JEFFERSON — A year and a half after learning they’d been chosen as the new Gemuetlichkeit king and queen Jeff and Debbie Hans finally got their coronation on Saturday night.
They’d waited through the expected months of secrecy, only to see the 2020 May Ball, and then the September Gemuetlichkeit Days festival, canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Finally, Saturday night, the incoming royals got to step into the spotlight, as the Gemuetlichkeit organization celebrated a belated “50th anniversary” May Ball.
The honor has really been coming a lot longer than that, however. Unlike some past royals who joined the Gemuetlichkeit organization when they were chosen as king and queen, the Hans couple have always been there — just in the background.
At any Gemuetlichkeit festival for the past 20 years or more, they could be found, dressed in traditional German attire, circulating in the back of the crowd or whirling on the dance floor, all smiles.
The couple said that while the journey to May Ball 2021 has been long and unique due to COVID-19, they felt incredibly supported and welcomed by the selection committee, which is comprised of the past three sets of Gemuetlichkeit royals.
Despite the necessity of keeping the new royals’ identity a secret for a record amount of time, the committee managed to maintain the excitement and truly make the new royal pair feel special during their long wait, the Hanses said.
And after more than a year of canceled events and delayed events, it seemed the Jefferson community was more than ready for the big announcement.
Fairview Sports Bar and Grill, where the May Ball took place, was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with celebrants. The crowd looked to be the largest the May Ball has drawn in decades, with nary a mask in sight.
“The turnout was just incredible,” Queen Debbie said when she’d had a chance to catch her breath the next day. “People were so anxious to get out and be social again.”
The Hanses learned they’d been chosen in early January 2020, when Debbie answered the door to admit a surprise visitor — 2019 G-Days king Jeff Schmidt, ostensibly on an errand for the school superintendent, since they both work for the school district.
Soon enough, there was not just one G-Days royal in the Hanses’ house, but six: the entire entourage of the most recent kings and queens.
Debbie immediately knew what was up — but her husband had always shied away from the spotlight, having said in the past he did not want to be king.
Nevertheless, the entire group trooped out to the worksite to meet Jeff, and they managed to convince him to take up the royal mantle.
“For me, it was kind of difficult, because I don’t talk to people easily,” Jeff said. “If we’re talking about concrete (his business), I do just fine, but this was something brand new.”
The intervening year-plus brought more challenges than the Hanses would ever have imagined.
First, Jeff’s mother became very ill and they helped care for her. She passed away June 21, 2020.
Also last spring, the world was put on hold by the COVID-19 pandemic. Ultimately, planners decided they could not hold the 2020 May Ball. For a few months, they held out hope for the September festival, but the pandemic continued and they decided to wait until conditions were safer for crowd to gather.
It wasn’t until January of 2021, with vaccines finally becoming available to segments of the public, that the Gemuetlichkeit Days organization was able to move forward with their rescheduled “50th anniversary” May Ball.
All this while, the Hanses said, the selection committee has made the wait special, with many clandestine visits, gifts and communications, the Hanses said.
“The hardest part was keeping the secret for 15 months,” Queen Debbie said.
She said she is looking forward to sharing the September Gemuetlichkeit Days fest with the whole community, and as many members of her far-flung family as can be brought together.
HeritageAlthough German roots not technically a requirement for the honor, past kings and queens have shared that heritage.
The same goes for the Hanses.
Jeff is one of five children both to the late Eugene and Lucille (Waldmann) Haas of Jefferson. He and his four sisters grew up on the family farm and raised many animals, including buffalo, black bear, Scottish Highlander cows and domestic yaks.
A 1973 graduate of Jefferson High School, Jeff has dedicated his life to the family business, Hans Bros. Concrete/Construction, which he currently owns and operates.
Debbie, the youngest of four children born to the late Kenneth and Helen (Wolfram) Andrews of Fort Atkinson, graduated from Lakeside Lutheran High School in 1975 and went on to Madison Area Technical College.
She worked as an administrative assistant for the late attorney John Lampert of Fort Atkinson before marrying and starting a family.
She worked part-time for the family business prior to taking her current job of 38 years as administrative assistant to the Jefferson school superintendent.
In 2010, she took over bookkeeping responsibilities for Hans. Bros, relieving her mother-in-law, who had spent 60 years in that role.
In 2017, Debbie received Jefferson’s Ray O. Fischer Outstanding Citizen of the Year award.
The couple met at Capn’s Corners in 1976 and married in 1977 at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Fort Atkinson. On moving to Jefferson, they joined St. John’s Lutheran Church in town. The couple had two daughters, Ellie (now married to Dan with two children) and Abbie, who is married and lives in Australia.
The new royal couple enjoys dancing, boating, the Packers and spending time with family and friends. Within the past few months, they have sold their home in Jefferson and relocated to Jeff’s family’s homestead, also in the local community.
Jeff’s ancestors originated in Trier, Rhineland-Palatinate; Baden-Wurttemberg, Warsin, Kreis Pyritz, Pommerania, Germany and France.
His paternal great-grandfather, John Hans, is described as an industrious farmer and took part in local fairs, winning many first for his grains and seeds.
He also had an aptitude for brewing wine and applejack, which visitors from local farms enjoyed sampling.
Jeff’s great-grandmother, Susan Hornberg Hans, came from a large family in Germany. Her father raised enough money for one of his children to travel to the U.S. and she was chosen. She too was active in local fairs, winning prizes for her baking and sewing.
Through the generations, the family name went through many iterations, being spelled Hens, Hanz, and Hance in the census before stabilizing as “Hans” around 1900.
Debbie’s maternal ancestors originated in Germany in the areas of Hannover, Niedersachsen and Pommern, Cochem-Zell, Rheinland-Pfalz as well as Kurtzdorf, Regenwalde, Prussia. Her paternal ancestors originated in Belfast, Ireland.
The king and queen’s parents previously owned and operated local taverns, the Ox Yoke and Depot, both located in Jefferson, were owned by Jeff’s parents. Ken and Helen’s Tavern in Fort Atkinson, was Debbie’ parents business, later taken over by her brother.