Tag Archives: death

A Final Lesson Imparted, Then Heavenward

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


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

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

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

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


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

― William Arthur Ward.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

A Good Man Goes Home to Heaven: Ron LaCanne

I remember well the first and last times I saw my father-in-law, Ron LaCanne.

In the nearly 25 years between these two events, I came to respect and love this man, whose story late in life became one of remarkable faith. I was incredibly moved by his quiet and steady faith in Christ and his hope of attaining glory in Heaven after his earthly journey, which ended earlier today at age 74.

It was such a long road away from the day I first met him. That was in early 1990, when I stopped at the LaCanne home on North Wisconsin Street in Racine to pick up his daughter Sue for a date. I was more than a bit nervous, because I had been told he was not fond of newspaper reporters. At the time, I was a reporter at The Journal Times, Racine’s daily newspaper. I sat on the couch and we chatted about the story I’d worked on that day, dealing with a Caledonia teenager who killed a dog, reportedly due to listening to heavy metal music. Somehow I survived the discussion and made a decent first impression on the man I would come to spend countless hours with over the next nearly 25 years.

Ron in his favorite spot, working the grill.
Ron in his favorite spot, working the grill.

My final and lasting impressions of him came in a series of visits this summer at the LaCanne apartment in Racine. Ron was thin, frail and dying from cancer. And although we’d been estranged in recent years, this time I was not nervous to visit. I presented him with a very special Rosary given to me by Catholic filmmaker Steve Ray. The Rosary had been placed on nearly a dozen sites in the Holy Land. This included Golgotha, the place of the crucifixion of Christ. He picked up the Rosary and felt the intricate carvings, then carefully laid it back in its olive wood box. I didn’t fully understand how much this touched him until a while later when the fire alarm went off in the apartment complex. He struggled to stand up from his recliner and grabbed two things: a hand-carved “comfort cross” given to him by a priest friend, and that Rosary. I struggled to hold back tears as my mother-in-law Eileen helped him out the door.

Two weeks later I visited again. This time he was confined to bed and drifted in and out of consciousness. We still had a nice talk, recalling stories and memories from across the years. I told him that many people were praying for him on his journey and that God would remain very close to him. “I sure hope so,” he said, squeezing my hand. A few minutes later, this solemn moment was replaced by laughter and joy. I told him that our oldest daughter Samantha was going to a concert that night. “A concert?” he said. He swung his hands out into the air and started singing the Alleluia Chorus from George Frideric Handel’s Messiah. We laughed at the joy and spontaneity of it. It seemed so appropriate, and so very beautiful. Wow.

Samantha, Stevie and Ruby with Gramps.
Samantha, Stevie and Ruby with Gramps.

Several times we sat alone and talked about his final days on earth. He spoke freely and with stark honesty about his impending death. I encouraged him not to be afraid, since all of those who love him have complete faith that Jesus will not forsake him. “I’m not afraid to die,” he said. Then he asked me to do him a favor. “Can you help me identify the gentleman sitting on the couch over there?” There was no one on the couch. And since Ron had lost his sight over the past year, he would not have seen anyone there in the first place. But I could tell he was seeing something profound, even if it was beyond my vision. “Describe him to me,” I said. The visitor had dark hair and wore a cap. His expression was calm, peaceful and friendly. “He has been sitting there for the past two days,” Ron said. We talked a little more, and I suggested his visitor was a guardian angel sent by God to protect and comfort him. The idea was not foreign to me, as I’ve read a number of accounts by hospice workers of dying patients seeing angels.

We were on guard for weeks expecting Ron’s death, but he wasn’t about to follow any script. Just when we feared the worst, he would rally and have a great day or two. I recall one day pulling up to the apartment center and seeing him sitting outside in the sunshine, facing Lake Michigan. I asked him how he felt. “Doing great,” he said. “I feel really good.” On another visit, after listening to a preseason Packers game, we talked again about death and dying. “The time is near,” he said. I thanked him for the incredible witness he was providing to his grandchildren (and all of us). The Cross is heavy, and he knew it. But in his final months, weeks and days, he found peace. And now he is at peace.

I’ve always believed life is well-reflected in pictures, both on paper and ink and in the mind’s imagination. Many images of Ron come to me as I recall the last 25 years. Let me share just a few.

I remember the early afternoon of October 5, 2002. It was a very difficult day. I was driving Ron back to Racine from Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa. A short time before, his oldest son, Patrick, had died at the too-young age of 37. Ron exhaled loudly and struggled to find some words. “I’ll tell you, Joe, this is so hard. So hard. No one should have to experience the death of their child.” So very true. We drove and recalled favorite memories of Patrick. By the end of that drive, we both better understood the impact Pat had made on the family. It continues to this day. I can only imagine the embrace the two shared at their reunion earlier today!

Ron LaCanne holds his first grandchild, Stevie, on January 21, 1992.
Ron LaCanne holds his first grandchild, Stevie, on January 21, 1992.

My mind rolls back to January 1992, when a well-dressed Ron stopped at St. Luke’s Hospital in Racine. He was on his way to his job at S.C. Johnson Wax, but had to stop first for some quality time with his first grandson, Stephen Patrick Hanneman. The photo my wife Sue snapped that morning tells of the joy and pride of a new grandpa. That day Ron earned the moniker he later awarded himself: “Gramps.” Gramps. He wore that title as well as anyone could, loving his five grandchildren like no one else.

