Local, national, international awards celebrate Hauenstein's 100 years


Betsy Bugg Holloway, Immediate Past President of the national Omicron Delta Kappa, smiled broadly as she handed Col. Ralph Hauenstein his Laurel Crowned Circle Award.


by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Along the way to amassing more awards than one article can list, journalist/war hero/philanthropist Ralph Hauenstein has had so many people say so many nice things about him that it would be difficult to designate any one comment as standing out.

But it has to warm the heart of a then-94-year-old man to hear legendary musician and activist Bono say, “What a cool cat ... Who’s the rock star here tonight?”

Those off-the-cuff comments came on the occasion of Hauenstein receiving the 2006 Slykhouse Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grand Rapids Economic Club, for which occasion Bono was keynote speaker.

As Hauenstein’s 100th birthday has rolled around, the awards just keep on coming, from local (Aquinas College’s Reflection Award in late 2011) to international (the French Legion of Honor, April 2012).

And now the latest, from The National Leadership Honor Society, Omicron Delta Kappa (ODK), which has had a chapter, called a “circle,” at Grand Valley State University for twenty years.
Immediate Past President Betsy Bugg Holloway traveled to Grand Rapids to bestow the official Laurel Crowned Circle Award on Col. Hauenstein in a ceremony Wednesday at the downtown Grand Valley Campus’s Loosemore Auditorium.

GVSU Circle President, student DeLain Bomer III, welcomed guests, and one of two GVSU faculty advisors, Michelle Burke — who is also the current National Vice President of ODK — introduced Holloway.

She started out by saying that ODK was almost the same age as Col. Hauenstein, founded in 1914, and went on to describe ODK’s mission of recognizing that “leadership of exceptional quality and versatility in college should be recognized” and that leaders from all components of college life, students, faculty, and administration, should “meet on a basis of mutual interest, understanding, and helpfulness.” She praised Hauenstein’s meritorious life, and added that at the most recent ODK convention a few weeks ago, the students raised a bit of a ruckus “cheering on Col. Hauenstein.”

The audience at the ceremony viewed a video about Hauenstein, made in July at the time he was first advised that he would be getting the national award, which included a lot of light-hearted remarks. (View the video at   http://www.gvsu.edu/gvnow/index.


One of the video’s more serious comments is that Col. Hauenstein should be addressed as “Sir.” And indeed, Hauenstein is a knight, granted the Order of the British Empire in 1947 based on his intelligence work during World War II.

Among Hauenstein’s many significant actions in the European Theater of that war was recovering the codebook that ultimately led to breaking the encryptions of the Enigma machines the Germans used for secret communications. The name of that endeavor was the Ultra project, which in addition to being a decisive factor in the Allies winning the war, has had repercussions for computer security.

Participants in the Ultra Project were forbidden to speak about it until 1974, but it is included in Hauenstein’s book Intelligence Was My Line: Inside Eisenhower's Other Command, co-written by Donald E. Markle and published in 2005.

Hauenstein had enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1934, and in 1935 he became the commander of an all-African-American Civilian Conservation Corps  near Cadillac. Around this time, he familiarized himself with African-American culture by visiting Idlewild and meeting many of the gifted musicians who toured at the famous resort.

He only stayed in active duty a few years at that point, and then started working at the Grand Rapids Herald, ending up as city editor. His reporting style was highly activist, and he learned a number of skills which were to stand him in good stead the rest of his life.

When he was called up in 1940 to return to active duty, he became chief of the Intelligence Branch in the European theater.

At that time, concerned about the potential for soldiers to let slip military secrets, Hauenstein ordered the closing of all French brothels.

His service during the war not only led him to be one of the very first Americans to enter Dachau, and among the first to get to liberated Paris and later Germany, but it also put him in a perfect position to assist in starting the Central Intelligence Agency.

After the war, Hauenstein started Tri-Continental Trading Co. in New York City, working with European manufacturers and markets. He wound up the owner of Werner Lehara of Grand Rapids, a food equipment manufacturer, and several other companies.

During that time he began what was to be an astounding philanthropic career. He financed locals starting up  a bakery in economically-challenged Haiti, and set up an automated-bakery business training school in Florida for people from developing countries.

The Grand Rapids community has continued to benefit from his philanthropy. Col. Hauenstein funded or gave seed money to The Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies at Grand Valley State University, the Hauenstein Parkinsons and Neuroscience Centers at Saint Mary's Hospital, and the Grace Hauenstein Library  at Aquinas College, named after his beloved wife.

Hauenstein’s public service is not limited to financial contributions. He served as a consultant on the President’s Advisory Commission during the Eisenhower administration, was an auditor at the Second Vatican Council in Rome, and helped supervise elections in Russia in 1996. He was on the three-person board that established the Van Andel Institute, and is still a trustee.
He is also a trustee for the Gerald R. Ford Foundation, whose namesake grew up only a few blocks from him and remained a friend from the time they competed against each other in sports until Ford’s death.

The Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies has had significant impact on scholarship as well as community awareness, through sponsoring lectures and events.

The Omicron Delta Kappa Laurel Crowned Circle Award is a fitting tribute to such a life. Col. Hauenstein was nominated by the Grand Valley State University ODK Circle, which itself was a national winner in 2010 of ODK’s Superior Circle Award, given to only three chapters that year.