Roger Hannah ~ finding joy in the puzzles of life

Always with a smile at the ready, Pocahontas Center’s “Puzzle Man,” Roger Hannah, poses with a jigsaw puzzle in progress. He can be found most days in the recreation room at the center, working on his latest project. Framed, completed puzzles line the walls, and the cabinets keep a good supply of puzzles on hand. L.D. Bennett photo

Laura Dean Bennett
Staff Writer

Roger Hannah is affectionately called the “unofficial assistant recreation director” at Pocahontas Center, a place he has called home since 2006.

Roger earned that title because he likes to talk to people, likes to sing, invites people to work jigsaw puzzles with him and always has a ready smile for visitors.

“I have a badge,” Roger showed me. “It says ‘Pocahontas Center Volunteer.’”

He is also known as the puzzle man. Roger can usually be found at a table in the recreation room, patiently assembling a jigsaw puzzle.

He says that he can do a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle in about two weeks.

“It depends on how small the pieces are,” Roger said.

“And sometimes someone comes in and works on a puzzle with me.

“You see all these puzzles that are on the walls? I put all of them together.”

The cabinets in the recreation room are absolutely jam-packed with boxes of jigsaw puzzles waiting for Roger’s attention.

“People bring their puzzles in here,” Roger explained. “They know I like them.

“I like to sing, too. Sometimes J.T. or Homer Hunter comes in to the cafeteria to sing for us.

“I try to sing with them, but my voice is going down the hill.”

Roger has a friendly smile, and doesn’t seem to ever complain, but his life has been anything but easy.

Before coming to Pocahontas Center, he lived in Slaty Fork.

“We lived in a little house near Sharp’s store,” Roger said.

He was diagnosed with epilepsy when he was very young.

He was kept at home and didn’t go to school.

“I can read a little now,” he said. “Some other people taught me, and now Jackie [Friel, Recreation Director] is helping me learn, too.”

His mother died when Roger was about 20 years old. He had one brother, Orval Hannah, who died two years ago.

Roger spent most of his time helping around the house or helping out with odd jobs for his neighbors.  

After his mother passed away, Roger lived with his Aunt Evva Shelton, whom he loved very much.

Evva had three girls – Regina, Allie and Alieen.

He had a lot of cousins – and some of them were twins.

“We all got along fine,” he said. “Aunt Evva could really cook! I learned howboil or fry eggs pretty good and sometimes, if I was by myself, I’d just open a can of chili and beans.

“Aunt Evva cooked really good brown beans, corn bread, cabbage, tomatoes, and macaroni and cheese. I liked her food.

“We had one of those old-time cook stoves that took wood or coal. And we had a potbellied stove in the living room. It kept us nice and warm.

“The winters were real bad up in Slaty Fork. Sometimes the snow would be three or four feet deep.

“I didn’t get out too much, but I had a lot of friends. I knew just about everybody in Slaty Fork,” Roger said with a smile.
“I used to help a neighbor lady in her garden, and I helped her do her canning.”

Roger was a member of the Slaty Fork Methodist congregation for 30 years.

“I walked everywhere. It was nothing to walk a mile and a half to go somewhere,” he recalled.

“Gene Gibson ran a taxi service, and if we really needed to get to town, we’d call him. He would take us to town and wait on us while we got our groceries.

“I helped out a lot in the hayfields. I liked to get out and help with the hay. I guess it was my favorite thing.”

Roger told a funny story about an incident that happened in the hayfield.

“I guess I was maybe 24 or 25 years old,” he began. “I was sitting in the truck that was pulling the hay wagon. Now, I never learned to drive – I never owned a car in my life.

“Well, this fella was playing, I guess. He told me to slide over into the driver’s seat and take it on up the hill a little bit.

“Well, I must have put my foot on the gas pedal too hard because the truck lurched.

 “The whole load – about 60 or 70 bales, I guess – came off the back of the wagon.

“That was the last time anybody told me to drive.”

Sometimes Roger helped Loreen Shaffer, who lived up at the other end of Slaty Fork.

“I used to mow for Miss Shaffer, and sometimes I’d split wood and pile it up for her.”

Roger has fond memories of the people he knew in Slaty Fork. He likes to sing familiar hymns like “The Old Rugged Cross,” and he likes the people who work at or come to visit at Pocahontas Center.

“I like it when Jackie reads The Pocahontas Times to us,” he said. “We do that on Thursdays at four o’clock.”

I told Roger that I would be writing a story about our conversation.

“So, maybe we’ll read a story about me sometime,” he said.

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