Labyrinth legacy: Stillwater man had tangible impact on Bayport church and community

Marty Hansen was instrumental in creating and maintaining the labyrinth next to Barker’s Alps Park in Bayport. (Photo courtesy of Paul Spilseth)
Marty Hansen was instrumental in creating and maintaining the labyrinth next to Barker’s Alps Park in Bayport. (Photo courtesy of Paul Spilseth)

A longtime member of People’s Congregational Church in Bayport leaves a tangible legacy that many say has spiritual impact.

Marty Hansen died Feb. 25 at age 83 at his home in Stillwater, but community members will continue to walk in his footsteps, literally, at a labyrinth on church-owned property near Barker’s Alps Park in Bayport.

Marty Hansen and his wife, Judy, were instrumental in establishing the labyrinth. Marty maintained the property 15 years, until Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) prevented him from continuing a few years ago.

“It is part of his legacy,” said Rev. Linda Tossey of People’s Congregational Church. “If you walk the labyrinth, you walk with Marty in some way, because his footsteps touched that path hundreds and hundreds of times. … You’re walking along with Marty.”

Marty Hansen
Marty Hansen

Tossey called the labyrinth an “ancient practice of spirituality.” It looks like a maze that takes a long, winding path from the outer edge to the center.

“The idea is to walk it mindfully and slowly, pondering and contemplating as you walk along,” Tossey said. “It’s a centering, spiritual practice that you do out in nature, and then you walk back out. And hopefully in the time you’ve spent there you’ve centered yourself, you’ve opened yourself more fully to the presence of nature or the divine or whatever you’re contemplating.”

The labyrinth has always been open to the public, regardless of religion, or lack thereof. Tossey said Marty wanted it to benefit the broader community.

Marty would regularly mow the grass on the site, as well is within the winding labyrinth itself, Tossey said.

“He spent a lot of time down there,” said Marty’s wife Judy. “And I think it’s so good for the community. … He’s been so diligent about doing the work.”

Judy believes the labyrinth is a fitting legacy for her husband.

“It’s perfect for him,” she said.

Family friend and church member Joe Legato, agreed.

“He surely was dedicated to that labyrinth,” Legato said.

Legato called Marty a “prince of a gentleman.”

“If you asked him to help you do anything, he was always right there,” Legato said.

After developing ALS, Marty had to give up the maintenance of the labyrinth, Judy said. But she and Marty found someone to take over the work, but he didn’t lose his dedication to the church.

Those who saw him go through his illness say his attitude was an inspiration.

Friend and church member Bob Schwartz said he never heard a complaint or “woe is me” from Marty.

“The guy was just always smiling, whether he was walking with his walker, and then he had to progress to his riding chair,” Schwartz said.

Even after he could no longer communicate, Marty still showed up at church.

“He’d be in church every Sunday, and he’d come down and have coffee,” Schwartz said. “He always partook of everything. He was always one of the last ones to leave.”

“Courageous is the word,” Tossey said. “He did not complain about his ALS. He accepted it, the journey that was ahead of him. … He kept being the faithful and kind person he’d always been, despite being burdened with this disease.”

Marty Hansen had deep ties with the St. Croix Valley. Born in Minneapolis in 1933, he moved to Stillwater at age 2, where he attended Washington Elementary School. He graduated from Lake City High School in Lake City, Minn., and earned a degree in civil engineering from the University of Minnesota. He spent his entire career with Pillsbury.

Marty married Judith Griffith in 1955, and the couple moved to Stillwater in 1958. They joined People’s Congregational church in Bayport soon afterward.

Marty is survived by his wife, Judith Hansen, as well as four children, seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, the family prefers memorials to the People’s Congregational Church Garden, Lakeview Hospice or the ALS Association, MN/ND/SD Chapter.

Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]