His words live on: Stay strong, stay tough

  • Article by: PAM LOUWAGIE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 3, 2007 - 10:42 PM

Helen and Peter fell for each other in Africa and built their life in Minnesota. Since his death in the bridge collapse, she relies on that love each day.

They gathered in the foyer before sunrise, the widow and her children singing to the man missing from their lives.

The older two -- Justina and Andrew -- stood at the door, backpacks at their feet. The younger two -- Theresa and David -- stood on either side of their mom, still in pajamas. They sang lustily, eyes filled with tears.

It is tradition in Peter and Helen Hausmann's family to sing on birthday mornings. They've done it on every birthday since the kids were little.

So on this dark October morning they sang to their father, who died when the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed.

Ready? Helen started and the kids joined in. Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to you. Happy birthday, dear Daddy ...

Often, Peter had to encourage his children to belt it out. Louder, you hooligans! But this morning, they sang out without prompting.

Helen held back her sobs. She was staying strong for her four kids.

• • •

Even as a younger man, Peter Hausmann reached out to others. He'd see the sad stories of Third World children on TV commercials and couldn't help but send money. A farm kid from South Dakota, he landed a high-paying computer job in the Twin Cities that took him around the world. It was a life he'd worked hard to get, but it wasn't making him happy.

Finally, his brother Leo, who would become a Catholic priest, suggested that Peter do mission work. In 1987, Peter arrived at a boarding school in a remote Kenyan town to teach science.

Helen Ongaki, a slight woman who wore her hair in braids, worked at the school, watching him from afar for about a year. He looked like a girl, she thought, with his scrawny build and flowing brown hair.

In the mud-soaked town during rainy season, with lousy roads and poverty all around, he was always smiling, kind and happier than anyone she knew.

One day, as children playfully quizzed Peter on their names, Helen spoke to him for the first time.

What about me? Do you know my name?

He did.

Do you know my name? he asked back.

You are Mr. Peter Joseph Hausmann.

He looked at her, wide-eyed. How do you know my middle name?

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