Helen Hansen – Island Icon

Written by Coronado Historical Association Volunteer Peggy Eddy and CHA Staff

This article was originally published in the June 2021 Issue of Coronado Magazine. If you would like to read this article and more from Coronado Magazine, click here or the button below.

The monthly column, Island Icons, of historical vignettes from the Coronado Historical Association features insights and personal memories of locals. An initiative of CHA and its community volunteers, it is the product of a special archival oral history project that records the local personal histories that may be lost in the near future. This month’s Island Icon is Helen Hansen who passed away in 2014. Two of her four sons, Dr. David Hansen and Allen Hansen kindly offered background information, memories, and highlights of her amazing life.

Treasured wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother, musician, nurse, aunt, athlete, church member, friend, and community stalwart are all terms that aptly apply to Helen Hansen. 

This remarkable woman was born July 9, 1915, in Glyndon, Maryland and raised in Port Washington, Long Island. A piano virtuoso, Helen declined a prestigious piano scholarship to The Julliard School, opting instead to obtain her nursing degree at St. Luke’s Hospital in New York City. 

In 1939, Helen took a leave of absence as head nurse at St. Jude’s to help her only sibling, Margaret (“Margie”) Probasco. Margie lived in Coronado and was expecting her first child while her husband, Jack, was deployed. 

Helen fell in love with Coronado where “the sweet peas were blooming, it was warm, and the people were very friendly.” Helen liked the island so much she stayed. She became a nurse for Dr. William Booth through whom she met her future husband, Leo Hansen, a respected Coronado banker, president of the Bachelor’s Club, and, according to Helen, “the cutest man in Coronado.” The Hansens were married in September of 1940 and enjoyed 64 years together until Leo’s passing in 2004.

During WWII, while Leo served in the Navy, Helen and her children temporarily moved east. They returned to Coronado after the war and in 1950, Helen and Leo bought the “Hansen House” at 711 A Avenue. The three-story Tudor-style home of 14,000 square feet had ten bedrooms and thirteen bathrooms. Sons Leo Jr., David, Allen, and Mark enjoyed living in the huge house with a spacious backyard that provided ample space for play and for community groups to gather. At one point, the dining room held a pool table with hand-painted French wallpaper as a backdrop. Later, a friend asked Helen to store a large dining room set until he could find a buyer for it. Five years later, as no buyer had appeared, he told Helen to keep the set. The family and friends gathered at that table for Helen’s delicious meals including her famous “money cake” which she made for each birthday celebration. At the Hansen house, there was always an extra place set for an unexpected guest. (When the house was sold in 2017, the dining set remained with the house.)

In 1948, following the death of her sister and brother-in-law, Helen became the guardian of the three Probasco children, Preston, John, and Peggy. Eventually, Helen moved them into the Hansen’s home. Along with Helen and Leo, and the seven children, the Probasco children’s paternal grandmother also moved into the house. “This house was just a gift from God.” Helen said during an interview in 2000. “I wanted to keep the children together.” 

David and Allen Hansen recall playing in the house elevator. Helen originally wanted to remove it as the electricity cost $9 more per month. Learning that to remove it would be around $2,000, Helen decided it was better to keep it. It was a prescient decision. When Helen’s oldest nephew, Preston, contracted polio, her nurse’s training prompted her to seek early medical help for him at Children’s Hospital. Having the elevator helped with Preston’s mobility until he returned to full health. This polio episode was the most frightening that Helen encountered. 

Helen’s favorite activities in the summer were to take the children boogie boarding daily in front of the Hotel Del and exploring the dirt roads of Baja with the children in the family station wagon. Additionally, Helen loved organizing family barbecues at North Beach and often invited friends to join the expanded Hansen family. Helen snow skied until she was 85 and encouraged her children to play tennis (their Dad had a lifelong love of tennis and played into his mid-80s) and pursue other sports. 

Helen and Leo were faithful members of Coronado Christ Episcopal Church where Helen served on the altar guild throughout her life. The Hansen’s often offered their home and backyard for guild meetings, meetings of the Spanish Club, and many philanthropic fundraisers. Several weddings were also held in their lovely backyard as well as reunions of their expanded family.

The biggest change in Coronado that Helen witnessed was the construction of the Coronado Bridge. David and Allen Hansen believe that the best advice Helen would have given to her 16-year-old self was to follow your dreams. She encouraged that in the seven children she raised who all became accomplished adults. 

In 2014, at the age of 99, Helen passed away, survived by her four sons, her two nephews and niece, 11 grandchildren, four grandnephews, 11 great-grandchildren, and seven great-grand nieces and nephews. Her obituary captured the essence of Helen Hansen: “Helen was devoted to friends, community, and her faith in God. Her legacy lies within her family. She will always be remembered for her altruistic heart, contagious vivacity, and insatiable love of adventure. She captivated all who knew and loved her.”

Island Icons is an archival project of the Coronado Historical Association. If you would like to nominate someone as an Island Icon, email us at info@coronadohistory.org or call 619-435-7242.

This article was originally published in the June 2021 Issue of Coronado Magazine. If you would like to read this article and more from Coronado Magazine, click here or the button below.

More Photos of Helen Hansen:

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