Eulogy for Steven Douglas Hansel

August 28, 2023

Eulogy for Steven Douglas Hansel

Passage: Eulogy

Friday night Jane, Deborah, her daughter, and others went out to dinner.  After the meal as they were photographing flowers and vegetables growing outside, a fairly young couple who had e-cycles very similar to ones Jane and Steve were considering purchasing, engaged them in conversation.  As they talked, Jane mentioned that her husband had recently passed away.  Later as she was leaving, the woman came back to Jane saying she wanted to give her something.  However, she cautiously explained that she did not want to offend Jane.  “Are you a believer?” to which Jane replied “Yes.”  Whereupon the woman placed an orange plastic bracelet on Jane’s arm which said, “Pray first.”   

Backtracking in time:  One day Jane called me to say, “This man I reconnected with at mother’s funeral reception has invited me out to lunch.  I just don’t know what to do.”  “Well, I said, “it seems to me, if he is pretty decent, you should go and be glad for a free lunch.”  She did just that.  As she and Steve began that time together, he said, “I don’t know where this connection will go, but could we pray?”  What a special way to begin a relationship!    Indeed, this adds a special meaning when we began the service today with prayer.  Friday it seemed as an angel came to confirm the faith and love of Steve and Jane Hansell as well as to bring courage to Jane for what lies ahead.  She and Steve prayed together often; always at meals and at times when they named specific people and circumstances.  Steve Douglas Hansel—a man of strong faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. 

This rich life of Steve began in Charlotte on November 3, 1948 and ended in tragedy this past early Wednesday morning.  His father was Troy Joseph Hansel who knew Bob Thompson, Jane Gurley Hansel’s father.   They both worked at Duke Power’s River Bend Steam Station.  Steve’s mother was Margaret Victoria McGinnis Hansel.  His sister, Dale Ann, related that their mother was the family disciplinarian, often saying, “Get me the switch!”  The other children would say, “No, not her sweet Steve!”  But he was the third child born to the family and the first one to survive infancy.  However, according to Dale Ann,  Mrs. Hansel always preferred not to show partiality, even with the grandchildren.   

Growing up Steve’s church home was Mt. Holly First Baptist Church where he made a profession of faith and was baptized.  Always he was active in the Sunday school and youth activities—which included Jane Thompson.   

Now Mrs. Hansel was terrified of snakes.  One day Mr. Hansel killed a blacksnake about nine feet long which the other children placed halfway under Steve’s yellow Datsun car.  When he came to open the car door he began screaming and raging: “Don’t let mother come out here!”  This became a favorite family story! 

During Steve’s high school days, his mother almost never missed a football game in which he played.  She could be loudly vocal with her concerns about the game’s progress.  In his obituary you can read of Steve’s Mt. Holly High School honors and activities.   He worked hard to always do his best.  Even with winning seasons, he would regret the one tackle he missed.  It was a high and sentimental honor last August when Steve was inducted to the Mt Holly Sports Hall of Fame. Once a month some of the players and other friends still gather for lunch.  Steve also lettered three years playing on the Appalachian State football team. 

Steve Douglas Hansel—an almost model teenager, bright, personable, thoughtful, in a non-self-aggrandizing spirit, striving always to be his best became a competent, caring educator, teaching and coaching for years.  Then as principal at Draper Elementary School in Madison, NC,  you can imagine how he treated faculty, staff and students with equity and difficult circumstances with professional and thoughtful discernment.  But he was even more than that.  At his retirement party,  they composed a song about Steve: 

“Old McHansel had a farm, cutting grass in overalls”—which he did in off classroom hours to keep the school yard neat.  In these last years, instead of bar hopping, he and Jane, clad in overalls, did cemetery hopping, working hard across the state to preserve many graves of relatives.  

However, it was as he did work and brought leadership to the North Carolina Association of Educators and related groups that he met his first wife, educator Jane Reisig, whom he married in 1981. Then Steve became part of the family of her four grown children, Kim, Betsy, Paula and Bode, the six grandchildren as well as the three great grandchildren.  Steve never forgot a birthday.  In a card he would send the gift of a cashier’s check to be sure it was subtracted from his account as soon as possible.  He had a brain that was a meticulous calculator, striving to keep all financial entries with the pennies column free of any digit other than zero.      

Steve and Jane Reisig Hansel traveled the world, even volunteering to help build a church in South Africa.  They were both active members of First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro until it closed.  In retirement in their much loved mountains around Swannanoa they joined Montreat Presbyterian Church where Steve became an elder and then Ruling Elder.  Jane died in 2018 after covid days they watched Providence services online and recently attended in person.  Steve especially enjoyed their Lenten prayer group.  

Steve Douglas Hansel—a churchman of strong, humble faith: a servant and a gentle, sturdy leader wherever he was--caring for other people and children and their needs.  For certain he will be missed in places of his faithful and generous volunteerism as listed in the obituary. 

At Jane’s mother’s funeral reception, Steve asked for her contact information and they began communicating even before that first lunch date.  They courted and eventually there was some light conversation about marriage.   Upon his replaced knees on July 1, his words were “Would you marry me and make me the happiest man in the world?”  Of course, you know the enthusiastic reply. 

The restrictions of Covid hugely frustrated this gregarious couple’s wedding planning.  It was set for late October at the historic Poinsett Bridge Park down the mountain in South Carolina.  It was a spectacular autumn day as you can see in the photographs around.  Even more spectacular was the evident joy of these two remarkable people.  Only two others were invited—the photographer and me—but Jane’s brother Ben and his wife, Carol, sort of snuck in.   

Steve and Jane were Scottish clan descendants.  They so enjoyed the Kirkin’ of the Tartan ceremonies at the Presbyterian church.  This is a tradition of presenting the tartans of clans in the church for blessing.  For the wedding Jane wore the blue tartan plaid of the Thompson clan and Steve wore a tie of his McGinnis clan.  I even had the tartan of the Scottish clergy.   Jane’s bouquet included the Scottish national flower, the thistle.  Following their vows, we observed the handfasting ritual that dates back some 7,000 years.   Strips of braided cloth, one using a Thompson fabric and the other the McGinnis fabric bound their hands together.  This act originally acknowledged a couple’s engagement which lasted a year.  At that time, they went back to the priest either choosing to break the engagement or to be married.  Some of the ritual words go: “With the fashioning of this knot I tie all the desire, dream, love and happiness all your loved ones wish for your lives.”  Then I covered those strips with my clergy tartan noting the symbolism of the church and God blessing their union.   

All that desire, dream, love and happiness did mature in their marriage.  They exhibited joy such that their joy brought  joy to all who witnessed it.  And now, it is broken— 

We began that wedding with prayer.  Steve began their relationship with prayer.   Dwight began this service in prayer.  “Pray first” the bracelet says.  And now we grieve and celebrate the life of Scottish-Irish descendant Steve Douglas Hansel—man of great Christian faith, an involved churchman, a helper of folks and children in need, a model teenager, a calm, gracious servant and leader of groups, an adventuring traveler who loved to learn, a loving father-figure, an engaged community volunteer, and an exemplary husband!  Those shoes are now empty to Jane and these families and friends who are experiencing agonizing grief.  

These days are the beginning of a hard journey without Steve—so may we either now or in coming days pray last as well as pray first.  Hear these words of a Celtic prayer with which we closed that October 26 wedding: 


May the road rise to meet you. 

May the wind be always at your backs. 

May the sunshine warm upon your faces. 

May the rains fall softly upon your fields all the days of your lives. 

May God hold you in the hollow of the divine hand.   Amen. 

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