Everyone always enjoyed July 4 at the LaCanne residence. While the grandkids were little, Ron went all out with a fireworks show as good as you’d see at the lakefront in Milwaukee or Racine. There were toy soldiers launched 100 feet in the air, returned to earth via parachute. And the Titanic, a huge brick of sound and color that should have come with its own fire department. On one occasion, one of the fireworks tipped over, firing projectiles across the gathered relatives. We all dove for cover under tables. “Incoming!” Over the years, Ron gave up the fireworks duty, but none of us could ever match those incredible displays.

Ron with grandchildren Samantha, Ruby, Josh and Geoffrey.
Ron with grandchildren Samantha, Ruby, Josh and Geoffrey.

Speaking of displays, Ron was also the master of Christmas decorating. He always got two trees, one for the living room and one for the basement. His main tree was usually the tallest, fattest one on the lot, which he covered every square inch with ornaments, lights and beads. The rest of the house was festooned with lighted villages, Santa statues and a Nativity set that could reside at the Vatican. One year after a few seasons of collecting ceramic lighted Norman Rockwell houses, we put up an entire village on an expansive shelf space over our front door. After plugging it in, I danced down the upstairs hallway, singing, “Ron LaCanne, eat my dust!” Silly to be sure, but in a way, it was my own tribute to the master.

Every year, Ron played Santa at the LaCanne Christmas eve party. This was an event attended by dozens of family members. The food was diverse and plentiful, half the punch was spiked and the kids were all antsy in anticipation of Santa’s arrival. About 9 p.m., Ron would slip out of the living room, duck into a phone booth and emerge as Santa, always coming in through the front door. It was tradition that “Santa” would pick up the youngest grandchild for a photo. This often lead to either wide-eyed amazement or quivering tears. This was all followed by an orgy of gift opening for the kids. One year, an eagle-eyed granddaughter Samantha noticed that Grandpa was gone for a while, and when he returned, his hair was wet and he wore different shoes. Hmmmm. Another year, after Ron had retired from being Santa, youngest grandchild Josh LaCanne was determined to let Santa know the best gifts should be for him and not his brother, Geoffrey. When the red-clad bearded one (played by Ron’s son Chris) appeared at the party, young Josh got wide eyed and shouted, “Brother wants rocks!”

Ron and Eileen during an outing with Samantha and Stevie.
Ron and Eileen during an outing with Samantha and Stevie.

Ron and Eileen were always faithful attendees at the grandkids’ activities. Countless soccer games on chilly, windswept fields in Franksville, Christmas concerts, track meets, graduations. Ron was there with either a video camera or a still camera. Over the years he took thousands of photos and hours of video, often making commemorative books that he would present at birthdays or Christmas. I recall a time seeing a video that showed the family watching videos of the grandkids. Life imitates art.

As time went on and events in the world became more troubling, Ron decided he wanted his grandchildren to know about a simpler time, when right and wrong were easy to spot and traditional values where championed. So he started writing, tales of his childhood growing up as a Catholic boy in Racine. Stories, anecdotes and just things he wanted the kids to know, they were all included in this growing 100-page tome of Ronaldian wisdom. Occasionally he would share bits and pieces. What a gift these writings will be to his grandchildren and their children. I hope one day to be able to digitize them and format them into a book.

Ron was always willing to help out with a project. In 2007, after my father died of lung cancer, he helped me install a new floor in the upstairs hallway at my parents’ home in Sun Prairie. During my Dad’s illness, his little dog Chewy didn’t get as much attention and didn’t get put out as often. The result was he used the baseboards and the carpet for a bathroom. It was awful work pulling out the carpet, only to realize the baseboard, plaster and parts of the subfloor were contaminated. We worked for two days, first removing the mess, then treating the walls and subfloor with pure bleach to neutralize the smell. My eyes are still burning. When we were done, my Mom had a new wood floor and no more doggie smell.

We all gathered for a portrait at Nicholson's in 2000.
We all gathered for a portrait at Nicholson’s in 2000.

When I was running my own marketing business, I tapped Ron’s business expertise and we worked together on some major projects for my client, Volvo Construction Equipment. I hired Ron to help me evaluate company financials, stock reports, annual reports and other business intelligence on prospective customers for Volvo. His analysis and detailed input allowed me to present market studies that were so well-received I still hear compliments about them, nearly a decade later. 

I could go on for pages, but time is fleeting.  Ron lived a very full 74 years. He gave much of his time, from his days in the U.S. Army, to volunteering in the community to groups such as the Opportunity Center and United Way. He rose high in the ranks at one of America’s great brand companies, SC Johnson Wax. But it was and is his family that was the love of his life. On Sunday evenings when everyone gathered in the living room after another of Eileen’s great dinners, Ron would pat his stomach and look around the room. “Mi familia!” he would say. Nothing can top having your family surrounding you. How he loved his wife Eileen, daughter Sue, sons Patrick and Chris (and wife Elise); and his grandkids, Stevie, Samantha, Ruby, Geoffrey and Josh.

My thoughts return to the man with the Rosary, clutching it and the Cross like an anchor during a time of fear and uncertainty. This will be Ron’s everlasting lesson and legacy. To carry the Cross through good and bad times in life, maintaining the hope of things unseen. As his life came to a close, Ron returned to his roots and his embraced his Catholic faith. It was his comfort and salvation. To use a phrase from his ancestors’ native tongue, La fede mi da vita: Faith gives me life.

And so it has.

©2014 The Hanneman Archive

 

(To see additional photos, visit Ron’s photo memorial gallery. Photo selection by Samantha J. Hanneman.)