Hansel authors first book: "Handstands on the Beach"

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Retired Pastor Penny Hansel of Guttenberg recently wrote her autobiography titled Handstands on the Beach. She will likely self-publish her manuscript. (Photo submitted)

By Caroline Rosacker

As the saying goes – everyone has a story. Pastor Penny Hansel, now retired, is putting the finishing touches on her autobiography, Handstands on the Beach. The adventuresome, age-defying woman has worn many hats throughout the years and has never shied away from a challenge. Hansel commented, "I am retired for the fourth and final time!"  

Hansel, who resides in Guttenberg, shared, "After living 12 years at Hansel’s Camp two miles south of Guttenberg, my husband, Cletus, and I moved our family into the city of Guttenberg in December of 1968 and it became our permanent home." 


Hansel graduated from Edgewood High School in 1954. She graduated from Iowa State University in 1976, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree with a double major in psychology and education. She earned her Master of Arts degree in education with learning disability approval in 1982, and earned a Master of Divinity degree from the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary in 1990.

Writing process and inspiration

Writing a book can be a daunting process. Hansel told The Press, "This is my first experience writing a book. I have always enjoyed writing. My inspiration came from my joy of writing weekly letters to my grandchildren over a number of years. I wanted them to know me beyond our love for one another."

Hansel grew up with nine grandparents/great-grandparents who lived long enough for her to know and remember them fondly. "Further inspiration again came because of those letters. I began to muse on how nice it would be if I had come to know my own grandparents to the depth of their beings," she said. 

Autobiography versus memoir

An autobiography focuses on the chronology of the author's entire life. A memoir covers one specific aspect of the writer's life. Hansel's autobiography has been a learning experience. She explained, "At first I just sat down and wrote stories, as I had done when writing to my grandchildren. The further I wrote the more I realized that I had better figure out a way to organize. My first intention was to write a memoir, but the further I went the more I realized it was turning into an autobiography." 

Computer skills

"I was learning how to use the laptop at the same time. It became clear that I had better learn about formatting before continuing forward. In other words, I stumbled along for most of the writing. I finally learned to format and to follow the grammar and punctuation rules, which had changed since I learned them long ago. That is when the true fun began! I sat at the laptop far longer than was wise, but the writing had me hooked! Memories popped forward from the depths of my being. The writing has never seemed overwhelming. Only computer glitches caused angst. Whenever that happened I simply stopped writing for a short period of time," she recalled. 

Research and interviews

Hansel found her research interesting. "I did what I thought was a considerable amount of background research. However, with an overload of my personal savings of material over a lifetime, and the Internet for additional research, it was not difficult. I even had my airline ticket from when I flew to England in 1956 to be with my husband," she said. 

"It was frankly beyond interesting to search for information on World War II. My Uncle Bob spent most of World War II in Japanese prison camps, and also survived the 66-mile Bataan Death March. There were 66,000 Filipinos and 10,000 Americans on the march. The number of deaths is unknown, but estimates range from 5,650 to 18,000.  My Uncle Wayne, at age 20, was killed in the landing at Normandy. Most of my research was simply conducted for dates, places, etc. I did become immersed in much of the information! Other searches included the Great Depression, during which my parents were married and started their family, water depths of the 1965 flood we lived through, as well as all that happened in the 1960s, both in our family’s life and in our country's," she noted. 

Hansel conducted very few interviews. She asked for permission from many individuals to use their names or stories, which connected with her life over the years.

Sneak peak

Hansel explained, "The book is filled with stories of living through the 1965 flood, getting my pilot’s license and doing a loop-the-loop in a bright yellow Stearman. It will cover a life of caregiving for my husband of 53 years, who lived with multiple sclerosis for well over 40 years. It will include tales of our three sons, stories of starting college at age 40, my call into ministry at age 50, and life as a pastor. My hope is that the written words may inspire others to share their lives, if not in book form, at least orally."


She commented, "I likely will self-publish. At this time the book has been sent to someone who will be inserting numerous photos. Locating, selecting and culling out photos was more difficult than writing the book."

"I truly think of it as a book for all ages except young children. It has over 240 pages, not counting many photos. I especially have my grandchildren, now young men and women, in mind. When I was writing letters to them, several of them said they were saving the letters in their work of art 'Christmas Boxes,' I had made for them by a parishioner who did beautiful work. One grandchild said, 'I’m saving all your letters. They will be my children’s heritage.' Another said, 'I went to Walmart and bought a three-ring notebook to keep my letters in.' My youngest granddaughter wrote letters herself for a while and sent them to family members!” 

Hansel concluded, “As a pastor, I soon learned that we all have stories ­— stories worth sharing, at the very least with our families. Most everyone has a life filled with good happenings, sorrows, tragedies, joys, every up and down one can think of has visited each of us at one time during our lifetimes.”

Hansel is dedicating her book, Handstands on the Beach, to her sons, daughters-in-law, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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