Willis George Hanke was embraced by his Lord on May 18, 2021, at 95 years old. Born in Whitehall, WI on Aug 6, 1925 to Rev Arthur and Clara (Flunker) Hanke, he was the 5th of 7 children. Willis spent most of his childhood around his father’s country church near Winona, MN. He volunteered for the Navy at 17 during WWII and served on the USS Nassau (aircraft carrier) in the South Pacific theater from 1943 to 1945. He served as a cook and a gunner and his ship was engaged in several campaigns including Iwo Jima and the liberation of the Philippines. After the war he attended Dunwoody Institute in Minneapolis to become a chef. His first job was at the Lafayette Club where he met the love of his life, Geraldine (Gerri) Engen. They married on April 18, 1949 and then his life became less exciting but significantly more dangerous than his war experience – he and Gerri had 10 children over the 15 years. His career in the food business found them in in the following cities (with the following children): Fargo/Moorhead (Lynda & Marlys), Winona, MN (Dan, Eileen, Jim, Tom & John), Redwing, MN (Tim), Northfield, MN (Sharon & Karen). In 1965 they moved to Watertown, WI when Willis became the Food Service Manager at Northwestern Lutheran College and Preparatory School. After 27 years in Watertown, he and Gerri retired, moving to a lake home in Backus, MN in 1990. They lived there for the next 30 years where he enjoyed his family, fishing, and hunting. Willis passed away at the Edgewood Vista healthcare facility surrounded by his loving wife and family.
Willis was a kind, compassionate man with a very patient demeanor often tested by his 10 children, 27 grandchildren and 37 great-grandchildren. He loved the laughter during family gatherings. He and Gerri loved their church family members of Christ Lutheran Church in Baxter, MN.
Willis was preceded in death by his parents, Rev. Arthur and Clara Hanke; siblings: Thekla Wicke, Gilbert, Marvin, Paul; son, Daniel; and grandson, Samuel Gensmer. He is survived by his wife, Geraldine; sister, Joyce Schultz; children: Lynda Krueger (Charles), Marlys Reid (Pieter), Eileen Olson (Dennis), James, Thomas, John (Joyce), Timothy, Sharon Gensmer (Gavin), Karen Kroll (Daniel); daughter-in-law, Sheryl Hanke; 27 grandchildren and 37 great grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, memorials are preferred to the Christ Lutheran Church Pipe Organ Fund.
The visitation will be on Monday, May 24 at 10:00 am, followed by the service of life at 11:00 am at Christ Lutheran Church, 13815 Cherrywood Dr Baxter, MN. Interment at 2 pm at Minnesota State Veteran’s Cemetery, Camp Ripley.