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Once a Man, Twice a Child
By: Mary-Jane Gustin

© 2005 by Mary-Jane Gustin.


This old adage was quoted many times from my Mother’s lips. And now I have seen it come full circle.

My family and I first met Jack Albanese in 1976. He was a United States Postman, carrying the mail on his back to the many suburban houses in Great Falls, Montana where the winters were cold and the load was heavy. It was particularly cold in the early 1970's, Jack told us of how he left his Post Office Government Jeep running, to keep it warm. This of course was forbidden. One day a school kid drove off in Jack’s jeep. They didn’t track him down until he got to Black Eagle. Jack nearly lost his job but said to me, "the worst part was that he ate my lunch!"

That the kid had eaten the wonderful lunch that Hanna had packed for him. She packed his food most carefully because of his on going stomach problems. No lunch that day!

His ‘spare’ time was devoted to helping the local inmates at the Cascade County Jail, as well as hardened criminals at Deer Lodge State Prison in Deer Lodge, Montana. The prison was some distance from Jack’s house.

Jack faithfully visited those inmates, even the really bad killers on death row. He brought them chewing gum, candy, (Jack loved candy himself!) He brought them magazines, Bibles and the message of Jesus Christ. He prayed with them, and for them. He had a real calling for these incarcerated men. He loved them, he had compassion and kindness for each one. Race was never an issue. A young Indian Boy, in jail for his first offense wrote on his cell wall : "God, please just help me get back to Browning.".That inscription on the cell wall touched Jack’s heart and ‘somehow’ the boy did indeed get back to his reservation home in Browning.

Jack had his own set of keys to The Cascade County Jail (imagine THAT today!) Everyone called him ‘Reverend Jack’. His wife Hanna sewed his black jackets with white collars. He was not a priest, but he was an ordained minister of The Gospel. He was a licensed Minister of the Gospel. He wore these jackets and collars so that the inmates could recognize him as a man of God, a man of Peace. A good and kindly man with lively brown eyes, a balding head and a Great Brooklyn accent. He is 87 yrs old and has never lost an ounce of his wonderful accent.

Not everyone loved Reverend Jack at first glance. But we, our family, fell in love with Jack and his family on the spot. He was very outspoken. Truth was Truth...no ‘hem’s and haw’s! He recited wonderful poems, his words were spoken with eloquence and tremendous meaning. Hanna has kept all of his poems over the years. I remember watching her lips move in cadence with his lips as he recited his poems. She also knew them by heart.

Hanna was Jack’s German War Bride. She and her family which consisted of her Father "Fritz", Mother "Emma", brothers, Walter and 9 yr old "Deiter" (whom they later raised to adulthood). Jack and Hanna met thru her brother Walter, who brought Jack to his parent’s ‘war time housing home’ one night from a missionary church service. Jack felt sorry for this family who would NOT bow to Hitler and his henchmen. There were many, many families who would not say ‘Heil Hitler’ and Fritz, Hanna’s Father was one of them. He was a tough little guy who worked for the local water department.

Jack brought them veal and other hard-to-get foods in their war torn country. He brought Almond Joy Candy Bars.

They did not like the coconut at all, but they loved the chocolate surrounding it. They thought he was a rich man. He was not rich at all. He was merely one of many US Army soldiers, doing the best they could for their fellow man.

Hanna remembers her Mother frying potatoes in cod liver oil. The smell of the cooking made her so sick that she would run from the house. She often told me that she thinks that God blessed her with a small appetite during those war years. She could get by on very little food.

And so, time went on. 1945-46, the BIG war was over. Jack was discharged in Germany. He took a job with the U.S. State department, basically doing the same thing he did while in the Army, issuing passports. He did not want to leave Germany. Food had become more readily available. Jack was busy ministering, part time, at a Mission Christian School while studying for his very important license to preach.

Jack visited the home of Walter for a year or so, and over the course of time, fell in love with the 16 yr old sister of Walter, a girl named Hanna who had a long blond braid down the middle of her back. She spoke not a word of English.

They had a nice little church wedding in Breman, North Germany at a castle called Schloss Neuschwanstein which had been converted into a hotel so that the German citizens could earn some money. She has pictures celebrating the wedding. She appears timid and scared.

They stayed 3-4 months with her parents. Jack learned the German language and can still speak it today. Jacks job with the Army dealt in finances and accounting, Yet, he clearly remembers the liberation of the Jewish Concentration Camps with the deplorable conditions of the Jewish prisoners. His heart yearned to help them in their misery. He was determined to travel to USA, finish his studies, receive his ‘papers’ so that he could preach the gospel.

