Ann Sward Hansen: Service Is Her Role
Inside the makeup room of CBS Studio 52 in New York City, Ann Sward Hansen is turning into Lyla Montgomery, the character she has played on television for the past seven years.
Although Lyla, a nurse and mother, has changed little in that time, Ann has changed immensely. Through her conversion to the Church and her choice to live by gospel principles, Ann has learned to blend two seemingly opposite worlds.
A product of a religious upbringing, Ann and her three brothers were taught at home from the Bible and sang in the Lutheran church choir. A vivid childhood experience that was to shape and direct Ann’s life came when her father waged a life and death struggle with cancer. Ann remembers that as she sat by his bedside, he wanted records of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir playing night and day. “At the time I had no idea what a Mormon was,” Ann recalls. “I just knew that their singing gave him peace.”
On the night her father died, Ann said she could feel his presence leave the room. Even though she didn’t understand the experience, she felt comforted. “I knew I would see him again. That knowledge gave me a lot of peace and strength.”
Ann’s natural curiosity and her early exposure to the Bible compelled her to study many religions. But her search proved unsatisfactory and many of her questions remained unanswered.
It was her lifelong love for animals that eventually led Ann to the Church. She was working on a fund raiser for an exotic animal shelter when she met her first Latter-day Saint, Bob Hansen. Bob was running a construction company in Glendale, California, and working part-time rehabilitating and relocating mistreated animals like pumas, leopards, and lions. Ann was leading a group from New York visiting the west-coast shelter. The two were immediately drawn to each other and spent hours talking about everything, including Bob’s beliefs.
After Ann returned to New York, she started meeting with the missionaries, spending several hours a week grilling them with her questions about religion and God.
“The situation couldn’t have been more perfect. I was in New York, with lots of time to think things out and study. The more I learned about the Church, the more answers I found that I had been searching for.”
The missionaries challenged Ann to begin living the principles she was learning, particularly the Word of Wisdom. “As I did, I gained wisdom and strength,” Ann remembers. “But more than that, I found true creativity as an actress and singer. Before, I thought the only way I could create was with a glass of scotch in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Without the stimulants, you have to resort to your true grit, without any influences except who you are, what you know, and your own creativity. It opened up a whole new world.”
As Ann tested the principles and continued learning, she decided to be baptized. But as she set, then reset, her baptismal date, the seriousness of the commitment she was making began to sink in. “I had begun studying the Church partly out of curiosity, and partly out of my love for Bob. But I realized that you can’t be baptized for anyone but yourself. That would be living a lie, and I wasn’t going to do that.”
In a few more months Ann was ready to be baptized. “The feeling of rejoicing I felt after it was over has been the highlight of my life,” says the thirty-four-year-old actress.
Three months later Ann and Bob were married. Ann describes the marriage, her second, in glowing but realistic terms. “What is unique is that we have a standard. Our relationship is built on the rock of the gospel. In my first marriage we had never talked about goals or children or our life together. Now Bob and I spend time talking, praying, and fasting.”
After the wedding, Bob left his business in California in the hands of a partner and joined Ann in New York so that she could continue her acting. The Hansens have since moved to Old Greenwich, Connecticut, about an hour and a half’s commute from Ann’s work. There Bob’s construction background has led him into a related field—the restoration and renovation of beautiful vintage homes, including their own.
Although Ann works with a group of actors whose high moral standards create a good atmosphere, she is still occasionally faced with moral questions. Once her character, Lyla, was supposed to be very drunk and abusive at a party. Not only was the scene out of character for Ann, but for the woman she portrays as well. “It was more than my own morals. The woman was going through pain in the scene, and the writer assumed that she could only express those feelings when she was drunk,” she explains. Ann was able to work out an alternate scene with the director that she felt was more appropriate.
“LDS actors often face decisions about what things they will and won’t do while playing a role,” says Ann. She handles these questions by tuning in to her inner voice. “If I don’t feel comfortable with it, I won’t do it. When you have an understanding of the essentials of the gospel, you find it natural to rely on yourself and the Lord. It gives you backbone and support that you can take with you wherever you go.”
Dennis Flake: Leaving Life “in the Lord’s Hands”
“You stay right in bed!” the doctor told Dennis Flake, who was in Texas with his wife, Carol, serving a full-time mission. Brother Flake had been hospitalized for two days with severe stomach pains. His doctor suspected cancer.
