Springtime has Hansel King on my mind

Published 4:40 pm Wednesday, April 19, 2023

I’ve had an old friend in my thoughts lately.

There’s just something about the season of Spring, the hustle and bustle of packed ball fields and the greening up of grass that has me thinking about one of the great men that I was lucky to be mentored by — Hansel King.

Ole Han would have been 83 on March 10. He left us for his Heavenly reward on April 17, 2002.

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Now 21years after his death, I still think about what an influence he had on me as a boy growing up in Brookhaven.

With his ever-present red beard and his smiling, squinting eyes that always had a glean in them, he was like a wise old owl in his countenance.

His voice was deep and his wit was quick. It felt like he knew something about everything to me as a kid.

My first introduction to Hansel and his family was through church.

When I look at the old Easthaven campus that is now occupied by the congregation of St. James, I can still envision where Hansel and his sweet wife Mary Lou would sit every Sunday on one of the side pews.

Hansel and Mary Lou lived in the neighborhood of Brookwood that sat adjacent to the old National Guard Armory on Highway 51.

Han was like the neighborhood grandfather to a large group of kids that lived on the streets around him.

At that time, the area that now houses the Mississippi Adolescent Center was a corn field.

Kids on the street had permission to borrow Hansel’s four-wheeler and could drive it through the field after the corn had been cut down.

Hansel was a master fisherman, hunter and cook — especially of wild game.

He passed down knowledge about all those topics to the neighborhood boys.

I was jealous of Carl Craig and Corey Douchard and Derek Smith that they had a neighbor like Hansel, who was so accommodating to the kids of Brookwood after his two children, Louann and Wayne, were grown and out of the house.

My relationship with Hansel changed when I turned 15 and he gave me my first job at the Brookhaven Recreation Department where he worked as superintendent.

I made $5.25 an hour running a weed eater, chalking lines on ballfields and cleaning up the trash after t-ball and softball games.

The sports complex on Beltline Drive didn’t yet bear his name, but Hansel King was as synonymous with recreation in Brookhaven as Bill Godbold was with politics.

As one of the younger guys on the crew that was led by Hansel’s second in command, Terry Reid, I worked my way up the ladder as the older guys went to college and new, younger teens were hired on.

It was during my time driving a tractor with a mower attachment that Hansel gave me a lesson in having pride in your work.

There was a height setting on the mower and in the late spring, with the grass growing by the minute, I took it upon myself to drop the deck to a lower setting as I took up the task of cutting the soccer fields.

What’ll it hurt, I thought. The grass will be lower and we’ll get a little bit more time between cuttings.

Again, I was a teenager, a stupid teenager.

I was standing with my coworkers outside the storage room later when Hansel pulled up in his truck.

“Which one of you Rhodes Scholars cut those soccer fields,” he asked.

You know how teenagers will just sometimes double down on their stupidity — that was me.

I’d cut it, I told him, as I quickly started trying to mount a defense that amounted to something like, “it … it … it’ll grow back.”

He cut me off. He didn’t have time for my lame excuses.

“I don’t care why you did it,” he said. “I wanted to know who did it. I wanted to know what great thinker like Socrates decided to scalp those fields.”

My ears burned hot. The back of my neck turned red. I didn’t cry, but boy was I close to it.

Maybe I was 17, but it was a lesson in taking pride in your work as an employee that I’ve never needed repeated.

It would be hard to number the lessons that I learned from watching Hansel over the years I spent as one of “his boys,” but here are the first few that come to mind.

He was open in that he’d not been perfect all his life, but he could testify to the goodness of God and his grace and the redeeming love that comes through a close, personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

His family was the most important thing in his life, other than his faith. More important than any hobby or career.

His closeness with his children was further strengthened by the fact that he passed down his love of hunting and fishing to Louann and Wayne. Louann has a treasure trove of memories from time spent in deer stands and jon boats that she can tell her own children about now.

Wayne died much too young at 30 in an accident, and Hansel and Mary Lou dealt with what could only be described as that crippling loss with quiet strength and strong faith.

Hansel had his lungs damaged when he was a young man in an incident involving chemicals.  It was a health issue that he’d deal with until his death at 62.

He didn’t complain. He didn’t let it stop him. He didn’t use it to make excuses.

I think that when it comes to grief, the harder you love, the deeper the pain you’ll find welling out of your soul.

That’s not a bad thing though. Deep down, we all want someone to remember us when we’re gone.

For me, the name Hansel King isn’t one that I remember just because it’s attached to a set of ballfields or carved on a piece of stone.

For many others and myself, it’s a name synonymous with doing what’s right, loving your family and trying to make the world a better place while we’re here.

Cliff Furr is the sports editor of The Daily Leader. He can be reached via email at sports@ dailyleader.com.