Dennis Hanson's smile could pull anyone out of the darkest of days. He knew the true meaning of unconditional love and expressed it daily. (Photo by Damon Photography)

Dennis Hanson’s smile could pull anyone out of the darkest of days. He knew the true meaning of unconditional love and expressed it daily. (Photo by Damon Photography)

PERU- “I’ll beat you to the bottom!,” he laughed as we lined our bikes up at the top of the hill. His, a shiny blue store-bought, two wheeled gem and mine a red dump fixer-upper with a yellow banana-seat that hadn’t had the brakes installed on it yet. We were only six and seven years old. Do you see where this is going?

Off we went! Down the long dirt hill. Dennis pedaled and braked. Pedaled and braked down the gradual incline at the start. Not me, I was OFF! I almost reached the bottom when I hit a protruding rock and down I went. The next thing I knew, I was sitting in my mom’s lap, eyes opening to blood all over the front of my pretty yellow summer jumper and not able to talk.

You see, not only did I beat Dennis to the bottom, I did it at breakneck speed and knocked myself out when I dumped the bike with no brakes.

This is just one memory of mine that has come rushing back over the last couple weeks in the wake of my cousin’s passing. Memories that bring just as many tears as they do smiles.
During the first long days after Dennis made his glorious entrance into the Heavens above, there were many stories that came about from friends, co-workers, former students and teachers. Each person remembering him for how he impacted their lives over the last ten to 15 years.

Dennis was 37, there were a lot of years before people knew him as coach Hanson, Mr. Hanson, daddy, husband, friend and co-worker.
Dennis was born to Bill and Margie Hanson, a miracle son, an only son. They loved him, cared for him and taught him to do the same for others.

Dennis’ dad, grandfather, uncles and cousins taught him to hunt, fish, trap and generally love everything outdoors. They taught him to wrestle, how to tease girls and introduced him to the love of watching short track racing.

His mother showed him tenderness and taught him that there was nothing wrong with cooking, cleaning, crying or showing his feelings.

Grandparents showed him love and taught him respect for his elders.

But there is one thing I am sure only a limited few knew about Dennis’ past. A time in his life that surely helped him evolve into the amazing husband, father, coach, friend and co-worker.

Are you aware that Dennis belonged to an elite group? A group that taught him from early on how to listen to women. How to be tender in their needs. When to step forward with a hug and when to run the other way.

That group was the Fabulous Four. You see, Dennis was born in August of 1977, fourth of four grandchildren born into the Richard and Patricia Dolloff family since May of 1975, the ONLY boy.

You got it, poor Dennis had his big cousins, Angela, me and Christine to teach him all the ins and outs of what it meant to be born so close to all us girls.

From the very beginning, our parents posed us for a group photo; Dennis and Sis in their little seats and me and Ang standing behind each of them. It was the beginning of a tradition we held onto each time we were together.

And, now, all those photo shoots bring us comfort to remember how tight our bond was from birth. A bond that was strengthened by everyday interactions.

Dennis learned REALLY quick how to play with dolls, how to push a baby stroller, how to sit still while his hair was braided and pony-tailed, but best of all, how to just go with the flow and act the part of our fourth “girl” while we dressed him up.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t ALWAYS about us girls and pretty things. In fact, more often than not, you could find us “fishing” in the “river” that separated our grandparents’ house from our great grandmother’s. We could always be found on the old tire swing in the yard at our grandparents’, and later, when the tree had to be cut down, a log swing set was built for our continued enjoyment.

As the years went by, more cousins came along, and eventually boys for Dennis to play with. But, he never lost his love for being one of the girls, as became evident later in life.

Throughout middle and high school, he was the one guy amongst all the girls. Not because they were interested in him as a boyfriend, but because he listened, he wasn’t afraid to hug them. He cared and didn’t give in to all the macho behavior most guys gave into.
He was genuine in all his relationships. He told you exactly how he felt and didn’t hide from anything. If someone needed a hug, he gave it. If someone needed lunch money, he offered. If someone needed a lift home, he was there. There was nothing he wouldn’t do. Everyone was a friend.

As family does, we all fell into routine with our own lives after graduation, with college, work, marriage and children, but we all looked forward to that photo opportunity when the Fabulous Four were together.

Dennis grew to be our strength six short years ago when we lost Sis, the third-born of our Fabulous Four. We were devastated, but with our combined faith and strength, we were able to heal and move on.

Dennis loved deeply. He loved his mom and dad, his wife and three girls, all to the ends of the earth. He lived for family. I am honored to call him my cousin and to know he made such a great impact on so many lives during his short time here on earth.

All the glory to our Father in Heaven for sending such an amazing son for my uncle Bill and aunt Margie to wrap their arms around and raise into a faithful steward of God’s love. And, with a very heavy heart, all the glory to that same Father in Heaven for wrapping His arms around Bill and Margie, Kelli, Jaiden, Rachel and Faith, during this time as they begin their healing.
Dennis, your memory will live on through each person you crossed paths with. Each person to whom you gifted a smile, a hug, a handshake or a pat on the back. Each person you entrusted with your love.

Rest easy, my dear cousin, until we meet again in that great kingdom of Heaven where there is only love and light.