MARY JANE HANKINS HAGLUNDMary Jane Hankins Haglund
Safe upon the solid rock, the ugly houses stand.
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand.
-Edna St. Vincent Milay
By Natalya J. Wallin, Granddaughter
In celebration of Mary Jane Hankins Haglund, 1929 to 2012
In many ways my grandmother Mary Jane Hankins was like the place in which she lived— quirky, idiosyncratic, full of stories, full of life. In fact I can hardly think of her apart from her house in Duluth—the old Anneke house on the end of Park Point built in 1905, an inheritance of memories from her father Wallace Watt Hankins Sr. and mother Beatrice Spengler Hankins.
Her full name was Mary Jane Hankins, but she went by Jane or Janie. Born on Oct. 18, 1929, she was fifth in the line-up of siblings: Wallace, Shirley, Margaret "Dolly", Henry "Hank", and Lois. She also had two half-sisters Elizabeth and Katie. As a young woman Jane was handsome and strong, loved to sail and swim and read. She had short bobbed hair, glossy brown with a hint of copper. In family photos she reminds me of Katherine Hepburn with her fine little glasses and a trim figure displayed in clean white blouses tucked neatly into trousers and skirts. At the age of 21 she married a dashing Swede and had two fine sons: Bill (now deceased) and Tom Wallin (my father) whom she raised on her own in Chicago and Duluth. Both sons proudly served in the U.S. military—Bill as a Marine and Tom in the Army during the Vietnam War. After 22 years of work at the Railroad Retirement Board in Chicago, she retired, moved back to Duluth permanently and married Leroy Haglund in a simple ceremony on the beach. They had 23 years of adventure and travel and wonderful companionship.
A true daughter of Duluth, Grandma was fearless and independent. She used to swim in Lake Superior into the first few days of October, something only polar bears should be doing. All of us grandkids used to mentally prepare ourselves for the shock of Lake Superior waters when we visited Grandma every summer. It was an annual rite of passage; we would run down the beach screaming and dive in before we had a chance to think about how much it would hurt. I dreaded those first dives of summer. But it was just what the Wallin kids—descendants of the Hankins tribe—did. It was what Grandma did.
Grandma liked the Great Wall of China, trips to Paris with her dear friend Joan, and Charlie Rose's commentary on society and politics. She liked Mark Twain. Grandma liked the New Yorker and those impossible word puzzles because when prompted she could always come up with words like “nincompoop” without thinking twice. She liked rose-scented stationery and hand-written letters.
But most of all she lived and breathed that old house on the beach, her treasure, her shrine to people she loved, her castle. She was determined to live in this place of dreams to the very end.
And that's just what she did. You could never persuade Grandma to do anything she didn't want to do. She always did it her way.
There was some vision of bygone days when her Mother and Father and siblings lived there, some remembrance of the days when her Father was known as the “Sage of Park Point” with his bookstore and radio program, that kept her going. There was some picture in her mind of what the place should be, what the place really was and would continue to be for future generations, that drove her to battle for its preservation. She defied nature.
I watched Grandma climb on to the roof in her bathrobe once to replace shingles that blew off in one of the great storms common to Lake Superior. And when Grandma told us kids to help her uncover an old path buried in sand out back, we spent an entire day excavating with our little shovels. Two days later, driving winds off the lake covered it right back up leaving no sign of our efforts. It was a battle that would never be won, an impossible war with the elements, but Grandma didn’t care. She never gave up.
Summer evenings on the Point were a thing of simple beauty. There was an old record player in the great room, the social epicenter of the house with vaulted ceilings and huge wood beams.
Gilbert and Sullivan records played while we brought in driftwood for the fire. We knew the songs of the H.M.S. Pinafore by heart and sang along while cooking sausages and roasting marshmallows to golden brown perfection in the fireplace.
There were old davenports near the bay window. Ancient books and letters in the attics and closets and drawers. It was a dream place, a magical place. The air crackled with imagination, the atmosphere heavy with lake water, essence of warm sand and sunscreen, the scent of old wooden floors, and possibility. How fitting that Grandma spent her last days in this great room, sunlight streaming in through the bay window, hot coals glowing in the fireplace, surrounded by family.
From dust we came and to dust we will return or so the saying goes. In the end, we’re all just dirt and sand and water mixed together. We’re like sandcastles I guess—like Grandma’s house on the beach. She celebrated its imperfections. As long as the house lives and breathes in all its memory-enshrined splendor, so does she. Grandma knew that dust can be magical and sand is the stuff that castles are made of.
Mary Jane Hankins Haglund is survived by loving husband and devoted companion Leroy Haglund and son Thomas Raymond Wallin. She is remembered fondly by her nine grandchildren: Sarah, Rebekah, and Billy Wallin Jr., Natalya, Noelle, Thaddeus, Sally, Jacob and Olivia Wallin. She has one great-granddaughter, Amelie Zola Brown. Viewing at the house on the Point 10 a.m. to 12 Noon Tuesday. Graveside service 1 p.m. Tuesday at Forrest Hill Cemetery.