By Linda Smith Hancharick WEST MILFORD The West Milford Police Athletic League (PAL) has always had a special place in Bob Hansen's heart. Hansen, a past-president of the PAL, is credited with leading the youth athletic group to a new level after taking the reins over a decade ago. Earlier this month, the people who were so touched by the friendship and dedication of Hansen posthumously honored their friend by dedicating PAL gym number 3 to him.
The Bob Hansen Gym was officially dedicated on June 2, with Hansen's family and friends present to pay honor to the man they respected and admired for his dedication and contributions to the organization.
Hansen passed away on Jan. 4, 2012.
A natural leader "Tonight we want to take a look back in time while paying tribute to a man who gave so much of himself to the West Milford PAL enabling this building to become a reality for the children and residents of our town," said Bill Hemstead, current president of the PAL Board of Directors, at the dedication.
At the dedication were Hansen's family, his wife, Cecelia, his sons Brian and his friend Samantha, and Jeff and his wife Amy. Mayor Bettina Bieri was also among the guests.
A few of Hansen's former colleagues at the PAL spoke of the determination and drive that endeared him to so many.
Andy Gargano worked with Hansen for many years and considered him a great friend.
"Bob Hansen and I were very close friends and PAL board members and spent countless hours together in getting the PAL building up and running after it was dedicated on Oct. 9, 1999," said Gargano to the Messenger.
After the PAL building project was complete, Hansen was chosen president of the PAL Board of Directors.
"It didn't take long for us all to realize that Bob taking on the role as leader was a natural fit for PAL as he demonstrated incredible analytical financial knowledge, was able to get many people working as volunteers on projects and he had very creative fund raising ideas," said Gargano.
He successfully developed and ran an annual carnival, a tricky tray and he founded the PAL preschool.
At one point, the PAL Board of Directors approached Hansen and asked him if they could honor him by naming the gym for him. In true Bob Hansen style, he graciously declined, said Hemstead.
"Well, we are a stubborn and persistent group and, after many suggestions, it was decided unanimously, I might add, to go back to our original plan and indeed name that gym after him," said Hemstead.
Humanitarian, integrity, dedication
Liz Walsh was another past president who was inspired by Hansen's selflessness.
"I thought about what I should say for a long time and although I knew him for only a few short years, I feel he has been an amazing force in the way I think about kids, the PAL, and life in general," said Walsh. "When I think of Bob, three words come to mind; they are humanitarian, integrity, and dedication."
What it came down to, though, was the children.
Hansen encouraged kids to sign up for the sports programs offered through PAL. Gargano recalled that he would stand outside of the high school or ShopRite to hand out registrations to the programs. He didn't let the registration fee keep any kids from joining.
"If they couldn't afford the registration fee, it didn't matter as the fee would quietly be waived," said Gargano
Prior to being president of the PAL, Hansen was director of the PAL basketball program. That program alone had over 950 boys and girls involved.
"He believed in the sports programs as a means for children to stay physically active and develop a sense of team work, socialization and camaraderie with their peers," said Gargano. "The most important part of the program was kids enjoying the experience, having fun and making friends."
"He envisioned a place for the kids of the township to come to in order to keep busy and out of trouble and worked hard to organize and fundraise in order to keep the doors open," said Walsh.
Walsh met Hansen when he went to her house - unannounced - to ask her to be on the PAL Booster Club.
"Since that day, I have been a booster club volunteer, a secretary to the board, the treasurer, the director, the president and now a former president," said Walsh. "I have learned so much from Bob about all that it takes to run a non-profit organization and also about how to be a good person and live a good life," said Walsh. "Bob Hansen was very much a gentleman and, in my eyes, a great man. He leaves his legacy in this building and in the hearts of the people who knew him and I feel very honored to have known him and call him friend."
Ditto Gargano. "A man like Bob Hansen comes by once in a very great while," said Gargano. "He left an indelible mark on those of us who were close to him. Dedicating the gym in his honer was the very least we could have done to honor his service to West Milford PAL, his ideal as a model for the way he lived, for the way he led and the excellent humanitarian he was. I will never, ever forget this wonderful man."