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Leon Eugene (Gene) Hackenberger, of Pine Street, Thompsontown, passed away peacefully at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, surrounded by his loved ones at the family home in Centre. After 92 1/2 wonderful years filled with countless blessings, the Lord called home his good and faithful servant.
Known in later life to family and friends as “Papa,” Gene was born Sept. 14, 1926, in Centre, the son of the late Robert R. and Julia (Eichman) Hackenberger. He had a steadfast commitment to his wife, Janet (Haines) Hackenberger with whom he spent 63 years of marriage before she preceded him in death on May 13, 2014. He is survived by three children, Michele Meiser and husband, Doug, of Centre; Dane Hackenberger and wife, Susan, of Mifflintown; and Joli Strawser and husband, Todd, of Port Matilda; six grandchildren, Malia Asthappan and husband Jibey, Kiersta Meiser, Kahla Williamson and husband Dakota, Jenna Hackenberger, Mason Strawser, and Mitchell Strawser; and four great-grandchildren, Kaiya, Carter, and Kayli Asthappan and Asher Williamson. He was preceded in death by three siblings: William Hackenberger, Jayne Austin and Robert Hackenberger.
In early life, Gene helped his dad on the family farm and worked at the Vandyke brick plant. He was active in the Centre Lutheran Church near his homestead. He graduated from Juniata Joint High School in 1944, and rode motorcycles and learned to fly a plane while still in school. He often recounted how he successfully performed inside loops in his Piper Cub after reading how to do so in “Captain Jacks.” He enlisted in the Army Air Corps and served in communications at Orly Field near Paris, France, at the end of WWII.
An adventurous spirit, inherent mechanical aptitude, and deep curiosity about how things worked led him to positions in carpentry and construction which he used to help construct the Lewistown Fire School, Lebanon Veterans Hospital, PeruLack Pumping Station, Turnpike Administration Building and American Can Company, among others. This led to his 27 year career at the American Can Company in Lemoyne as a millwright then supervisor of the mechanical department. He worked in Chicago, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Colombia S.A., accompanied by Jan and their children. He retired in 1985 having secured patents for improved can-making equipment.
Gene possessed exceptional do-it-yourself capabilities; he independently built his own home, garages and several boats, as well as created countless gadgets and practical devices. He enjoyed sports cars, and a prime example of his inventive skill was when he spent several months restoring a totaled Porsche 914 that he bought for $300. He fixed it by strapping it between elm trees in the backyard and pulling it straight with come-alongs and hammers. He drove this car for a decade.
Gene’s family considered him a role model in the way he treated others and always went about life with a light-hearted, positive attitude and a smile. During most of his 34 years of retirement, he often spent his time visiting friends and community members and distributing roses, apple cider, homemade wine, and vegetables from his garden and orchard. He also loved spending time with his family and toured the U.S. with Jan in their motor home. He loved to laugh, and enjoyed hunting, trout fishing, and eating absolutely everything (especially sushi).
Papa believed strongly in education and the value of lifelong learning. In 1997, he registered to donate his body to science through the Humanity Gifts Registry. He was uplifted during his life to know that even in death he could help others, advance our medical knowledge and train new doctors. Due to his donation, there will be no viewing or funeral; however, there will be a celebration of life service at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 16, at the church he faithfully attended for his entire adult life, Emmanuel Lutheran Church, 19 N. Mill St., Thompsontown, PA. Please join Gene’s family in celebrating his life and sharing stories of Papa. A light meal will be served following the celebration.
The Hackenberger family welcomes a card or note at P.O. Box 218, Thompsontown PA 17094, but requests that those wanting to contribute in Gene’s honor do so by extending his legacy of gentle kindness through visiting someone in need, offering a ride to an appointment, donating to a charity, or taking flowers to a shut-in.
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