Archive for Sunday, July 14, 1991


July 14, 1991


A former Lawrence minister and a local school teacher say July 17, 1981, will remain an important day in their lives the day the overhead walkways collapsed in the Hyatt Regency Hotel.

"I am very aware of every anniversary of the Hyatt," said the Rev. Rachael Hanson. "It's a part of my life. I had a broken back in the Hyatt. So it's definitely part of my life."

Laurie McLane-Higginson, 39, an art teacher in Lawrence public schools, lost her parents, William and Betty McLane, both of Prairie Village, in the tragedy.

"I always think about the anniversary," McLane-Higginson said. "From the minute it happened, I learned that you only have one life and you'd better live in in the best way possible. I learned to appreciate parents and other people's parents. It puts a new light on things."

THE TWO women were among several local people whose lives were deeply affected by the disaster, which caused 114 deaths and will mark its 10th anniversary on Wednesday.

Death claimed Connie Chavez Alcala, a Lawrence native who lived in Topeka. A Lawrence High School graduate, Mrs. Alcala was in the hotel with a Topeka mariachi band scheduled to perform later in the evening. She and three other members of the band were killed by the falling walkways during a "tea dance."

McLane-Higginson, now 39, who was performing that night at Apple Valley Farm, Lake Perry, didn't formally learn her parents had been killed until the next morning.

Since the disaster, she has remarried and has two children, "who my parents never got a chance to meet, which is a real shame."

McLane-Higginson said she finds it difficult to believe that there is no trace left of the tragedy in the building.

"IT'S SO infuriating that there's this place where this horrible thing happened and when you walk in, life goes on just like nothing happened. Everything's back to normal," she said. "My 20-year high school reunion was there last summer. It was disturbing to be in the building."

Hanson, now 38, married and a pastor in Jamestown had just been installed as associate pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lawrence at the time of the accident.

Hanson said her congregation at Trinity Lutheran sent her prayers and cards while she was recovering.

"They really gave me a tremendous amount of support. And I feel this was very important for my healing after the Hyatt," she said.

Hanson and her sister, Melanie Johnson, had gone to the hotel that night to meet some friends and listen to the big-band sounds echoing through the lobby.

BECAUSE THE lobby was so crowded, they made their way around the dance floor, closer to the band.

As the sisters stood, the walkways collapsed on top of them.

After the accident, Hanson remained in the Lutheran Trinity Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., for three weeks and wore a back brace for a period of time after that.

Her sister also had a broken back and a broken ankle in the collapse. She has since recovered, although suffers severe back pain, Hanson said.

A little more than a month after the accident, Hanson was back at work.

"I did a wedding on Aug. 21 at Danforth Chapel at KU," she said. "That was my triumphant return."

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