By Minnie Lamberth
Mary Ann Hannah started dating her husband of 63+ years when they were students at what was then Howard College. She was a freshman from Huntsville, he was a junior from the Springville/Birmingham area. She had actually seen him once before when he had come to a youth revival at her home church, and they had spoken on campus earlier, but this particular night was their first date.
In the second or third week of classes, Mary Ann was in the library studying at a table with girls when Gene came to that table. He told them, “My roommate just called me. He’s at a movie, and he needs me to get a date and meet him there. I don’t care which one goes.”
“One by one, everyone begged off,” Mary Ann said. “I was the last so I went.”
When they got downtown, she said, “There was no roommate. We went to the movie anyway.” And that’s how they began dating. They married on September 1, 1951.
When Gene received his degree in theology from Howard, the young couple moved to Louisville for him to attend Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mary Ann would finish her degree later, for as she said, “If a girl went to college, generally she was going to find someone to marry, not get a degree.”
Her life as a minister’s wife seemed a good fit. “I had felt some calling. I didn’t know what. That’s why I went to Howard, thinking maybe it will clear up.”
Mary Ann was young, of course, and this was a different time. “I was 17. There was not the emphasis there is now on life choices.” She said that she did all the things that were right to do, such as going to church, participating in youth programs. “I made it through Queen in GAs and all the stuff you’re supposed to do, but there was not an emphasis on helping you make decisions like there is now. Then I met Gene, and he was going to be a preacher, and I thought, ‘That qualifies.’”
After seminary, Gene and Mary Ann and their growing family (they would have four sons) moved to Leeds, Alabama, where Gene became a “minister of education and music and youth and everything the preacher wasn’t.” After four or five years, Mary Ann said, “They called him to be the pastor.”
The Hannah family had one particular time where they were exploring the mission field. Mary Ann said, “This thing in me came out again.”
Gene had told her, “I don’t think it’s my calling, but if it’s your calling, it’s our calling.” When a health issue emerged for her, however, the mission board didn’t want to proceed.
Though Mary Ann was very disappointed, she said that since the issue was hers and not Gene’s, and that it had been her prompting and not his, she decided the mission field was not where God wanted her to be. “I accepted that.”
Their next church was at Bellevue Baptist Church in Gadsden, where Gene became minister of education. But when a new pastor came on board, he wanted to bring his own staff. Providentially, the pastor of Normandale Baptist Church in Montgomery made a visit to the Hannahs.
Moving to Montgomery
“As the Lord would have it, Earl Hall appeared at our back door. He told Gene he wanted him to come to Montgomery and be his minister of education, so it appeared that’s what we were meant to do. So we came to Montgomery.”
That was about 50 years ago. While Gene was on staff there, Taylor Morrow was the CEO of Baptist Medical Center and a member of Normandale. He asked Gene to start the hospital’s foundation and to oversee community relations. So Gene took the new position. The Hannahs stayed at Normandale as members for a while until making a switch to First Baptist sometime in the 1970s.
“Normandale was wonderful to raise kids. I credit them with helping me raise my children.” That would be Charlie, Scott, Bill and Buddy.
At First Baptist, Gene has served as a deacon and Sunday school teacher. He and Mary Ann also taught couples’ classes. During that period when First Baptist had three worship services and two Sunday school times, Gene was asked to move their class to 8:30. “It turned out to be a strong Sunday school time for people,” Mary Ann said. “It really gelled. They became a good class.” When the schedule changed with the opening of the sanctuary in 2004, the class moved to 9:45 – and Gene stayed on as teacher until about three years ago.
Mary Ann did return to college, by the way. She received a degree from Auburn University Montgomery and became a teacher at age 40. She taught social studies for eighth and ninth graders for the next 20 years. “It was a really, really good experience,” she said, “I loved it.” Though she added, “Not every minute of every day.”
Sticking Close to Home
After retirement, Mary Ann stayed busy – volunteering at the hospital, conducting school tours at Old Alabama Town, working with the Conversational English program at First Baptist and other things. But all that changed about three years ago when Gene began to change. “I had seen signs, but it became pretty obvious back then that I needed to be at home,” she said.
Gene had loved retirement, she explained, and one of his favorite hobbies was his work with radio-controlled airplanes. “One of the most revealing things to me,” Mary Ann said, “was when he had no interest at all. He just walked out of his shop.” She knew something was seriously wrong, and her focus shifted to taking care of him through this Alzheimer’s journey.
“For the last two years, I haven’t done anything that didn’t include him,” she said.
Mary Ann speaks very highly of the respite program offered through First United Methodist Church. “They meet four days a week. It’s from 10 till 2.” The participants with issues of dementia do artwork, play games, do exercises. Gene loved it, she said, and that’s when Mary Ann was able to run errands. He had to stop attending just last week, and she now has 24-hour care (unless she’s taking one of those shifts herself). “It’s just an excellent, excellent caring program,” Mary Ann said.
