Glen Park is still reeling from the murder of 94-year-old Leo Hainzl, whose friendly face was seen throughout the neighborhood daily. One after another, neighbors recounted stories of Hainzl who, undaunted by age, walked miles every day, repaired his own home, and lent a hand to others.
“This was a man who felt like he was cheating himself and his dog if he walked six miles a day instead of seven or eight,” said neighbor Stephany Wilkes. She remembered him grabbing his wheelbarrow when she and her partner were moving a mountain of soil to the garden they were building.
“Even though it had a deflated tire, that 90-some-year-old man wheeled that thing (his dog Rip along for the ride, of course) all the way up a steep San Francisco hill for us,” said Wilkes in a heartfelt post on Facebook following Hainzl’s death.
Pat McGinnis has lived a few houses from Hainzl on Sussex Street for decades.
I was shocked to see he was 94” she said. “Every day he would walk up Diamond–he was amazing.”
She met him about 28 years ago, she said.
“He had a hothouse under his porch,” McGinnis said. “He would grow these incredible tomatoes, and I would stop to admire them. One day I came home, and there’s a basket of tomatoes on my front porch.”
Thereafter, they chatted when they saw each other. He reminded her to move her car for street cleaning, he rolled her garbage bins back to her gate. Over the years, she and her daughter (and later her granddaughter) made a tradition of giving him cookies and a bone for the dog at Christmas.
According to neighborhood historian Evelyn Rose, Hainzl was born in 1925 in East Austria. (Please skip to the bottom of the article for Rose’s thorough genealogy report for more detail about Hainzl’s life.)
In the tumult of World War II, he became what was known as a “Displaced Person,” and landed in a resettlement camp in Bremerhaven, Germany. In 1953, he left for Melbourne, Australia as part of what was called the Austrian Farmworker Scheme. He worked there as a farmer for seven years.
Hainzl arrived in San Francisco in 1960 and moved to Sussex Street in 1967. He worked as a welder and later had his own business, Hainzl Construction.
Neighbor Julien Mayot and Hainzl talked about their common heritage.
“Leo and I would talk quite often,” he said.”We’re both from Europe…I had a chat with him the day before. He was telling me about being a World War II survivor. He fought on the Russian front which was much worse than the Atlantic front.”
Mayot summed up one of the many charms of living in Glen Park and knowing neighbors like Leo. “I think it’s just a gift to have in the community mixed generations, and we learn from each other, and that’s why I asked him questions.”
Kylie and Simon Rowe bonded with Hainzl over Australia.
“We were delighted to swap Australian stories with him and to learn about his varied and fascinating life,” Simon said.
The pair met Leo about two years ago as he was working on his front gate.
“As new neighbors, we were concerned that he should not be climbing a ladder, so we offered to help. We went home to change, but when we returned, Leo had all but finished and he was too independent to allow us to jump in!”
Hainzl was fiercely independent that way, and proud of what he was capable of, his neighbor Mary Cunningham said.
“He was a proud perfectionist in his work,” she said. “When he was making his railings, if one little thing was off–something I wouldn’t have even noticed–he would have to take it off and fix it.”
He was formerly a licensed contractor who built residential and commercial buildings, and his garage was full of tools, she said.
“This past weekend he was working in his garage, drilling and fixing. The garage was full of tools and he was still using them.”
Perhaps one of the secrets to Hainzl’s high energy was his love for Red Bull. According to his neighbor, Charlene Thomas of Van Buren Street, he’d drink two or three cans everyday. But, being a thrifty old world European, he looked forward to stocking up when Costco was having a sale. “He’d get the two-case limit, get back in his car, drive around the block and go back and get two more cases. He’d then do it all over again, since he liked to get six cases at a time,” says Thomas.
When he wasn’t walking or fixing, Hainzl liked to sit on the porch and read, Cunningham said. Sometimes it was National Geographic, sometimes construction magazines, and every week he read The Economist from end to end.
“He was very intellectually curious,” she said. “He would underline parts of the magazine.
McGinnis recalled that Hainzl’s first dog, Fritz, was quite the duck hunting companion.
“It would be really rainy so he got Fritz a little raincoat,” she said.
Fritz and earlier dogs were so well trained they could be walked off-leash, said Dawn Isaacs.
“Except for the last one, Rip — he was more of a free spirit who’d get away and the neighbors would be trying to return him to Leo.”
Indeed, Rip’s last escape prevented Hainzl from taking a planned clay pigeon shoot with Mayot.
“We set a date to meet at 10 a.m., but Rip ran off, and he couldn’t assemble his rifle together.”
Cunningham described him as devoted to his dogs.
“He used to say to me, ‘Rip owns me, I don’t own Rip,’” she said.
Hainzl’s death on Monday caused an outpouring of grief and shock on NextDoor, as neighbors struggled to understand how such a strong presence could now be gone.
“It left a hole in the neighborhood,” McGinnis said. “He probably didn’t even know it.I guess we were very fortunate to have him here.”[Photo credit: Mary Cunningham]
Genealogy from Evelyn Rose:
Leopold Hainzl was born either on June 11 or November 6, 1925 (depending on the record), in Schwarzbach, part of the Wiener Neustadt-Land District in Eastern Austria. No information has been found about his early life in Austria. However, following World War II, Leopold is found in genealogical records on the Africa, Asia and Europe, Passenger Lists of Displaced Persons, 1946 to 1971.
After WWII, the havoc brought on by the war and the Nazi regime had uprooted many citizens in Germany and Austria. Having been displaced from their homes of origin, they were considered “stateless.” Those who wished to immigrate to new locales were allowed to do so under the International Refugee Organization (IRO) and later the Intergovernmental Committee for the Movements of Migrants from Europe (ICEM), based on agreements under the United Nations. People listed in the Displaced Persons Lists were either Holocaust survivors, former concentration camp inmates and Nazi forced laborers, or refugees from other Central and Eastern European countries. It is not yet clear which of these groups Leo may have been associated with. The Displaced Persons List is organized by the location of the European resettlement camp the individual had been assigned to.
In the Displaced Persons List, Leo is listed as #1222, noted to be 27 years of age and single. He departed his resettlement camp in Bremerhaven, Germany on May 8, 1953. Leo was bound for Melbourne, Australia on the transport ship, the Seven Seas, as part of what was called the Austrian Farmworker Scheme. According to a report entitled, Activities of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, dated May 12, 1954, 1,907 refugees were resettled in Australia that year. A total of 19,711 European refugees would be resettled that year, with most going to Australia, Brazil, Canada, Greece, Israel, Turkey, and Latin America. Leo would remain in Australia working as a farmer for 7 years.
On May 12, 1960, Leo arrived in San Francisco on the British ship, the S.S. Orsova, arriving with several other German and Austrian immigrants. Having arrived in America alone, it appears he married Gisela Hainzl soon after. They divorced in June 1962. There is no record of a residence in San Francisco for Leo until 1962 when he is residing at 645 Stockton Street. In 1967, Leo has moved to Sussex Street, and he is occupied as a welder at Heat and Control. In later years, Hainzl Construction is also listed at the address. He married Maria Concordia Aquino in Reno, Nevada in 1971, a marriage that lasted 2 years.
Leo would remain at Sussex Street for the remainder of his life, a neighborhood fixture frequently seen by neighbors walking to, from, or along the slopes of Glen Canyon Park with his dog.