An Unforgettable Lesson

Hans was Swiss, but of German parentage. He came to America when it still felt like a land of promise. He had not been here long when two young men knocked on his door and brought the gospel into Hans’ life.

Three months later Hans was in St. Johns, Arizona, a new member of the Church, headed for the heart of Mormon country. However, his enthusiasm to get to Utah was tempered by his love for Arizona. Not the sagebrush, cedar, and cactus, of course. The object of his affection was Arizona Gibbons, and she reciprocated. They married and moved to Linden, Arizona, where neighbors taught Hans an unforgettable lesson about the communal nature of the Test of Life. An unexpected, devastating fire destroyed every possession the family owned. Hans was burned so severely in the fire that he and his family remained in the neighboring city of Snowflake for a month while a doctor cared for him. His son wrote the following about their return to the family property.

Toward the end of the month Uncle Aut and Aunt Jayne Frost came to Snowflake. They asked us to ride with them up to the ranch to look at the remains of the cabin and see how the crops were growing. (My parents owned forty acres of mostly forested land adjoining the Frost Ranch.) As we came to the place, Uncle Aut turned into it. We could not imagine why he wanted to take us there since there were no crops to be seen. He and Aunt Jayne gave us some excuse and insisted. As they drove through the trees into the center of our land, there hidden among the large trees stood a new frame house!

It took Dad and Mother a moment to comprehend and to believe what their eyes were seeing. It is not possible for me to adequately describe the emotional scene as my parents began to realize what it meant. Our neighbors had built us a new home without our knowledge or any help from us. Some of those neighbors now emerged from the house to witness our homecoming, to share in our amazement, then our joy. My parents were completely overcome with emotion; tears of gratitude and happiness were plentifully shed by the and by all present. (Gordon H. Flammer, Stories of a Mormon Pioneering Community, Excel Graphics Inc., 1995, p.1.)

Uncle Hans

Hans finally left the state of Arizona and traveled to Utah, and to Cache Valley.

His wife was my father’s sister, so Hans was always Uncle Hans to me. He moved his family practically into our back yard. He was always smiling, always laughing. He was happy to be alive and refused to keep it a secret from his face. Paul’s teachings about being reconciled to God found a magnificent mortal example in Hans.

He was eccentric in his habits and set in his ways. He would not learn to drive a car. Perhaps he could not see the sense in it. Hans had his bicycle. For twenty years it got him to work and it got him home. The bike started on the coldest mornings, ran on regular, parked anywhere, and repaired easily. But the reality was that he had no need to drive, and he enjoyed the quiet passage of the seasons of nature’s beauty as he pedaled along.

Of course driving would save time, but he did not need more time. Everything he wanted to do he was doing already. Everything he wanted, he had. He was master of his world because he was master of himself. He was not a slave to unsatisfied desires. Money was important for his family’s welfare, and so he was industrious and frugal. But anybody who needed money more than he did could have it. He conceded time to sleep, but arose every morning at 5:00 to study the scriptures and to accompany himself on the piano as he sang a hymn–to start his day the way a day ought to start.

He had a garden in which a weed more than an inch high was a personal insult; in which rows were always and irrevocably straight; in which he labored long, hot hours every spring and summer; and from which any neighbor (or nephew) in need was free to harvest. 

The Banquet of Life

For this man of simple tastes, life was a constant banquet. His soul was in perfect harmony with the purpose and meaning of living, because he had something important and wonderful to contribute: himself. The lessons of the new frame house in Linden were never lost to him. No job was too insignificant if it was for someone else. Broken fences and doors seemed to mend themselves in our neighborhood. The nine widows who lived on his two-block section of Center Street (my mother was one of them) knew they had a benefactor watching over them, practicing pure religion with a hammer and a wheelbarrow.
In fact, Hans owned the world’s first wheelbarrow to go one hundred thousand miles without a major tune-up. He hauled enough dirt, cement, and gravel around our neighborhood to build Hoover Dam. As often as not, those he served never knew he had come or gone. He did not do his good deeds on the sly. He did not try not to get caught. He simply did not care if anyone knew. He was a priesthood man, doing the work of the priesthood. He did not believe in labels or limits. He believed in helping people with their problems. He believed in service. 

The Simplicity and Serenity of Service  

One evening I was at his home, watching television with his son, when his daughter dashed into the room and begged her mother to iron her dress, a pleated skirt. She had a date, was late, and (for dramatic effect) was nearly hysterical. Her mother was occupied with a small household chore. Hans told her to carry on. He picked up the skirt and turned on the iron. He was simplicity and serenity as he worked, one eye on the pleats, one on the T.V. 

Hans was just finishing when Diane came back into the room. It surprised her a little to see him ironing. I could see it in her eyes. She slowed her mad rush long enough to look at him for a moment. Then she kissed him on the cheek and whispered, “Thanks, Dad.” But I don’t think she understood. I don’t think any of us understood until he fell. 

The Church built a stake center in the vacant lot next to his home.

Hans was so pleased.He had retired from his carpentry work at the university and his days were free. Helping build that building became his new dedication.   The disciples of the Lord had once built him a new home; now he would help build a new home for the Lord and some of his disciples. Hans spent his days there, all day, every day, doing what had to be done, giving and serving without pay and without remorse. He was on the Lord’s business. Then one day, as he worked in the cultural hall lining up the roof joists, the scaffolding shifted. He fell headfirst to the concrete floor below. Fellow workers rushed to him and found him bleeding, conscious, coherent. He said two things. With his steady good humor peeking out through eyes glazed with pain he whispered, “It will feel better when it quits hurting.” And then, as a wave of dizziness and agony washed over him, he added, “Don’t call the doctor. I have to set up chairs for the ward party tonight.”

He slipped away from us then, into a coma. He never returned. His gravestone is small and simple, an appropriate symbol. But his true monument stands on Center Street, majestic and grand, among the houses of his widows: the Mt. Logan Stake Center, for which Hans gave what he had always given: himself.

This article is adapted from Chapter 11 of the author’s book, This Life is a Test.