Written by Peter G. Sánchez
Grocery store clerk. Funeral home driver. Property chairman. Plumbing associate.
At one point in his 100 years (and 60 days) on this earth, Bill Hansen has held all these occupations. None, however, can compare to the important position he has held twice a week, and sometimes more, for nearly 40 years: altar server at Christ the King Parish in Haddonfield.
“In my life, I have been blessed in so many ways,” he says. “Altar serving is a way of me giving back, for God’s goodness.”
These blessings stretch back to March 27, 1917, when Bill was born in Newark, New Jersey, before moving to Jersey City at the age of 6.
When he was 16 years old, he dropped out of public school and began working for his father’s grocery store as a clerk.
It was here that Bill’s eye was caught by a “pretty young girl walking with her mother.”
Bill found out that her name was Dorothy Rich, and she liked to go dancing at a local hall on Saturday nights.
“The first Saturday night I asked her to dance, she said no. The second Saturday night, she said yes. The third Saturday night, I walked her home. It was a seven-year courtship,” he recounts.
Before the two got married in 1941, Lutheran-born Bill had a surprise for his soon-to-be bride.
“I told her we were getting married in a Catholic Church, and she responded, ‘You’re not Catholic.’ And I said back, ‘Yes I am, I just took the classes and converted,’” he laughed.
The two exchanged vows at Jersey City’s Saint Paul Church.
While working at a shipyard in Kearny, he discovered that Philadelphia’s docks needed him, so he transferred jobs and moved his family to Westmont, initially settling in at Holy Saviour Parish. Soon, though, he, his wife and two children, Gail and Bill, Jr., began attending Christ the King, with founding pastor Msgr. Joseph B. McIntyre.
Work with Exxon, the funeral home, and AllHeat followed. Bill estimates that almost 40 years ago, as a (still) daily Mass communicant, he noticed there was no altar server available to assist the celebrating priest.
“I helped the priest for the first time that day, and I still do it every Wednesday and Sunday mornings, and whenever they need someone,” he says.
For 20 years, Bill was also property chairman at Christ the King, and his duties to the church and school buildings included cutting the lawn and painting the school auditorium.
In 2004, Dorothy died, and he retired from his job collecting permits for a plumbing company after a fall left him with a still-dislocated shoulder (citing his age, surgeons refused to operate on him).
Today, living in a nearby apartment building, the spry centenarian finds himself “bored to death” at times, but joyful when attending and serving at Masses; spending time with his children; six grandchildren; six great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchild, and playing poker every other Friday night with the boys.
“God has blessed me with extreme good fortune, with my wife, my family and my friends,” Bill said. “I thank God for each day, thank him for the yesterdays, and pray for one more tomorrow.”
Read in Catholic Star Herald