Keith Hansen: 12/26/1948 – 12/2/2022
Every community is like a tapestry, with many individual threads woven together into a whole. The Long Beach community lost a vital piece of its tapestry last weekend with the unexpected and sudden passing of Keith Hansen, a longtime school administrator, volunteer, and encourager. Hansen was 73 years old, and died of a heart attack Saturday after returning home from his morning run.
“He was an underrated community hero in this community,” said Toby Hess, a former student of Hansen’s. “My heart hurts for us all.”
Hansen became known across the city during a lengthy career in the Long Beach Unified School District, where he served as a coach, PE teacher, activities director, vice principal, and principal at Jefferson Middle, and Lakewood and Wilson High Schools. But his roots run even deeper than that to a childhood spent in Long Beach in the 1950s and 60s, and his time as a student at Prisk, Stanford, Millikan, LBCC, and Long Beach State.
It was at LBSU that he met his lifelong best friend, Walter “Spud” O’Neil, the legendary Lakewood baseball coach.
“I had just gotten out of the service and met Keith in class at Long Beach State, we became friends instantly,” said O’Neil. “We were in PE classes together, we had our goals as far as coaching. I started out at St. Anthony and he coached football there for a year with us–we lived in Belmont Shore and we had a lot of fun together and grew up together.”
As O’Neil went on and coached at St. Anthony and Colton, his friend was always by his side–a note that many who spoke up about Hansen after his passing echoed, that he was as stalwart as they came as a friend.
“He was in the dugout for a lot of big games during my career and sometimes the kids would ask who he was, and I’d just say, ‘He’s a coach,’” said O’Neil with a laugh.
Meanwhile, Hansen began his career at Jefferson Middle School where he was a PE teacher and coach, before moving up to the high school administrative ranks.
Their connection proved to be a pivotal one in the baseball history of Long Beach, as Hansen was an assistant principal at Lakewood when the legendary John Herbold informed the Lakewood administration he was moving on in 1984. Hansen gave O’Neil the heads up that the job would be opening up, and the Lancers hired O’Neil to the job he’s had for the last nearly 40 years–with Hansen at all of his biggest games.
“He was always a part of it,” said O’Neil.
It was while at Lakewood that Hansen met his wife, Carol, who was Long Beach sports royalty as the sister of Olympian Joan Lind Van Blom and who would go on herself to become the superintendent of the Ocean View School District, a position she retired from this June.
Hansen continued to move his way up in the LBUSD ranks and became the principal at Wilson High, where he forged more of the connections that helped shape the Long Beach sports world, and hired key Wilson coaches including longtime baseball coach Andy Hall. Hansen oversaw the construction of the school’s rally stage (an LBUSD first) and had a big role in shaping Wilson into a Classical High School, including the implementation of uniforms.
Among those he helped mentor while still at Wilson and Lakewood was current CIF-SS commissioner Rob Wigod, but that list could fill a book–and Hansen was always eager to connect those stories to each other. Toby Hess was a student of Hansen’s at Lakewood, and said that Keith and Carol treated him with the love and kindness usually reserved for family members. Hess said Hansen’s impact was always evident at Bohl Diamond at Blair Field, where Hansen would hold court while watching games played between Lakewood, Wilson and Poly, coached by O’Neil (his best friend), Hall (whom he hired), and Hess (a former student he mentored).
“He supported me for more than 30 years, long after I stepped off the Lakewood campus,” said Hess. “Encouraging words were his calling card…he was comfortable in the shadows, shining the spotlight on those he adored.”
Hansen’s positivity was a trait widely acknowledged and revered, to the point of it being a running joke–he was always smiling and happy to see people. Dan Gooch is a past president of the Long Beach Century Club, where he volunteered alongside Hansen for many years.
Gooch joked that he would sometimes get nervous about how positive and upbeat Hansen always was.
“I started thinking he was gonna break loose one of these days, and I didn’t want to be the cause of it and break his string,” said Gooch. “It was like being in the same dugout with a guy throwing a no-hitter, you didn’t want to jinx him. I should have known that not even I could change his positive attitude.”
Hansen twice overcame advanced cancer, once in his 20s and once in his 30s–he often said that the experience was a big part of what gave him his positive outlook.
After his retirement, Hansen channeled his desire to help and to do good for the kids of Long Beach into endless volunteer hours with the Century Club, as well as a LBS Financial Credit Union boardmember, and a boardmember/organizer with the Wilson High Alumni Golf Tournament.
In addition to serving as president of the Century Club, he had also been running its middle school banquet alongside the event’s founder, Sam Breuklander, for the last several years. But Century Club president Mike Fillipow said his impact didn’t end there.
“He did so much behind the scenes without recognition, he loved to do it,” said Fillipow. “He was at every middle school championship taking pictures for the banquet. He never worried about any credit, he just loved helping kids. Any time I asked him to help with anything he was willing without hesitation.”
Past Century Club president Joe Carlson worked alongside Hansen in the duo’s successive years as presidents, planning multiple banquets together for the club.
“There wasn’t any time he’d say no, he was just amazingly selfless,” he said. “There’s going to be a huge hole without him there.”
Lisa Ulmer is the LBUSD’s Moore League secretary and middle school sports coordinator, and said Hansen had been a joy to work with the last several years.
“He was a selfless individual that truly enjoyed supporting children,” said Ulmer. “Personally, I lost a dear friend and colleague. His positive energy and work ethic was unmatched. Truly a wonderful human being.”
He was a very active member of the Century Club up until his passing–just a few days before he died he was dropping off donated sports equipment to local Long Beach schools that couldn’t afford new balls and other gear for their playgrounds.
While much will be said of the big-scale efforts Hansen helped lead with the Century Club, there are also countless quieter acts of friendship and compassion. When O’Neil’s wife passed away, he credited Hansen with helping to keep him from going into a deep, dark hole. He also volunteered to help take older friends to get vaccinated when seniors first became eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in Long Beach.
“I’m just going to miss him, I’ll miss him at every ballgame,” said O’Neil. “Keith was my best friend for 52 years. I can’t even say how much I’ll miss him.”
Hansen is survived by his wife, Carol, siblings Karl and Karen, and many more extended family and friends. Services are pending but will be held in early 2023, with date and details forthcoming. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Long Beach Century Club in Keith’s name: https://lbcenturyclub.org/donate-now/.