It took them 12 days to cross the ocean on an old freighter. Jack was terribly sick with stomach ulcers during the voyage. His Army Jeep was also on board. They exited the ship late on the 12th day and went directly to Jack’s sister "Priscilla’s" for the night. Her apartment was very small so they went to a New York Missionary Home where they lived for two weeks while getting Hanna’s "Papers" in order.

And do you know that they drove that same Army jeep across the country to Helena, Montana? This too, was a 12 day trip. Hanna knew nothing about American food, didn’t like the looks of it. She ate nothing but O’Henry Candy bars for the entire trip. Nights were spent in the many "mom and pop’ cabins along the road. Jack ate diner food while Hanna picked at his plate. Then right back to the O’Henry bars she went!

In Helena they met ‘Sister Sarah’ who was a saintly woman. She got them hooked up with the Great Falls District of The Assemblies of God Missions Department. Jack and Hanna were sent to Loma, Montana for one year. Loma is a desolate place yet today. Jack was a New York City boy, who knew nothing about farming the rich Loma fields.

Yet he had to work hard so that he could borrow a farmers truck in order to move their sparse furnishings to an old dilapidated prairie house far from town which was provided by the Home Missions Board... the citified New York boy dug potatoes for two days.

From Loma they were sent to Conrad, Montana in the heart of rich wheat country, then to Stevensville, Montana which was the first white settlement in the State of Montana. AND THEN they were sent to Roundup, Montana.

And here, in Roundup, is where the Preacher’s Wife made her first mistake. UH OH! Hanna went swimming at a public swimming pool! HORRORS! Mixed bathing was a big NO-NO back in those days. Yet in Germany, it was a common thing. In Germany Hanna was not allowed to shave her legs, under her arms, wear sleeveless dresses or nylons... OR go to The Fair, but they COULD go swimming with mixed bathing. She didn’t know she was doing anything wrong. The ladies of ‘the church’ saw to it that she was firmly disciplined. Times were tough!

Hanna learned perfect English while singing the same old hymns she had been singing in Germany. She knew the Tune, so she could pick out which words were being sung. She then memorized them and knew the meaning.

This lovely, caring couple ended up in Great Falls, Montana which is where we met them in 1976.

My husband David plays an acoustical guitar (the same one he’s had since mustering out of the Army in 1956, he bought the Martin D-18 along with a gray suit that came with 2 pr pants, all for $150) Try THAT today!

He and I sing country gospel music and so it was natural for us to sing at the local Assembly of God Church where Jack and Hanna were members. Soon Jack asked us to accompany him on his jail ministry. The local Cascade County Jail ‘allowed’ us in one Sunday a month. We were escorted right into the "Main" which was a large room with bunks along the walls and urinals with no privacy, and a television blaring football game noise to the Max!

Clearly, a man named "Clyde" was the boss of ‘The Main’...He insisted the other men turn down the volume, he also covered up some of the ‘nude girly’ pictures with newspapers! That showed respect on Clyde’s part! Clyde loved the singing and guitar playing. I could sense his eagerness to hear more right away.

When we arrived the next month, "THE Main" was swept clean, ALL of the nude girly pictures were covered, most men were in attendance. These guys had great respect for the man they called "Reverend Jack". He could ‘come and go’ as he pleased. Sometimes, his mail route caused him to be late, he needed a key, the jailer gave it to him. He even passed love letters to sweethearts for the men. Most of all, he prayed for them. When some of the guys became ‘trustees’ he brought them to church. I’ve seen him slide a twenty dollar bill under the apartment door of Clyde’s place. Jack was quite a man! Hanna was quite a woman! He would bring trustees home for her to feed...unannounced mind you! Jack and Hanna adopted two boys, and then Hanna caught ‘the flu’ only to find out that it wasn’t the flu at all. She was pregnant with a son.

Life was busy. Hanna cooked, cleaned house and worked at a school cafeteria.

They also cared for Fritz, Emma and Dieter all those years. I’ve always said that the two of them will have special jewels in their heavenly crowns.

Then we come to the present year of 2005: Our family recently returned from visiting Jack and Hanna who now live in the state of Washington. Jack has mid- to- late stage Alzheimers Disease. He didn’t know us for 2 ½ days. He is fearful. He is attached like velcro to Hanna’s side. SHE is his security. He even follows her to the bathroom and shower....even to the doctor’s office for Mammograms and Pap procedures. She thinks nothing of it. She has no privacy, no ‘time’ for Hanna. She takes her marriage vows seriously. Jack says (during his lucid times) ‘if I didn’t have Hanna, I’d be in the guttah’ (that’s Brooklynese for gutter).

Now this man, Reverend Jack, is like a child. He’s at the end of his journey. He made his mark on the world. I would bet you that the men who served time in jail and prison remember Reverend Jack, The Man who had a set of keys to the local jail!


Mary-Jane Gustin



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