Think back to the first time you saw Morro Rock projecting itself 581 feet above sea level. Looming large like a prehistoric protective stone giant, its steadfast presence welcomed you to a one-of-a-kind seaside town of 10,000. Well, on January 30, 2018, Morro Bay lost one of its most compassionate, big-hearted individuals ever to walk the streets of our community.
Jerry Hannula, like Morro Rock, seemed to protect all that was good about our bayside town. He and Carol could be seen walking hand-in-hand on their way down to the Embarcadero—Carol in her brightly-colored garb and Jerry with his USS Rupertus (the destroyer he served on while in the Navy) hat. ey smiled at other daily walkers like Francis or Colby and Shoosh and waved at friends who would beep at them from their cars as they drove by the happy couple.
Jerry grew up in Litchfield, Minnesota, a tiny farming town not far from St. Cloud. He attended St. Cloud State College where he met
a shy, pretty girl named Carol who had just completed 12 years of Catholic schooling.
“You’re not as friendly as your other girlfriends,” he remarked to her one day. “Well, I don’t have time for boys because I am studying to become a nun,” Carol plainly stated as she turned and walked away. Jerry knew better.
Jerry persisted and, eventually, the two became friends, and when Jerry met Carol’s father, Carol expected he would receive the cold shoulder her father gave other boys who came by. Instead, her father said, “You know, I like that young man.”
“But father, he isn’t even Catholic. He’s a Swedish Presbyterian.” Her father just shrugged. Soon after, Jerry joined the Navy. One day, Carol received a letter from Jerry with a picture inside depicting four young Navy men in uniform being baptized in a Catholic church—Jerry was one of them. Later, Jerry told Carol, “I knew you wouldn’t marry me if I wasn’t Catholic, so…”
Carol asked her father for advice. He just looked at her and smiled. “My dear, there are many other ways to serve the Lord besides becoming a nun. Believe me, He will understand.” So, when Jerry returned from the Korean War, Carol Schoener married him. Look- ing for a job, Jerry heard they needed teachers in California, so the couple (with two small children and another on the way) moved west and found Morro Bay in 1959. A new high school graced HWY 1, and one-foot tall Monterey Cypress trees were planted between the school and the highway. Jerry was hired as a business teacher the first year the school opened to students.
One day, he noticed a sign on his classroom door; it was in Spanish and the other teachers were laughing at the sign. Jerry took the sign home and asked Carol what it meant in English. Carol laughed, “It means… The Good Rabbit … I think someone is making fun of all the children we’ve been producing.”
It was true. The Hannula family grew rapidly. The three-bedroom house soon became crowded, so the garage was converted to make more room. Deborah was the oldest, then Don who attended Cal Poly and became a Mechanical Engineer. Karin followed and now teaches Lamaze classes for an Oakland hospital. Hal was next and followed Don to Cal Poly to earn his degree in Agricultural Engineering. Fifteen months later, Joann was born and would go on to earn her master’s degree and today counsels athletes who come to Santa Barbara City College. Finally, Jerry Jr. was born on Carol’s birthday. Yes, this Catholic family lined up a boy-girl rotation to the amazement of friends. One friend joked to Carol just before Jerry was born, “I suppose you are planning a boy this time to keep the rotation going.”
Carol didn’t miss a beat, “Yes, it will be a boy, and he will be born on my birthday.” A month later, Jerry Jr. was born just after midnight on Carol’s birthday. When Jerry was allowed to visit her bedside, he asked, “Are you okay?”
Carol, with her newborn naked son sleeping on her bosom, looked up at her husband of many years through eyes blurred with love and whispered, “This is the best birthday present you’ve ever given me.”
Today, after 65 years of marriage, the Hannula family has blossomed: besides their six adult children, Jerry and Carol have been blessed with 20 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
When I asked the Hannula siblings what they remembered most about growing up in such a family, they shared the following remembrances.
Don thought about the time when the family packed up the Volkswagen bus for a trip back to Minnesota. Cloth diapers, potty chair, fishing poles, sports equipment, clothes, shoes, and the list goes on… At Mount Rushmore, one of the kids ran back inside to buy a piece of candy, but the rest of the family closed the van doors, and Jerry headed out. Before long, Carol looked back as it seemed a bit quieter than usual. After a repeated headcount, she turned to Jerry, “We’re missing one of the kids!”
“Count again!” said Jerry as his stomach flipped over. Soon, the car was speeding back to the Mount Rushmore parking lot, and sure enough, there was little Jerry Jr. – standing in the parking space where the van had been parked- a tear in his eye and an empty candy wrapper in his hand.
Joann reminisced how wonderful it was having a dad who was a teacher. Every summer and sometimes Christmas break our entire family would travel to distant places. One Christmas, mom and dad informed us that we were going camping in Mexico for Christmas, and instead of buying us gifts, they were going to give that money to the poor in Mexico. Camping in a tent with eight people in Mexico for two weeks did not make me happy. It was crowded, cold, hard to sleep, and my brothers were smelly. My nine-year-old-self thought, ” is is the worst Christmas ever!”
Yet, as I grew up, I realized what a gift we reluctantly received. My parents always tried to instill in us the importance of giving to others less fortunate and to be grateful for what we have in our lives. at lesson still resonates with me in my work today as a counselor to students, many who are first in their family to attend college, who hope to become contributing members of our society.
Karin shared her favorite story: I have always known it was a special privilege to be born into our family. People would criticize the “Brady Bunch” as not being a “real” family (since it was too happy and too idyllic). I agreed it was not “real” since ours had some unspoken sadness. Our parents were brought together partly because each had a parent who died very young. My mother’s mom died when she was just 12, and my Father’s dad died right after he joined the Navy—age 19. In truth, my life was much better than the Brady Bunch; except, we didn’t have a housekeeper or a dog! Being a middle child, I rarely found alone time with either mom or dad, yet, on my 16th Birthday, Dad picked me up from school to take me to SLO to the DMV for my driver’s license. He had called KSLY radio to have them wish me a Happy Birthday and play a special song at exactly 3:25. It was such a sweet act of thoughtfulness and kindness. And yes, I passed the driving test on my first try—probably because of that special song request. Seriously, the key to my parents’ success was their mutual respect for each other and how well they worked together as a team. My dad’s famous mantra was always, “We work first as a family, and then we play.”
After the children were grown and gone, Carol met a new priest who had come to St. Timothy’s Church in Morro Bay from Santa Cruz. His name was Father Ed Holterho and the two hit it o splendidly. After a conversation with Jerry, it was decided that it was Carol’s turn to teach because she wanted to help meet the needs of the newly arrived Mexican immigrants who spoke little English but attended mass at St. Timothy’s. She asked Father Ed about using the church hall as a classroom, and he agreed, so the church hosted free ESL classes to the Mexican Community. Father Ed also offered a Saturday Mass in broken Spanish as he was determined to learn the language.
The Hannula family and other similar families like the Tognazzinis, Kitzmans, Domenghinis, Tartaglias, Jones and many others made Morro Bay a special place to raise a family. Many of us came here from far away, but were welcomed with open arms as long as we honored the values that hold steadfast and true even today.