Mineral Wells Index, Mineral Wells, TX

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February 13, 2010

Goodnight descendant Dorothy Hansen dies

MINERAL WELLS — With Tuesday's passing of Emmy award winner and poet laureate of Napa Valley Dorothy Lee Hansen, Mineral Wells lost a treasure.

She was part of “a wonderful generation of extraordinary people of character who lived or had lived here and with the death of Dorothy they are all gone,” said county attorney and friend Phil Garrett about Hansen and her local friends like Bea Harris and Jean Price.

Though she travelled the world, visiting 53 countries, the 84-year-old Mineral Wells native was steeped in Palo Pinto County history.

“She was extremely interested in her pioneer heritage,” noted Lela Jane Abernathy, “which included being a great-great niece of Charles Goodnight.”

Goodnight and his partner, Oliver Loving, were famous cattle drivers from this area. The book "Lonesome Dove" was based on them.

“She was a delightful poet,” Abernathy added. “She mentored several young people in the community, encouraging them to write poetry and go to college.”

Born in Mineral Wells in 1925, Hansen kept a home here called “Hill Cove” and returned often to visit. According to Garrett, she wished to return to her roots again before she succumbed to cancer but wasn't able to.

Garrett recalled Hansen's entertaining visits, which included her “fresh reading” of a handwritten poem for the Texas Frontier Trails groundbreaking event at Pollard Park.

Perhaps most memorable for Garrett was when he talked her into what would be her last Texas poetry reading. This reading took place “in front of the raucous Noon Lions Club,” he said, “and she brought them to their feet.”

She left Mineral Wells after marrying Woodrow Hansen, who was stationed at Camp Wolters during World War II.

After the war, the couple moved to New York, where she learned theater and radio, while raising her children. Hansen started a career in radio by hosting shows in Providence, R.I. This lead to hosting television shows there, in the medium's early history.

When the Hansens moved to San Francisco, Dorothy wrote for the old San Francisco News and did some commercials before developing the idea for a television show.

“I was just thinking there hasn’t been too much in my life I’ve been determined to do, but I was determined to be a television star, so I decided to do it,” Hansen told the Index in a 2003 interview.

She wrote a script, drew a storyboard and pitched the show to Coca-Cola. They liked it and “Dotty Hansen’s Hi-Time” – a television teen dance program – became a reality.

The program aired from 1953-55 and featured guest stars like Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Mathis and Duke Ellington. She called it the the first racially integrated TV show in San Francisco.

“I was very involved in civil rights,” she said in a radio interview two years ago, which is available at www.bahaicommunity.org/podcast/episodes/abp/abp-112.mp3. When Hansen danced with guest Louis Armstrong on the set, she was told she couldn't dance with “Pops” on the show, since he was black.

“I said then I'll just take my show to another station,” she said, but after conferring with a colleague decided to stay and continue to integrate the show through guests. The show became popular and won an Emmy award and a McCall’s Golden Mike Award.

When her husband received a Fulbright Scholarship, they moved to Germany, where she continued her TV work, hosting a program showcasing young artists and musicians.

“I learned enough German in three months to do the show,” she recalled in 2003.

The following years were pivotal. They included a divorce, returning with her children to the states, finishing college and earning a teaching degree and continuing her activity in the civil rights movement. During this time, she left a job teaching at an all-white school in Napa Valley, Calif., to teach in an inner-city school in San Francisco.

She was invited to teach a television course in Pago Pago, American Samoa. Here her life took an important turn after finding the Bahá’í faith.

What attracted Hansen to the Bahá’í faith was its message of harmony among science and mankind, incorporating religious tenets of different faiths and teaching that life and God’s messengers are sent in cycles – the unity of mankind.

“I was always searching for the meaning of life,” said the woman raised at North Oak Church of Christ. “I couldn’t believe there was a religion that believed all the things I did.”

“As everything in nature evolves in cycles, so does the spirit of man,” she told the Index in 2003. “God sends us a messenger who guides us as far as he can and then another messenger is sent. That made sense to me. All of a sudden, it was like water pouring over me.”

She returned to Napa Valley with her children and taught high school. She attended a writing workshop where, at 50 years old, Hansen found her poetry calling. Hansen followed the advice of one of the workshop’s instructors: “Just write what you feel.”

“It was just like a dam broke and all these poems started pouring out of me,” she said. “I think a week later I had 50 poems.”

“I always loved the art of poetry,” said Hansen. “I carried a poetry book instead of a Bible. But I had no idea I could write poetry.”

She published collections of poetry beginning with “Africa To Me” in 1983. In 1985, “Cedar Berries” reflected her “bittersweet” memories of life in Mineral Wells and Texas. In 2001 she published “On a Snowy Night in Zamosc,” with reflections of Eastern Europe.

Garrett and Hansen kept in touch over the years. He said her favorite poem was one she wrote about locals noodling for catfish – when someone entices a catfish to lock onto their arm and wrestles the fish out of water. He said she read it all over, including in Nigeria.

Two things Hansen told Garrett she was proud to experience were the fall of the Berlin Wall and meeting a Russian poet she admired. Garrett said she went to his home and insisted on seeing him, though she was told three times he did not receive guests. He said she ended up having tea with the poet.

He added that she seemed overjoyed when she met his son, Foster, and could say she knew his family for four generations. Garrett said Hansen was his father's babysitter when she lived in Mineral Wells. He said she often introduced herself as such, despite being an Emmy Award winner.

“She loved the limelight and to be the center of attention, but was oddly devoid of ego,” said Garrett.

“It's all been very interesting to me,” he added of knowing Hansen. “I've enjoyed her so much.”

She is survived by her children, Erik, Enid, Marc and Ben; by her grandchildren, Karissa, Miranda, Safaa, Niku and Kent; and by her great-grandchildren Ariyah and Miela. Service is at the Napa Valley Memorial Park chapel at 10 a.m. on Monday.

Condolences may be sent online to www.treadwayandwiggerfuneralchapel.com.

Index editor David May contributed to this article. Staff writer Libby Cluett can be reached at (940) 325-4465, ext. 3422, or lcluett@mineralwellsindex.com.

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