She also attends a support group for caregivers conducted through First Baptist’s community ministries program. Her goal now is to keep Gene at home for as long as she can. She’s 82, he’s 84.
Neighbors and friends have helped often, and Mary Ann is appreciative. And sometimes strangers. “When you push a person in a wheelchair, people will cross the street to help you,” she said.
“People say ‘I am praying for you,’ and it really makes a difference. I don’t know what we would do without support from other people.”
She added, “I see Christ working through people. I see Christ working in people. I am a limited theologian, but I think that’s the way it works.”
“At Home with Mary Ann and Gene” is a story by Minnie Lamberth in her continuing series “People I Met at Church.” It was posted on February 14, 2015.
14 thoughts on “At Home with Mary Ann and Gene”
Thank you for the beautiful story of the Hannahs. Mary Ann and Gene were mentors…people with whom we would love to emmulate. They are precious
people who love the Lord. We were very priviledged to be a members of their
Sunday School Class.
Thank you for telling a story of love and commitment on Valentine’s Day.
Oh, Minnie, this is so sweet and right on the mark. It follows the touching singing to Gene that occurred earlier in the week. Thank you for highlighting such a special couple, one that is so special to so many young now old married couples!! You are such a blessing!
Twenty-two years ago we were new to FBC. We didn’t know many folks. I will never forget the phone call we received from Gene Hannah shortly after my father-in-law passed away. Gene expressed his sympathy and wanted to know what he could do to help our family. I will never forget the kindness Gene expressed to our family. He is a very special man!
Well done. The Hannahs are two of my heroes!
I have had the privilege of knowing the Hannah’s since I was about 9 years old. I went to Bellevue Baptist Church where Gene was on staff. My mother played the organ at Bellevue and when Gene resigned, everyone was so sad. Little did I know that 3 short years later, my family would also move to Montgomery. They are one of those families that leave a wonderful lasting impression on a young 9 year old girl.
Mary Ann and Gene have been mentors for many years. It has been in the Caregivers’ Support Group where Dave and I grew to love and admire them both. They have adjusted to this new season of their lives with a strong faith in God. What an inspiration!
IGene and Mary Ann have been precious friends of mine and my deceased husband since Howard days. They were always an inspiration to me.
Minnie, this is great. I have such fond memories of the Hannahs. I was one of Mrs. Hannah’s social studies students, Rev. Gene let me tag along several times to watch he and others at RAMM watch them fly their r/c aircraft. Buddy and I worked together at a sporting goods store, and Bill was my SS teacher and someone I looked up to.
Thank you writing this story about two wonderful people, and to you,
Very best regards.
Love these two. My Prayers are always with them. Peace!
Through Gene’s ministry in Baptist Hospital’s Community Relations Department, he has helped to train so many young people whose lives have touched so many more. He will never be able to count all those his ministry has truly touched.
Minnie , thank you for this beautiful about the Hannahs . I remember them so well from Normandale Baptist . I was a little girl and my Daddy and Mother were Charter members of N.B.C . The Hannahs were such a wonderful couple to watch as a child and the beautiful work they did for the Lord . Then I had the pleasure of working with them at Baptist Hospital as a volunteer for 15 years . You would never see them without a smile on their faces . They brought sunshine and delight to everyone they meet . They are truly a Godly couple . I know God will be beside them during this during the difficult time. God love them and keep them in His loving hands.
Thank you again Minnie for this beautiful story this sweet couple .
Great write-up, Minnie. Gene and Mary Ann Hannah played a big part in my life. I grew up at Normandale, where Gene was our Minister of Education. Charles and I are friends, and Buddy was actually my “scepter bearer” at my last GA coronation ceremony (a big deal at Normandale!). Both Gene and Mary Ann played a huge part in my spiritual development back then, and years later I was thrilled to be a member of Gene’s SS class at FBC. They are very special people and I love them both. Thank you for writing such a sweet tribute.
As long as I have known them, Gene and Mary Ann have always been consistent, God-honoring, people-loving, humble Christians. Reggie and I had the privilege several years ago of being in the Hannah Sunday School class at FBC, and it was such a blessing! I have watched Mary Ann lovingly care for her husband, and Gene graciously accept being in the receiving role. You have honored them by telling their story. I hope that it will incite us to lift this dear couple before the Lord on a regular basis, and help them in other was, as we can.
Minnie, thanks for choosing the Hannahs for your next chapter! Gene was one of the best teachers I have ever heard. I treasure the times we taught together. I thank God for how he ministered to me and my husband when we discovered Barney had cancer.
I consider MaryAnn to be a great friend! My daily prayers are with both Gene and MaryAnn. She is a wonderful caregiver. Needless to say I love them dearly!
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