Big Rapids grad building house to honor dad, MLK Jr.

Steve Hanford: 'We are all like one'

Big Rapids graduate Steve Hansen is building a Black and White house as a legacy to MLK, Jr., and Steve's dad, a minister who helped with King's dream.

Big Rapids graduate Steve Hansen is building a Black and White house as a legacy to MLK, Jr., and Steve's dad, a minister who helped with King's dream.

Courtesy photo/Steve Hanford

BIG RAPIDS — Steve Hanford is a builder who does more than just work with materials and tools — he creates.

Hanford, a 1979 graduate from Big Rapids High School, is building a "Black and White" house in his home neighborhood as a legacy to his dad, Dr. Jack Tyrus Hanford, and Martin Luther King Jr. — creating a tangible dream of hope and unity.  

The connection between Dr. Jack Hanford and King is something which has really inspired and motivated Steve's life, and he is happy for others to hear about the trailblazers in the tumultuous time during the Jim Crow era to overcome the hate with love for all people. Jack was such a man, and Steve uses his own talents to follow in his dad's footsteps in his own unique way — with a hammer of justice and tools of love and freedom. 

"My dad turned minister at the ripe young age of 18," Hanford said, explaining how his dad quit high school at the age of 16, but the high school recruiter got his dad back into school, and after he graduated he entered seminary, becoming a Methodist minister.

"So at 18 years old, he's filling in as a step-in minister in east Detroit, if you can imagine. This is 1954, and he ends up taking some people from the church, Detroit Metropolitan, to Alabama, and they helped Martin Luther King register people to vote," he said. "My dad personally had lunch with Dr. Martin Luther King.

"Dad doesn't boast at all, but he said he had to sleep in a different house every night. But the integrity of that, at that age, it just speaks so strongly."


Jack Hanford's life changed directions, slightly later in life. He married Mary Smoot, daughter of Dr. Jewel Martin Smoot, a deacon in the Methodist church at that time.

"Mom passed away. She had postpartum syndrome with me, the middle child, and then dad had a daughter, Julie, my youngest sister, and mom took her own life from the postpartum. Nobody knew anything about it back then. So dad decides, 'I'm not making money as a preacher, I'm going to be a teacher. So that's what he did," Steve Hanford said.

After getting a Ph.D. in Philosophy, Jack Hanford was hired at Ferris State University in 1969, so the family moved to Big Rapids. He taught Philosophy, Ethics, Transactional Analysis, and Black and White Reasoning.

Dr. Jack Tyrus Hanford 

Dr. Jack Tyrus Hanford 

Courtesy photo/Steve Hanford

"It was really cool that in 1969 when we moved here, they also hired a black minister, Rev. Williams. It just so happens he had a son that was the same age as me, Mark, and the black minister was in the same department as my dad, and they were best of friends. Mark Williams was the only black kid at Riverview Elementary School (in Big Rapids) fourth grade, 1969, and he didn't see any color in me, and I didn't see any color in him, and we became best of friends," Steve Hanford said.

He also remembers being shaped by the goodness he saw in the black community in downtown Flint where his grandpa would preach when he and his siblings spent some time with their grandparents after their mother died. He said this was the conception, along with the way he was raised, that "we are all like one."

"Dad, later when he came to Ferris, started the bioethics program," he said, which his dad was on a mission to do after his wife Mary's death of postpartum. "Dad later wrote a book called 'Bioethics from a Faith Perspective.' He combined his religious training in Theology to the Science of medical ethics."

Jack Hanford is now 90. He taught at Ferris 33 years when he retired to take care of his mother, and his second wife, (Steve's second mother,) Marilyn, passed.

"He lives in Clark Retirement Home, which was a hospital, believe it or not, for Methodist ministers, but now the joke dad says is, 'You can never stay here if you were a Methodist minister all your life, it costs too much money.' But because he had his Ph.D. and taught all those years at Ferris, he's been able to afford to pay for it," Steve Hanford said.


The "Black and White" house Steve is building, at 1391 Delta Drive in Big Rapids, is inspired by the life his dad lived.

"When this house thing started, it reminded me of dad's class, "Black and White Reasoning," Hanford said. "I don't know much about the class, but I know about the horrible destruction racism has caused all these years. And, so, I'm a cabinet maker, and oftentimes I'll use white maple, which is a white wood, and black walnut. It makes a great stair railing, and I call it my anti-racial staircase."

As for the house Hanford is almost finished building, a house with a black and white theme, is in honor of his dad's life and what it stands for.

He said the dream of building this house came alive after he started seeing all the racial tension back on television. Steve feels when people label each other, they lose the power of goodliness. 

"I believe God showed us something on that football field the other day, when (football player Damar Hamlin) had a heart attack, and it didn't matter what color he was, they just prayed, and everybody wanted him to live. They canceled the football game. They did everything that was the right thing to do. That's the energy we can create by keeping a positive attitude instead of marking each other up for the color of our skin or the way we talk or the way we have our hair and such."

The house, itself, is black and white on the outside and inside, as well as cabinets, with peppercorn highlighted on a couple of walls.

"It's interesting that in this day and age the black and white house is very popular, not just my house. People are building black and white barns again. You see a lot of black and white in new construction nowadays," he said.

"I'm almost done. I should be done by the end of January. It's on the market. I love building black and white furniture, black and white crucifixes, you name it. I have a furniture shop, I've been blessed," he said. "Big Rapids High School used to dominate the whole state of Michigan, up until my senior year, in building furniture," Hanford said. "My senior year the shop teacher, Hilbert Klotz, retired, and was voted the most outstanding shop teacher. He made me a cabinet maker, and I went on to Western and became a licensed builder in the early '90s, and have been building all my life and make my living doing it."

All of the things that shaped Hanford's life, from his dad to Martin Luther King, Jr., to the faith instilled in him by those he loved and those he met in life, are something he is building on — a firm foundation of hope, love, and a better world, he said.