Cowboy with heart for young people passes on

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, May 8, 2002

"To a land where joys shall never end, I'll fly away."

One of our longtime coffee companions died this past weekend. Morley resident Hanson Twoyoungmen, a lamplighter for many, was for me personally a source of wisdom, courage and hope.

Hanson and I were sipping coffee together at the A&W just a couple of weeks ago. Though only 63, his health had broken and he had been in and out of the hospital repeatedly. In voice and appearance, he seemed drained.

But his spirit was strong, and he was resolute in his vision for wellness among the young people of his Stoney First Nation.

For years, Hanson had watched bureaucratic bungling and reserve politics sap the will to live from a generation of Stoney youth. It pained him to see teenagers, devoid of the self-respect that comes from self-reliance, turning to drugs, alcohol and violence to fill the void.

"We need to be looking out for our young people so they can learn to look after themselves when the pressure comes on us," he wrote not long ago. "Our young people need to be educated in the right way. We hope for a more knowledgeable generation in the years to come."

One way Hanson looked out for the young people was to create Sunset Healing, a training and employment initiative that facilitates off-reserve life-skills experience.

"Today there are many young people with no hope whatsoever," he said. "If the axe ever falls on them, they don't know what to do. Most have never worked off the Reserve . . .

"But young people urgently need that experience to work in a different environment. If we have a chance to do something for the young Aboriginal people, now is the time."

Coffee companion Andy Marshall has worked closely with Hanson and Hanson's son, Pastor Kevin Hunter, in implementing Sunset Healing. Upon hearing the news of Hanson's death, he sent me the following note:

HANSON WORKED with his people for 20 years, bringing hope, trust and new life from despair.

His own life is an inspiration for others. In and out of jail, mired in alcoholism and a life of violence, Hanson made a conscious decision more than 20 years ago to turn his life around.

Strengthened through his new-found faith in God, and, despite persecution even from some of his own people, he maintained a determined course through those two decades, coming to the aid of those most in trouble and constant in his desire to make the world a better place.

—Andy Marshall, Cochrane

ANDY REFERRED to Hanson's "new-found faith in God." In all the years I knew Hanson, this was by far the most important thing in his life.

"I was in the ditch, Brother Warren, and Jesus lifted me out," Hanson often said. For him, making the world a better place always started with telling people about God's amazing grace.

Hanson was a rodeo cowboy, and many a bull and bronc rider today will testify to how Hanson got them off the bottle by introducing them to Jesus. Many of these began attending the Cowboy Church at the Ranchman's restaurant in Calgary, where they could count on hearing Hanson sing Country Gospel and preach from the Bible.

Hanson could be counted on also for his songs and words at almost every wake at Morley. In fact, I cannot remember a wake in recent years when Hanson and his guitar were not present, comforting the grieving family, and bringing hope to the young people.

The genuineness of Hanson's changed life is attested to by many, both on and off the reserve. One of the Stoney First Nation councillors who knew him for most of his life phoned me while I was writing this column and said it all: "Hanson's one of the guys I completely respect, because he turned his life completely around."

Well, Hanson's guitar is silent now, his voice stilled. But in my heart, I hear him singing a song he sang so often at wakes and funerals for others:

"To a land where joys shall never end, I'll fly away."

© 2002 Warren Harbeck

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