MILWAUKEE, WI - There was a family on my block with so many kids that it became a sport to try to name them all - in order.
Lloyd, Greg, Wayne, Keith, Gayle, Laurie, Wendy, Kevin, Mary Beth, Steve, Janet, Roberta, Elizabeth, Stephanie.
Even by baby boomer standards, the Hanus family was huge. I marveled at the parents, Lucille and Jerry Hanus, and how they were able to keep them all straight, let alone feed, clothe and get 14 kids to school.
What I didn't know until Tuesday is that none of these kids would be here at all if things had gone differently the February day in 1944 that Jerry's plane went down over Germany during World War II. The bombardier parachuted into enemy territory.
"I think he ended up in a tree and kinda hung there until the Germans found him. I remember him saying he lost his boots when he jumped out of the plane," daughter Stephanie Hanus told me.
He was captured and held 15 months as a prisoner of war along with many other American airmen. It was something he rarely discussed with his family until the final dozen years of his life.
Gerald J. Hanus died Friday. He was 94, an impressive life span, given the ravages of war and the demands of parenting seven times the average family size of today. He and Lucille actually had 15 children, but Linda died as a baby.
After the war, Jerry met Lucille at a party in Milwaukee in 1946 and fell for her instantly. They got engaged on their first date, as the story goes, and were married two weeks later. Lloyd and Stephanie were the baby bookends. He was born in 1947, and she came along 20 years later.
My comparatively small family of six kids lived on 66th St. a few blocks north of Capitol Drive, and the Hanuses were across the alley on 67th. They were crammed into a four-bedroom house, along with a grandmother. For a while, Stephanie slept on a cot alongside two bunk beds in one bedroom.
The kids ate meals in shifts at the kitchen table and reserved seats or floor space in front of the television.
"I remember having assigned times for the bathroom in the morning. Then you would line up. We only had one bathroom," Stephanie said.
Lucille was just 45 years old when she died of kidney cancer in 1972. Jerry, who never remarried, became both father and mother while still managing to keep his job sorting mail at the downtown post office. He worked there 35 years.
"We never missed birthdays, Christmas, nothing. He kept it all going," Stephanie said. "He just had one of the best attitudes, you know. You take what life gives you and make the best of it. He enjoyed the simple things in life. Nothing made him happier than just having his kids over for a barbecue."
He also delighted in his 17 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Most of his children have remained nearby in the Milwaukee area. Jerry lived in the 67th St. house until suffering a stroke in September, making him the last of the neighbors from my childhood on the block.
Jerry enjoyed his weekly sheepshead card club for many years. He liked to go rummaging. And he grew closer to his fellow soldiers by attending ex-POW group meetings and 452nd Bomb Group reunions, sometimes with his children who were eager to learn more about those days.
Funeral arrangements have been announced. Visitation will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Krause Funeral Home, 9000 W. Capitol Drive. A Mass will be 10 a.m. Friday at Mother of Good Counsel Catholic Church, 6924 W. Lisbon Ave.