationed somewhere in the hinterlands of Alaska, within listening distance of the Soviet Union. He never talked about the work he did there, not wanting in any way to betray national secrets, even 50 years later. He took his commitment that seriously. That is a man of honor.
If you know a veteran, take time today to thank them for serving the United States of America. It’s important that they know our nation is grateful for their sacrifices.
John Chapter 16 offers encouragement to those who have watched a loved one struggle with terminal illness. Jesus said, “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage. I have overcome the world.” Matthew Chapter 25 seemed so fitting as we turned to leave the memorial service. I could almost hear the words echo from Heaven: “Well done, my good and faithful servant. …Come, share your master’s joy.”
Many decades before the social phenomenon of taking self-portraits or “selfies” became all the rage, a young honeymooning couple in July 1925 predicted the trend by snapping their own photos at a camp site in Hayward, Wisconsin.
Carl F. Hanneman and the former Ruby Viola Treutel were married on July 14, 1925 at St. James Catholic Church in tiny Vesper, Wisconsin. For their honeymoon, they chose to motor to Wisconsin’s North Woods. Part of their time was spent at a cottage owned by friends, Mr. and Mrs. Armand Bauer, in Hayward.
Being a budding photographer, Carl took lots of photos from their trip, some candid and even playful. Two that stand out are ‘selfies’ taken by Carl and Ruby. Carl’s is at a good distance and quite sharp, while Ruby’s was an ultra-closeup, a bit out of focus. Given the camera technology of the day, these photos were more of a feat than it might seem. Nothing like snapping a quick shot today with an iPhone 6.
Other photos from the trip showed Carl walking with Ruby on his shoulders, Carl slinging a pail and Ruby sitting at a picnic table with a youngster who resembles her younger brother, Marvin Treutel (but might have been their hosts’ boy).
Carl and Ruby had no way to know that the ‘selfie’ would become a dominant means of communication among young people around the world, or that the practice would spawn social media platforms, a television series, songs and videos on YouTube.