Guest opinion: On the anniversary of 35W bridge collapse, daughter’s tribute to DadSt. Joseph Church held a memorial service Aug. 1 for Peter Hausmann, who had died five years earlier while trying to help other victims of the 35W bridge collapse. At the service, Hausmann's daughter Justina gave a moving eulogy that she, through St. Joseph pastor Paul Jarvis, has shared with the Town Pages.
The place was blessedly packed for Peter Hausmann’s Memorial Mass, on the fifth anniversary of the I-35W Bridge collapse and his heroic attempt to save others in the Mississippi River. Not only were St. Joe’s parishioners packing the pews; folks from all around Dakota County and the Twin Cities were there in support of the Hausmanns and St. Joe’s parishioners. Rosemount mayor Bill Droste and numerous city administrators and officials joined the somber and joyful gathering.
Perhaps one of the finest eulogies I have ever heard was given by Peter and Helen Hausmann’s daughter Justina. Many community members have asked for copies of it. With her permission, I give it to Peter’s friends, far and wide, through the Rosemount Town Pages.
Over the past few weeks, my family and I have been asked, “How would you characterize the past five years?” To be completely honest, each and every time I hear this question, I get stuck on that number: five years. In some ways, it feels like I’ve lived an entire lifetime since that August, but in other ways, I am still 16 years old staring at the television screen watching news coverage of the collapse in complete disbelief.
We Hausmanns have covered a lot of ground in these last five years. Back then, we were ages 29, 16, 14, 9 and 7. Today, we are 29, 21, 19, 14 and 12. Mom is the perpetual 29-year-old, in case you were wondering. We are older, wiser, stronger. I’m not sure if we really knew where we were headed five years ago, but in taking each day as it comes, we have accomplished so much more than we could have thought possible.
A few weeks ago, my brother Andrew came across a box filled with old letters my dad had received during his 20s. The bulk of these letters were from my dad’s days of travel, from his journeys to Europe and eventually Africa. Often times, Dad would leave the country without telling friends and extended family, only letting his parents and siblings know where he was headed off to next. Many of these letters to him had the same theme: “Where the heck are you, Pete?” I thought it seemed appropriate to organize the past five years in a similar fashion, a letter to my dad.
Here it goes:
I haven’t heard from you in a while. Where in the world are you? Of course that seems silly to ask since we all know you are probably engaging in big discussions with the saints and other greats who have gone before us, but I have since concluded there simply must not be a properly functioning postal service up there in heaven. Either way, I guess we should catch you up.
Let’s start with Theresa. Even though she’s only 12, she’s shot up to a whopping 5’6” and counting. She’s quite the soccer star, and her soccer team won the Catholic Athletic Association championship last fall. Mom and I are making sure she knows her way around the kitchen. She can whip you up a mean batch of cookies or a delicious cake. She’s so smart and so goofy, just like you. Of course, you’d be proud.
David graduated from eighth grade this spring and is going to be a high schooler. Can you believe it?! He’s taking after his big brother and loves to lift weights. He’s growing, too. He’s much bigger than you were when you were a high school freshman, Dad. But I guess that wasn’t very hard to beat since you were a measly 78 pounds. He’ll play soccer this fall and take honors classes. He’s our very own Energizer bunny, just like you. Of course, you’d be proud.
Next is Andrew. Andrew just finished his freshman year at Harvard. It’s as crazy as it sounds, Pops. He won honors in athletics, academics and the arts. Remember how 8-year-old Andrew used to sing opera for us before dinner? Well, he performed in his first legit opera this winter. He’s got an impressive set of vocal cords. Whether he’s on the track, on the stage, or in the classroom, Andrew just shines. He and your brother, Fr. Leo, dug a well for Mom’s family in Kenya a few years ago. It’s obvious he understands the importance of community and advancing the common good, just like you. Of course, you’d be proud.
I guess that means I’m next. I’m a senior at the University of St. Thomas. I keep getting older and I can’t make it stop! I’ll be studying abroad again in Rome for this fall at the Angelicum. I’ve gone on a few mission and service trips in these past five years, to West Virginia, Mississippi, Costa Rica, and of course, Kenya. I’ve got the travel bug and an itch to save people’s worlds. I’m not sure what’s next for me. Perhaps dentistry, perhaps nonprofit, maybe even both. We’ll see where the spirit takes me. All I know is that I hope both you and mama will be proud.
Speaking of Mama Helen, she is amazing, Dad. But you already knew that. After all, she did sweep you off your feet in a matter of days. Didn’t you drop everything here in the States to discern priesthood in Kenya? You then met Mom within three’ days of arriving in Kenya, and I guess the rest is history! Mom is doing very well, so there is no need to worry about her. She has blossomed into a beautiful butterfly, just like the ones that remind her so often of you. Mom stands tall with pride for our family, but I know my siblings and I are the proud and lucky ones. She does so much for us and makes sure we feel her love every day, just like you did. Of course, you’d be proud.
We have learned we were blessed with the most incredible set of parents. Not many people would risk their lives for strangers in a selfless act of love. Not many people would stand up and pick up the pieces to keep a family going in the midst of a tragedy. Even though there have been times when it would have been easier to throw in the towel and head for the hills, Mama has held us together and this community has made us strong. I’m certain you are watching over us. We have felt this in the warmth and generosity of this community. In these friendships, we have been abundantly blessed.
So, Dad. Yes, we are sad to have lost you so soon, but we are even happier to have known you. Thank you. Thank you for showing the world what it means to love selflessly and follow Jesus. Thank you for being a man of your word. Thank you for instilling lessons in all of our hearts that I know with certainty we will not forget. Thank you for being best father we could have asked for. Thank you for your prayers for our family and this community, for we know you can help us more from where you are than you ever could here on Earth. I’m not sure what the coming years hold for us, but I know you’ll be a part of them. Your love and spirit of service are contagious. We will never forget you. Thank you for touching our hearts and inspiring us to live a life worth living.
Omogaka, intogwanchete goika omoerio naende kare na kare. Dad, we love you to the end and forever.