Glorious Gwenn Marie Hanzel Hensler’s life journey sadly ended too soon on Feb. 26, 2018. Her journey began in Kalispell, Montana on Aug. 10, 1961, daughter of Delano and Betty Hanzel. She was soon joined by and protector of brothers Duane and Gregg. Not long later little sister and life-long best friend Beth (Pirrie) joined in her journey.
Gwenn went to grade school in Kalispell at Saint Matthew’s and high school at Flathead, where she joined many organizations and activities. She was an honor student, a member of the Akekowan drill team, a varsity cheerleader and, in summer, a lifeguard. It was as a junior at Flathead High where she met Mike Hensler; this began their 40-year journey together.
Gwenn majored in secondary education and minored in French and was passionate about Renaissance art at Montana State University and graduated in 1983. This is also where she became a rabid Bobcat fan; GO CATS.
After graduating, Gwenn determined that education was not going to be her life’s work, although she was a ceaseless teacher of life lessons. She did various other jobs but set her sights on becoming a professional insurance agent, which lasted for over 30 years.
On July 6, 1985 Gwenn and Mike married. They moved around Montana for a time until they settled in Libby. This is where they decided to set roots and built a house that became a home; she called it Gwenn’s vacation home.
Gwenn’s interests were many and eclectic. She was proud to be known as a firewalker. She loved hiking, especially in the Cabinet Mountains and Glacier Park, kayaking and fishing (even ice fishing). She loved all foods, especially those that were prepared by someone else, red wines, root beer floats and making povetica with her mother. She was a gardener and blueberry and huckleberry picker, although she shared much more than she ever kept for herself. Gwenn was also an insatiable reader and world traveler, taking any chance she could to explore new and exciting places.
Gwenn was an excellent birder and loved doing winter counts and the “big day” of counting in spring with Mike and father-in-law Robert Hensler. She especially loved kingfishers and was filled with emotion when she chanced to see an elegant trogon.
Truly, if the question was, “What would Gwenn do?” the answer was, “almost anything.”
Though all that was mentioned before was important to Gwenn, she had four great passions: family, music, yoga and causes.
Gwenn and Mike did not have children of their own so “Auntie” Gwenn poured her loving energy into her nine nieces and nephews (Stacia Lugo, Hunter Hensler, Lane Hanzel, Gavin Pirrie, Olivia Hanzel, Ellie Hanzel, Grace Pirrie, Hanna Hanzel and Ganten Pirrie), always inquiring about their pasts, presents and futures. Regular conversations with her parents and father-in-law were supremely important to her, and she made many pilgrimages to Kalispell to keep in touch with family there. Gwenn dearly loved the 50th birthday excursions she made with her sisters-in-law, the “Sistas,” and looked forward to the potential of 60s get-togethers. Gwenn was a Dog Mom and loved Haans, Woody and Luigi with all her heart. Through her life, Gwenn was a collector of lifelong friendships that inexorably became family members.
Gwenn grew up in a wonderfully musical family and music was central to her life. She was an excellent pianist, played in a bell choir and absolutely loved to play the Celtic harp made for her by her father. She so enjoyed bringing music to others; she played at the Libby senior center and other functions by herself and with friends and brought harp music to many young people. Gwenn dearly loved making music with her mother and sister. There was hardly a song that Gwenn didn’t like, from Baroque to Celtic to Rock ‘n’ Roll, but Christmas music was played all the time at home. Gwenn said she loved to listen to Christmas songs 13 months of the year, and dancing, always dancing, anywhere, any time.
Gwenn found yoga soon after she moved to Libby. Being a yogini was integral to her life and she relied on it especially in times of difficulty or crisis. Many of her great friendships came through yoga. She loved to bring yoga to others and looked forward to any opportunity to practice. Gwenn made an “instant karma list,” so positive and wonderful, and not surprisingly her first entry was “hear all sounds as beautiful music;” her final entry was “play morning music.”
Gwenn felt deeply about helping to improve her community and the lives of her community neighbors. She was a driving force to bring Montana Public Radio to the Libby area. She helped at food pantries throughout her life and was a member of the Community Foundation. Gwenn cared about providing educational opportunities for young people in the community, especially young women, and helped to advance those opportunities through her membership in the PEO Sisterhood.
As one of her last acts, Gwenn worked with Kim and Kevin Peck and Glacier Insurance to create a yearly college scholarship to benefit a Libby High School student. She developed it and named it INFINITY.