A Visit With Dr. Catherine Ponder about Dr. Fred Hanger
A Visit With Dr. Catherine Ponder about Dr. Fred Hanger
I first met Fred Hanger when he and his wife started attending classes and services I was conducting at the Commodore Perry Hotel, Austin, Texas in the 1960s. Fred was an attorney in San Antonio; his wife had gotten interested in the Religious Science Movement in Los Angeles, where she worked prior to their marriage. She had also attended ministerial classes at the Religious Science Headquarters there.
After their marriage, performed by Dr. William Hornaday, Minister, Founder's Church of Religious Science, Los Angeles, and their return to San Antonio, they began looking for a New Thought group to attend. There had been a number of fly-by-night metaphysicians in and out of San Antonio, but none had remained to found a work. At that time, because of such experiences, the people of San Antonio did not have a good impression of the New Thought movement there.
A number of them made the effort to visit my Austin ministry from time to time. When the Hangers did not find a New Thought group in San Antonio that was active, they drove to Austin, eighty miles away, to check out my ministry. Thereafter, they not only began attending classes and service, but also enrolled in the Unity Correspondence Course and eventually studied at Unity School.
After Fred Hanger finished training, he began conducting classes at Unity of Austin. In the next several years he wore out two Lincoln Continental automobiles driving back and forth that eighty miles between San Antonio and Austin. His wife followed in his footsteps and also studied at Unity School, though she actually preferred the Religious Science teaching.
After I pioneered Unity in Austin during the 1960s, I began to feel that my mission there was winding down, but I had no idea what I was to do next; so I kept declaring,
"THE NEXT STEP IN THE DIVINE PLAN OF MY LIFE WILL MANIFEST QUICKLY, EASILY AND IN PEACE."
On occasion Fred Hanger would persist in quietly saying, "Catherine, you have done all you can for Unity in Austin, and it's time you moved on." My reaction was, "Moved on where?" He said, "Come to San Antonio, where both my wife and I will be glad to assist you in founding a new Unity Church."
However, there was a minister there, Mary Myles, who at one time had a large ministry, but it had gradually declined. Then in came the fly-by-nights. Finally she passed on "with her boots on" (as they would say in Texas); and this opened the way for the Association of Unity Churches to send in a new minister. Since I was the nearest one with pioneer experience, they gladly accepted Mr. Hanger's suggestion that we set up a series of lectures to see if the people of San Antonio were ready for a whole new Unity ministry.
Mr. Hanger went out into "highways and byways" to obtain every New Thought mailing list that anyone there had ever had. He called on a number of New Thought people in person, telephoned others, wrote invitations to others. As a prominent attorney, he also invited many of his well known friends to attend. Among them were Juanita Starcke and her son Walter. Walter Starcke was well known in his own right, first on Broadway, later in business in Florida, and then at his Guadalupe River ranch near San Antonio.
At our first meeting, three hundred people attended in the pouring rain. On their way out, they related how they had read my articles or books, or knew someone who had; or they or someone they knew had heard me speak and conduct a prosperity seminar somewhere. It was more like "old home week" than like a new group. It was as though they already knew me inwardly.
A number of people attended who were also familiar with Silent Unity, Daily Word magazine or the Unity radio program that was broadcast for many years in San Antonio. The newspapers, radio, and television station called to welcome us to town. It was one of the friendliest receptions I had ever received in connection with any Unity group I had served over an almost twenty-year period. Unity Church of San Antonio was definitely on its way.
For the next couple of years Fred and Audrey Hanger helped me on the platform as assistant speakers, conducted classes, and helped with the counseling ministry. After Unity was well launched, they decided to continue their New Thought work by doing what Audrey Hanger had wanted to eventually do: Pioneer a Religious Science group in the city. She had had their training while in Los Angeles, and (now) "Dr." Hanger had taken their course by mail. So between their Unity training and experience, and their Religious Science training, they were well prepared to pioneer another New Thought church in the city.
Although I had missed them, I appreciated the help they had given me in setting up Unity Church of San Antonio. And I realized that the more New Thought groups in the city, the better. New people arrived to help me with the leadership of Unity Church of San Antonio, and we proceeded. During that time I entertained our sixty volunteer workers at the Canyon Creek Country Club, or at my home in the Inspiration Hills section of the city on special occasions as an act of appreciation for their help.
Finally in 1973 I felt the time had come to turn that now well-established ministry over to a Unity minister sent in by the Association of Unity Churches, and to move to Palm Desert, California to set up a global ministry to serve my worldwide readership.
Dr. Hanger lived to observe his 90th birthday and was active most of that time with the Religious Science church he and his late wife had set up in the 1970s. When I returned to San Antonio for the INTA Congress in the 1990s, Dr. Hanger and his present wife, Myrle, took me to lunch at the popular Menger Hotel, which was pre-Civil War. It was famous as the hotel where Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders had stayed during their daring exploits into Mexico decades earlier. It also contained the General Lee and the General Grant rooms, and was located just across the street from the famed Alamo.
They also showed me in their home pictures of Dr. Hanger's service during World War II and thereafter as a member of the occupying forces in a town he and the American military occupied on the Rhine River. He was so proud of the letter that hung on their walls from the Mayor of that German town thanking him as "Colonel Hanger" for his help in its restoration.
Dr. Hanger was born in Little Rock, Arkansas where his father and grandfather had been well-known doctors and also Mayors of the town. He was a courtly Southern gentleman of the old school, and we were fortunate to have had him as a part of the New Thought movement.
His widow, Myrle Hanger, continues her studies and work in the New Thought movement, and she has been kind enough, on occasion, to send me some of his taped Sunday talks of the past. They always contain a kernel of Truth in them that I can apply to my daily life, so his inspiration continues to live on! And I wonder how many ministers in the New Thought movement have helped found both a Unity Church and a Religious Science church in their cities, no small accomplishment.
(Excerpt from New Thought Magazine - Winter 2007)
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