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Warm Hearts

World War II veteran and Washburn alumna celebrates 103 years

Fanny Hand with a veteran baseball cap and her Quilt of Valor

(Fanny Hand, b ed ’68, and her Quilt of Valor as she celebrates her 103rd birthday. Photo by Jeremy Wangler)

From The Ichabod - Winter 2022
By Jeremy Wangler

Family members, caregivers and others surrounded Fanny Hand to celebrate her 103rd birthday as she sat outside her home, bundled up with a blanket on a seasonably cool day last fall. The gift she was about to receive would literally and figuratively give her additional warmth.

Hand, b ed ’68, dedicated her working years to serving others – her country as a member of the Army during World War II, children as a grade school teacher and adults as a literacy tutor. To honor her service, she was presented with a lap quilt from the Quilt of Valor organization at a party outside her home at the Topeka Veterans Administration Community Living Center.

The quilts, given around the country to those believed deserving, represent healing, hope and wellbeing for soldiers and veterans. In Hand’s case, as a VA press release said, “The quilt represents comfort and recognition from a grateful community and nation. We hope the warmth of the quilt reminds her of the warmth she shares with everybody she meets.”

Hand entered the Army on Jan. 1, 1945, and packed parachutes, worked in the secretary pool in the Pentagon and met her future husband. She said her Army years were the highlight of her life. Seventeen years later, the family, now including three children, moved to Topeka in 1963. She started teaching grade school and worked toward a bachelor of education and a teaching certificate at Washburn University, graduating after four years.

“That was a really proud moment for all of us,” said Loranda Figgs, one of Hand’s daughters. “She loved Washburn.”

Figgs recalled that her mother potentially had undiagnosed attention deficit disorder.

“She got really good grades, but it took her so much effort,” Figgs said. “Nobody got diagnosed back then and she had to study twice as hard as anybody. It was a really huge thing for her to finish her degree.”

Hand taught first through eighth grade in Kansas communities including Topeka, Grantville and Ellis County. She especially liked the rural districts that included one-room schoolhouses. After retiring with her husband to Colorado Springs, Colorado, she started teaching illiterate adults how to read.

“That was her specialty,” Figgs said.

With few words in response and keeping a safe distance from most attendees due to COVID-19 protocols, Hand listened as guests made remarks at the birthday party. Washburn University President Jerry Farley presented a card and gift to Hand and thanked her for allowing him and other Washburn officials to attend. Farley served in the Army as a drill sergeant and drill sergeant instructor.

“You and I have a lot in common,” he said to Hand during the party. “We were both in the Army. You went for training at Fort Benning, Georgia. That's where I went for training. We're both involved in Washburn University.”

Greg Schwerdt, a Topeka business owner and Washburn supporter, donates the supplies for Topeka-area Quilt of Valor quilts. Michael Scott volunteers his time to make them and was there to present this one to Hand.

“In 2010, my wife was diagnosed with cancer, and we decided we wanted something we could do together. She taught me how to sew,” Scott said. “This is for the contributions Fanny has made for our freedoms. We're honored we can do it. A little bit of our time gives her a lot of satisfaction. It's an honor for us to do this for the veterans.”

Figgs isn’t surprised her mother has lived this long. Hand has lived an active life that included skiing and water skiing, and her mother and sister lived into their middle 90s. Hand survived the Great Depression as a child and has spent her entire life with a deep appreciation for what she has had.

“She was born in a time when people had no money. She's always appreciated everything,” Figgs said. “She never took anything for granted. She's always been real positive and never let anything life threw her set her back for too long. She went right through what life dealt her.”

Winter 2024 The Ichabod magazine cover with picture of the bell tower and snow fallen on campus

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Topeka, KS 66604 Phone: 785.670.4483