February 1, 1926 – August 14, 2020
Gutenberg’s constellation in the heavens is a little brighter right now with the passing of one of the Printing Museum’s longtime printer/volunteers, Hal Wessels. Though he had other pursuits and passions, printing and teaching the graphic arts was the central focus of Hal’s long life. Hal learned the “Art Preservative of All Arts” at the University of California Santa Barbara following his service in the Navy as a pilot. Hal’s plan was to become a physicist but after experiencing a printing class a new course was set. Printing caught his imagination and the possibilities of all he could do. He set his life course toward teaching the graphic arts, a vocation that he pursued from leaving college to well past his retirement in 1985.
Hal Wessels’s success as a teacher came from his deeply generous heart, one that was full of patience and understanding and a desire to help others to learn. Hal made no distinction if you were young or old; if he had knowledge to pass on to you, he was going to bring you through that process. After earning his teaching credentials, Hal began his long career as a graphic arts teacher at Westchester High School (just south of Los Angeles Airport), followed by 32 years at University High School where he retired from in 1985.
But his passion for teaching didn’t end with retirement. Hal connected with the International Printing Museum in Carson, CA, as a volunteer and docent. Over the years, he helped the museum’s old presses, printed various flyers and envelopes when needed (donation envelopes were his specialty, for the museum and his church!), and then taught offset printing to nearly 500 boy scouts each year through our quarterly Boy Scout Printing Merit Badge Days. For his countless hours of support and participation at the museum, Hal was recognized as the Printing Museum’s Volunteer of the Year in 2016.
Hal’s final printing shop was actually back at his first location, Westchester High School, now Westchester Middle School, where his son John teaches. The printing shop was still there from many years ago. The retired printer just stepped back through the doors of his youth and was able to turn on the presses again. Those machines welcomed their old friend back with their rhythmic hum and clinking as ink again flowed through the presses. His retirement years were dedicated to printing material needed by various non-profits, from the school, his church, Su Casa Women’s Shelter and the Printing Museum. His beloved wife Ruth, whom he married only months before his retirement, fully understood that ink was permanently on Hal’s fingers and hands!
Ruth and Hal were the unseparable pair, each having found the soul-mate and partner to the life they desired. They were always together it seems, from their volunteer work at the Printing Museum to helping women in crisis at Su Casa, to both being active members in the Printing Craftsmen Club. Between the two of them they had 11 children and 54 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Family, faith and friends sums up so much of their life.
Hal entered the Navy near the end of WWII, trained as a pilot for the final invasion of Japan but went to Italy instead, flying off of the USS Leyte. He fully enjoyed the combined exhilaration and serenity experienced in flying throughout his life since planes were always part of his journey. Hal even owned his own plane for many years, flying his bride Ruth to adventures far and near.
Hal Wessels flew high in this life in so many ways. He was a stellar and exemplary man, a gentle “gentleman” to the last of his days, as Ruth mentioned to me. And he was my friend, though I know I share that distinction with nearly all who met Hal.
Every morning, Hal flipped through a daily desk calendar to receive a scriptural encouragement. August 12th was the last day he had the strength and ability to do so. After he died the morning of August 14th, Ruth found the tearful strength to turn the pages. From Matthew 28:20 it read, “Lo, I will be with you always, even until the end of the earth.” A last encouragement from heaven for both Ruth and each of us.
A Celebration of Hal Wessels life is planned for what would have been his 95th birthday on February 1st, 2021. It will be at his church, the First Presbyterian Church of Inglewood, a house large enough for Hal’s very large family and many friends! Please plan to join us (email the museum for details: firstname.lastname@example.org). We have set up a Hal Wessels Education Fund for donations in Hal’s memory; this will help support the teaching of printing to hundreds of scouts every year at the Printing Museum, one of Hal’s passions.
Ruth will receive a listing of all donations made in Hal’s memory and we will send along any condolences or happy memories you’d like to share with her. .