“I have a talk to give in San Antonio tomorrow, and I’m going to give it,” he told his doctor. Brother and Sister Flake contacted their ten children, and together the family fasted and prayed. The following day, true to his word, Brother Flake left the hospital and delivered his talk. The stomach pains never returned.
“Much power comes when a family fasts and prays,” says Brother Flake, a 75-year-old patriarch from Boise, Idaho. He attributes his unshakable trust in the Lord to his parents and his pioneer heritage. Born in a cabin near Snowflake, Arizona, on 29 November 1911, Dennis was the fifth child of Joel and Lucy Whipple Flake. Eighteen months later, his mother died during a miscarriage and his father married Elsie DeWitt, the mother of two children from a previous marriage. She bore seven more, bringing the family total to fourteen children.
It was a loving family, and Dennis, who was very close to his stepmother, says his Church activity is a result of her example. His father, who served two missions and averaged five sessions a day at the Mesa Temple during the last twenty-five years of his life—for a total of about 18,000 endowments—was also a powerful influence.
Dennis grew up herding cattle on his parents’ ranch and listening to the ranch hands tell stories around the campfire. “One day when I was nine years old, rounding up cows on a burro in the hills in Arizona, I just felt like kneeling down and praying,” he remembers. “For the first time in my life I felt that the Lord was so close he had his arm around me.”
In 1935, while serving in the Eastern States Mission, a fellow missionary, Bruce R. McConkie, introduced Dennis to Carol Read, a missionary from Nampa, Idaho. Elder McConkie turned the picture of Carol’s boyfriend to the wall, predicting that Carol and Dennis would marry someday.
Although for Dennis it was love at first sight, he didn’t think he had a chance. But after taking up the matter in his prayers, he was impressed to tell her how he felt. Carol, who had worked for five years for $10 a week to save enough money for her mission, was shocked, although she later confessed a fondness for the “cowboy elder from Arizona.”
Dennis completed his mission three months later and corresponded with Carol for a year until she finished hers. They were married in the Salt Lake Temple in October 1937. After spending a year in Arizona, the newlyweds moved to Atlanta, Idaho, where Dennis found work at a guest ranch.
The two returned missionaries wanted to raise a large family. “I hope we never lose any of them,” Carol told her husband.
“We won’t,” he replied.
Now, fifty years later, that prediction has come true. He and Carol’s ten children have all married in the temple and their families are active in the Church.
“The love we have for the Lord is because of the love our parents have,” says Dennis, Jr. “The love that we have for each other as husband and wife and for our children is a mirror of things we have observed and been taught by our folks.”
After working in an Army defense plant during World War II, Dennis started his own construction company. But his main concern wasn’t building houses, it was raising his children and serving the Lord. As soon as his children were old enough, Brother Flake had them helping in his business.
“From the time we were very young we’d go on the job with Dad, picking up blocks or sweeping until we were driving nails with him,” Dennis, Jr. says. His brother Lawrence adds: “Dad gave us jobs so we could spend time together. It’s one thing to get lessons in family home evenings, but it’s another to just watch your Dad operate with other people.”
“It seems like we were always having interviews with our parents,” remembers Dennis, Jr. “He’d say, ‘Well, how are you boys doing? How are your friends? Do they tell dirty stories? How do you feel about the Lord?’ When we go for visits now, he’ll still ask, ‘How are you treating your wife and your kids? How are you doing on your job?’ He never gives up.”
It’s Carol who is the “strength and brains of the family,” according to her husband. When her children were growing up, Carol started a family program of daily scripture study and tried to make the Book of Mormon and Bible characters come to life for the children. She also shared her love of books and writing with her family, stressing the importance of education. Even though Carol and Dennis never went beyond high school, seven of their children have graduated from BYU, with all six sons earning graduate degrees.
In 1956, five days after their ninth child was born, Brother Flake received a skull fracture when a horse he was riding reared and fell on him. He spent the next ten days in a coma and was given scant hope for survival. But his entire stake fasted and prayed for him and eventually he recovered fully.
Brother Flake served for many years in bishoprics, high councils, and stake presidencies and in 1972 was called to be the patriarch for the Boise North Stake.
The family was dealt a blow in December 1984 when Carol was diagnosed as having myeloma. The family has again pulled together in fasting and prayer to support her through the ordeal.
“The tragedies in our lives have strengthened our testimonies and kept us close to the Lord,” says Brother Flake. “You could ruin your life worrying about things that might happen. But when you leave it in the Lord’s hands, you feel that he has his arm around you.”