GILBERT, Ariz. — Growing up as a young girl in Victor, Idaho, Marlene Dustin Hansen says she learned a lot about patience, endurance and hard work from picking potatoes and spending time in the dirt. She jokes she earned a PhD – "a potato harvesting degree."
“Sometimes you think you’re being picked on when asked to do hard things,” she says. “You’re not. You’re learning great principles.”
She’s put those life lessons to good use in raising five children, losing her husband to illness, serving three missions, dealing with declining eyesight, and now, at 84 years old, serving as ward Relief Society president.
She quotes the scripture from 2 Nephi, Chapter 1: “Awake! and arise from the dust.” She sees it as a metaphor for life.
“I love that,” she says. “We need to get up – out of that dust – and do something.”
After raising five children in “full view of the Tetons,” Sister Hansen’s husband, Paul Junior Hansen, passed away, leaving her a widow at age 55 and her youngest child in college.
She looked to her future and decided to turn her sights to doing something she had always wanted to do: serve a full-time mission.
She was first called to a family history mission in Salt Lake City; then she served in Fort Worth, Texas; and finally she was called to Melbourne, Australia.
“What a privilege for the Church to send you somewhere to grow and learn,” she says of her experiences as a missionary.
But in Australia she faced a major set-back. She developed macular degeneration and suffered a blood hemorrhage in one eye.
After receiving priesthood blessings, she says she was able to complete the last seven months of her mission there.
“I had this determination that I was going to serve this mission,” she says. “Heavenly Father knew my heart and He blessed me.”
She returned home, but six years ago her life took another turn. She sold her home in Bountiful and with her daughter and family moved to Arizona. She continued to be active in Church, serving as a Beehive advisor and teaching new member discussions.
Then in June she met with her bishop of the McQueen Ward, Gilbert Arizona Stapley Stake. He said he was going to ask her a question that might "surprise" her, and then proceeded to call her to be Relief Society president.
“’Surprised’ was not the word,” she says. "Speechless."
She made sure he understood how old she was, that she suffers from macular degeneration and that she can’t drive. He said, “Yes, I know all that, and Heavenly Father knows that, and He wants you anyway.”
Bishop Robert Gregory recalls that Sister Hansen’s name was the first one that came to him when he knew his ward would need a new Relief Society president, but he dismissed the idea of calling her for several months because of her age and eyesight.
Finally, he could no longer ignore the promptings.
“The Lord thinketh differently than man,” he says.
Already he’s seen the blessings from extending that calling.
“She’s fit as a fiddle, has a sharp wit and intellect, and is one that is somewhat soft-spoken, but when she makes a comment everyone listens because she has so much wisdom and kindness,” he says. “They love her.”
Her niece, Carolyn Ware of Kaysville, Utah, calls her aunt “a little dynamo of a woman” and says she has always been an incredible example to her.
“It is her faith – truly the thing that impresses me about her,” Sister Ware says. "She just keeps going and is always looking for ways to serve others.”
Sister Hansen says that despite her challenges – one is that she relies on others for rides to make needed visits to sisters – she feels a great love for those in her ward.
“I learned from my parents and in the mission field to love people,” she says. “I feel like I can do that – to genuinely love people – that’s easy for me.”
She's also devoted to her family, which includes 19 grandchildren and soon-to-be 29 great grandchildren.
Sister Hansen looks forward to cooler weather in the desert when she can walk more to visits instead of getting rides and already walks four miles a day, six days a week, for exercise in the early mornings.
She says she’s grateful for those years of hard work in the potato fields of Idaho.
“Life is about shaking the dust off,” she says, “and becoming men and women so we can be used by our Father in Heaven.”