Keith Hansen is a social guy, to put it mildly.
The former Century Club president, Wilson High principal, and Lakewood High vice principal knows so many people that when he’s at a game or out for dinner with his wife (Ocean View School District superintendent Carol Hansen) there’s a steady stream of people greeting him and stopping to talk for a few minutes.
Until the COVID-19 shutdown, of course, which stripped Hansen and so many other senior citizens in Long Beach of their social lives and activities.
“It’s been sad, and it’s been hard,” said Hansen. “We all know so many people who’ve passed away, from the virus or from different things–and you can’t get together or meet at your usual spots to talk about it. The internet thing isn’t easy for all of us for hanging out–and at the end of the day you’re really just drinking in your house by yourself when you’re doing it. It’s been a long time since March.”
In a normal year, Hansen would be at the Boathouse at the Bay every Tuesday night for Century Club meetings, at Bohl Diamond at Blair Field a few times a week for high school baseball games, in the Walter Pyramid for Long Beach State basketball, and making trips to Los Angeles to see USC football. He would have been in Lambeau Stadium for the Packers game wearing a Marcedes Lewis jersey, too–Hansen’s mom was delivered by the Packers’ team doctor and his family have held season tickets for generations.
“This is my first year not seeing a Packers game in my entire life, that’s for sure,” Hansen said with a laugh.
More than just seeing games in person, Hansen said he’s been missing his friendships. He and longtime Lakewood baseball coach Spud O’Neil have been friends for more than 50 years, since they were both kids growing up in Long Beach. The two would normally see each other several times a week, and their families frequently traveled together, either to see games or to vacation in Hawaii.
“We haven’t been able to see each other more than a few times,” Hansen said. “It’s pretty weird after 50 years of friendship to stop seeing each other. That’s been really different for me.”
Because O’Neil has overcome a few respiratory health scares, he’s been even more careful than most about not exposing himself with unnecessary trips out of the house. One of the rare exceptions he made was to get married.
“Yeah about the only time we’ve seen each other was I did go with them to the courthouse in Santa Ana, I was the best man,” said Hansen. He and his wife are also missing annual Mammoth travel trips with her brother-in-law, Olympian John Van Blom.
The good news, for the Hansens, for the O’Neils, and for the rest of Long Beach’s seniors, is that a statewide directive from the governor’s office last week allowed anyone 65 and older to sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine. Carol Hansen has been working every day as the OVSD superintendent, and was quick to get her husband, and O’Neil and others, signed up on day one.
“We were all so excited,” said Hansen. “It’s great that people over 65 can go get it–and we’re all way over 65, so how long do you want to wait? It’s giving us some hope that we can get back to normal and seeing our friends.”
Hansen and O’Neil didn’t have to wait long, in fact–they ended up at Cabrillo High getting vaccinated at the same time, “racing” each other through the waiting line while Hansen reminisced about watching middle school soccer championships at the nearby Cabrillo football stadium. Then they spent a few minutes talking to each other from across 23rd Street.
“It was a great experience, everyone working was really nice and helpful,” said Hansen. “I want everyone to get it as soon as possible.”
While Hansen said he and his family and friends have lamented the changes to their lives, they’ve been infinitely more concerned with the effect the closures will have on this generation of kids. After 50 years spent in education and volunteering, Hansen said he’s well aware of how important school and sports are to kids.
“We gotta get things going again for the kids,” he said. “We’re ripping off the kids, it’s really sad. It’s hard to make up time when you’re that age, they need things to come back for them.”