Sandra Jean Block passed away in Minneapolis on April 5, 2019, at the age of 75, after a brief struggle with pneumonia and related complications.
Sandy was born on May 5, 1943, in Gothenburg, Nebraska, to Lawrence Martin and Patricia Dorothy (Kaufman) Block. She grew up a farm girl, attended the Union Country school and Brady Elementary, and cooked for the family and farm hands when she was older. Her parents paid tuition so Sandy could attend high school in nearby Gothenburg, where she found a new life as coronation queen, majorette and valedictorian of the class of 1961.
After receiving her bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of Nebraska in 1964, Sandy taught school and earned a second bachelors degree in education. Sandy loved learning and went on to earn three more degrees in the 1970s, including doctorate degrees in English literature and education administration from Kansas State University. She was also a fierce feminist during this time, and was a pioneer in the field of women’s studies.
Sandy’s passion for helping students never waned, and her intelligence, drive and insistence on doing what she knew was right for her students made a lasting impression on everyone she worked with. Sandy never wasted time worrying about her detractors; she preferred to spend time with her students. Years later, former students at every level credit her with helping them through rough patches in their lives, completing their educational journeys,and reachingtheirfullpotentials.
Sandy married William Allen Garton (Bill), in 1964, and they had two children, Jonathan William and Chandra Nicole. They lived in Grand Island and Gothenburg, and in 1970 they moved to Vermillion, South Dakota, where Sandy taught English and earned her master’s degree at the University of South Dakota while Bill taught law there. Their marriage ended in 1972, and Bill died from cancer in 1976.
Sandy married Dale LeRoy Hanke Jr. (Lee) in 1974, and they had one child, Anneke Leah. The combined family lived in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin and Baldwin City, Kansas before landing in Minnesota in 1979, first in Bemidji and later in Lake Park, where Sandy was one of the state’s first female high school principals. Sandy, Lee and Anneke moved to Two Harbors in 1985, and 10 years later Sandy and Lee moved to Lexington, Nebraska, to be near her parents.
After Lee’s death in 1999, Sandy moved to Hastings, where she worked at Central Community College. She lived there until 2006, when she moved to Minneapolis to work at Century College and be closer to her family. For the next 13 years, she wove herself into the fabric of her grandkids’ lives, caring for them when they were little and organizing book clubs and outings as they got older. She also introduced them to the idea of fighting for social justice, taking them to marches and rallies until her final days. All four grandkids knew their unconventional “Eema” well and loved her very much.
Her children remember Sandy as a lifelong lover of books, intrepid chef, grower of sprawling gardens, collector of antiques, and tireless stitcher of Halloween and Christmas pageant costumes. She was a scholar of ancestral stories and crusader for justice. And above all else, our mom was the keeper of the family flame.
Sandy is survived by her children, Jon Hanke (Chris Wick), Chandra Hanke (Marty Dickrell), and Anneke (Tapio) Haku, all of Minneapolis, Minnesota; grandchildren, Aila, Jackson and Sabrina Haku and Jasper Hanke; brothers, Larry (Linda) Daniels-Block of Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Ron (Jean) Block of Pittman, New Jersey; and sisters-in-law Deanne (Mark) Saari of Rush City, Minnesota, Donnelle Casler of Dardenne Prairie, Missouri, and Pat (John) Moon of Beatrice, Nebraska.
A memorial service will be held Saturday, May 4, at 1 p.m. at Salem English Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, followed by a Celebration of Life at 4 p.m. at the American Legion Giant Valley Post 234. Feel free to wear bright colors to honor Sandy’s exceptional approach to life. Memorials can be given to the Wellstone Muscular Dystrophy Center (U of MN) or the Crane Trust (Nebraska).