The scene is forever etched in his memory.
It's Sunday and a nervous 8-year-old boy is standing in a small chapel in East Garland, Utah. He is bearing his testimony publicly for the first time in his life."I'll always remember it," explained W. Eugene Hansen, the little boy who is now grown up. "I remember it so clearly because it was the first time I'd ever stood up in front of that many people and also because of the feeling I had at that time that the Church was true.
"I knew it was true then and I know it's true now," said the successful Salt Lake attorney, who, on April 1, was sustained to the First Quorum of the Seventy.
During his childhood, the farm boy from the small farming community of East Garland, located 17 miles south of the Utah-Idaho border, did more than learn that the Church was true. He also learned to work hard and establish priorities.
"I was responsible for milking five `bossies' and I learned quickly that that had to come first," he related. "We didn't always go fishing on the first day of fishing season. The cows and the crops came first."
Elder Hansen is the second of eight children, who all grew up on the family sugar beet and dairy farm. "We learned to live by the philosophy of my father. He always used to say, `Do the most important thing first.' And so we did."
Early on, Elder Hansen decided what his own prior ities would be in life and those priorities have not changed through the years. As one of the busiest and most successful plaintiff lawyers in the city, he has been able to balance his practice with his strong commitment to Church and family.
"Living the gospel has really been easier for me because I knew at a very young age that it was true," he explained. "I just did my best to live it. I haven't lived a perfect life, of course, but I have never had to do a lot of searching for my testimony and for the truth. It's just always been a part of me."
That commitment to the gospel has extended into a commitment to his family. "They come first," he emphasized.
Years ago he had a telephone installed that bypasses his secretary's phone and rings directly to his office. "This is my family's phone," Elder Hansen explained. "If they need me, they don't have to go through my secretary. They just call me direct. And whether I'm in the middle of a meeting or a deposition or anything else, I stop what I'm doing and talk to them."
Elder Hansen has found other ways to let his family know of their importance in his life. As they were growing up, each of his six children took turns accompanying him on business and military trips (he retired as a colonel in the Army Reserves in 1980).
"I've tried to take the children with me when it was possible and have that one-on-one time with them," he explained. Trips to Virginia, Seattle's World's Fair, Nevada and California are only a few of the fun trips tucked away in the family's memories. Skiing, fishing and hunting trips were planned whenever possible.
Just a few years ago, Elder Hansen and his wife, the former Jeanine Showell from Stone, Idaho, took two of their children halibut fishing in Alaska. Fishing is something that Sister Hansen became involved in after their marriage, but she enjoys it "as long as someone else baits the hook."
Time with his wife has also been a priority in Elder Hansen's life. During his busy years in law school, he and his wife regularly planned "nights out." When she voiced a desire to take dance lessons, he agreed and dancing is still something they enjoy.
"I have to admit that at the beginning I didn't really relish it, but by the time we were finished with law school, I was enjoying it," he said, smiling.
The couple first met while attending Bear River High School, located five miles southwest of East Garland. "I was a senior and she was a junior," Elder Hansen recalled. "We had a chemistry class together." But it took a while for the chemistry between the two to start working. They didn't start dating until a year later, when he had completed his first year at Utah State University.
After graduating in 1950 from USU with a degree in agricultural economics, the 6-foot young man married his sweetheart. At the time, the United States was involved in the Korean War and, although he planned on attending law school, Elder Hansen decided to wait until after his stint in the military. He had been commissioned a second lieutenant through USU's ROTC program and expected to be called up for active duty. In 1954 his two years of active duty began. He served as quartermaster officer, first in Virginia and later in Korea. After his release, he began law school at the University of Utah.
Sister Hansen had graduated earlier with a degree in education and taught for several years, helping put her husband through school.
"Teaching was a very enjoyable part of my life," she remarked. She still enjoys keeping in touch with many of her former students, attending farewells, homecomings, and receptions.
Elder Hansen's practice began to grow and, in a profession where it is difficult to combine business and religion, he has managed to do both. Establishing proper priorities has played a key role in that successful combination, according to the 60-year-old attorney.
"I have tried to conduct my law practice in such a way that people know who I am and what I represent," the 60-year-old attorney said. "I feel that because of my principles and priorities, I have been able to develop a reputation and earn the respect of others in the profession and those I have worked with."
That commitment to gospel principles and priorities has grown with experience. Money wasn't a common commodity on the family farm, Elder Hansen recalled, but as his own business has flourished, the new General Authority has recognized that money doesn't buy happiness, or a lot of the other things that really matter.
"Money isn't the answer," he emphasized. "I've seen it from both ends of the spectrum and money isn't what makes you happy. You are happy if you have your priorities straight and you're right with the Lord. Faith and a strong personal testimony are what really counts."
In addition to working hard at his career, Elder Hansen has worked hard at his other responsibilities, including Church callings. One of his first callings was that of an assistant priests quorum adviser. Following came calls as a priests quorum adviser, stake Young Men president, bishop and counselor, high councilor, a stake executive secretary, and, finally, president of the Salt Lake Bonneville Stake.
"He has always been a person who is desirous of living the best that he could," his wife observed. "He has a real desire for excellence and achievement in whatever he is doing, he wants to do the best he can in any responsibility he is given."
That quest for excellence has resulted in many honors and achievements. As a teenager, Elder Hansen served as a national officer of the Future Farmers of America, as well as being a FFA exchange student to the British Isles. and was elected student body president his senior year in high school and his senior year atUSU.
He has been heavily involved in community service and is a former member of the Institutional Council at USU, of the board of trustees at the university and was president of the school's alumni association. He is also a recipient of USU's distinguished service award. At the time of his call to the First Quorum of the Seventy, he was serving as chairman of the state's Board of Regents which governs the state's nine colleges and universities.
Elder Hansen credits much of his success in the Church and the community to the support and love of his wife. "She's one of the hardest workers I know, a very organized lady, and very refined," he said. "And she's always been very supportive."
He remembers a time when he was serving as bishop and the job of den mother was especially difficult to fill. "She willingly accepted that assignment when no one else would," he pointed out. "She's worked hard in the Church, and she's always been there for the family and for me."
The support works both ways, according to Sister Hansen. "I think one of our strengths, as a couple and as a family, has been our desire to help and support each other in whatever we're involved in," she explained.
That support will come in handy now as he turns his attention to wrapping up a practice of 31 years and embarking on the full-time service of the Lord, Elder Hansen noted.
The new member of the First Quorum of the Seventy gets a little emotional when he contemplates his future as a full-time servant of the Lord.
"It will be challenging," he acknowledged. "But I can't think of anything that I would rather do than just devote my heart and life to the Lord's work."
Elder W. Eugene Hansen
- Birth date: August 23, 1928
- Home town: Tremonton, Utah
- Married: Jeanine Showell from Stone, Idaho.
- Family: Five sons, one daughter, four grandsons, three granddaughters.
- Education: graduated from Bear River High School in 1946; graduated from Utah State University with bachelor's degree in agricultural economics in 1950; received juris doctorate from University of Utah in 1958.
- Military Service: U.S. Army Reserve, 1950-1980; active duty 1954-1955.
- Past Church callings: assistant priests quorum adviser, priests quorum adviser, bishop and counselor, stake Young Men president, stake executive secretary, and stake president.