Jerry was passionate about chess. He loved to play. He loved the tournament scene. He loved the chess political scene. He loved chess people, and had a big heart. Despite knowing him for 35 years, I had no idea that he had performed in amateur productions of plays until reading the obit on the USCF website. I guess it shouldn't really surprise me, because he was just one of those energetic persons who could just overwhelm you with his outgoing personality. One did not have to see Jerry to know that he was around. His voice carried, and one would say "There's Jerry telling another one of his chess stories."
It was at my first US Open back in 1976 when I first met Jerry. It was not only my first US Open, but it was my first exposure to the US chess political scene, otherwise known as the Delegates Meeting. I was representing Vermont where I was attending college at the time. It would be the first time Vermont had been represented at the meeting. I don't remember what issues were being argued at the time. What I do remember was lots of very heated debates, and a very loud and often angry Jerry Hanken raising a point of personal privilege over some remark directed towards him. I remember at the time wondering to myself , "Who IS this guy, and what the heck is going on?" One thing about Jerry, he was never afraid to speak his mind.
I got to know Jerry better over subsequent US Opens, and under much calmer circumstances then the Delegates meeting. We spent a lot of time together at the 1978 US Open in Phoenix. Almost every night after our games were done, a group of us would go find some restaurant that stayed open past 11:00 pm. Jerry seemed to know where to find the good food and drink. I probably gained 10 pound during those two weeks in Phoenix. We had discussed plans of doing some sightseeing around the Phoenix area during the day. However when the daytime temperatures hit 100+ degrees everyday, sightseeing consisted of going to the movies or hanging out by the hotel pool.
Jerry loved the US Open and had formed a committee to try to bring back some of its glory from the earlier years. Attendance has been going down every year recently, and he wanted to come up with ideas to boost it back up. This year attendance did go back over 400 in Indianapolis. In the bulletins he wrote a column called Hanken's Corner. Sometimes it was rather mundane, at other times it had amusing stories and interesting pieces of US Open trivia.
In 2001 I played in my first US Open in 10 years. So who did I have to play in round one? You guessed it. Jerry Hanken. This was the first and last time we ever played. During our game he was furiously trying to write his "Hanken's Corner" for the first bulletin. He asked me if I would mind if he did so. I didn't mind, and perhaps it would give me a good chance for an upset if he was concentrating more on his writing more then the game itself.
Here are a couple of excerpts from that column.
"It starts again! Your Humble Reporter (henceforth known as YHR) is playing the first round of the 102nd US Open. This year we are in Framingham, Mass, near historic Boston..."
"For YHR this is landmark US Open, my 35th which is more then a third of those ever played. It's also my 29th in a row (2 behind Joel Benjamin's Uncle Marty, who has 31.) And of course, it will be - if successful - my 34th in a row with plus scores. [That streak would last until 2006.] (I know - I know - Art Bisguier has 46!)"
"As is tediously usual, this column will follow the Pilgrim's Progress of that immortal quest. Along with Ye Kindly Editor, Phil Smith (known hence forth as YKE) we will also make an attempt to amuse and entertain you Gentle Readers with anecdotes and wry stories from the tournament......" "PS. As I was writing this column at the board (with my opponent, Polly Wright's permission) I achieved a completely lost game. Not atypical for first round games for YHR. I lucked out and did win, however. Check out the game with notes by Art Bisguier, who forcefully demonstrated the win."
Here is the game with the original notes from Jerry and Art.
The last time I saw Jerry was at the 2008 US Open in Dallas. Despite a lack of mobility he managed to keep a very busy schedule of writing his columns, chairing a number of committee meetings, and playing chess. In my reports from last year's US Open I wrote about one our funny late night encounters.
I didn't always agree with Jerry, but he really had a heart of gold shared his passion for chess with anyone who would listen. You either loved him or hated him, but the US chess scene will be a little emptier without him around to share his wit and wisdom. Thanks Jerry for being a good friend all these years, and I guess I'll have to wait for the big chess tournament in the sky to get my rematch.
Receiving my 10 years of US Opens certificate from Jerry in 2006