Life Story Visitation
Life Story Service
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Life Story / Obituary
Outgoing, generous, and kind, Austin "AJ" Hankla was a sweet and funny man who lived life to the fullest. With a tough exterior and a soft, loving heart, AJ faced life's joys with deep gratitude and its challenges with grit and determination. He never gave up on others, had an unwavering work ethic, and chose at every turn to make the most of what life gave him. He was fiercely loyal and quick to reflect the goodness and potential he saw in others. While he valued independence, he understood the importance of caring for others and allowing others to care for him. Wise beyond his years, AJ proved an inspiration to all who were lucky to know him.
The 90s was a decade of much good news and astounding new achievement, including the collapse of the Soviet Empire, the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa, the civil wars in the former Yugoslavia ended, and China reformed its economy. The quality of entertainment dramatically improved, and creative brilliance shined in our homes in the likes of Harry Potter, Seinfeld, The Simpsons, Friends, and NYPD Blue. Pixar resurrected animation with Toy Story while the digital age boomed with the mainstreaming of the Internet, digital phones, 3-D games, and affordable laptops. Peace and Prosperity were the order of the day, and America was vibrant and healthy. Locally, life's good fortunes shined especially brightly for Brenda and James Hankla as they welcomed their son AJ into their hearts and home on November 2, 1997.
From the start, AJ was a happy baby who brought much happiness to the hearts of many. He was a big boy who towered over some of his cousins and many of his peers. He grew up in the Milwood area of Kalamazoo, where he enjoyed watching Sponge Bob and had a lot of outdoor adventures. He loved riding his bicycle and building ramps to jump. He played football too. Though he didn't much like running or practices, he enjoyed games.
A student at Milwood Elementary, Milwood Middle School, and Loy Norrix High School, AJ was well known for his sense of humor; he was often the life of the party. Despite the struggle of learning and the loss of his good friend, Michael Day, who left school after the 10th grade, AJ chose to find the best in every moment. Never one to avoid a challenge, with great determination, he consciously looked for ways to give of himself in service of others. AJ knew the power of laughter and relished a creative prank. It wasn't unusual for him to video his friends and family without their knowing it, capturing many hilarious, legendary moments.
AJ loved an adventure. Whether riding his various toys, helping with a huge, messy project, or casting his line in a local fishing hole, every moment was something to cherish. AJ loved with everything he had and was a constant source of comfort and encouragement for those who knew him best. AJ was a family man, and his friends were very much his family. He was unwavering in his moral support. He never hesitated to lend a hand, money, or the shirt off of his back when he thought that it would give someone the support they needed. Nothing was more important to AJ than his relationships, and he was determined to make sure to stay connected.
One of the greatest blessings AJ ever received was reconnecting through Facebook with a friend from school who was, without a doubt, his soul mate. AJ and Shanae were made for each other, and their love inspired everyone who was lucky to witness it. AJ saw nothing but Shanae's best and encouraged her in every possible way.
With Shanae at his side, AJ was even more determined to work toward his dream of owning his own company. While he took great pride in the rewards of all the work he did, especially loading trucks at his current job with Bob's Furniture, AJ knew he would one day fulfill his dreams of being his own boss. Graduating from probation proved a turning point for AJ; his pride in his accomplishment became the cornerstone of his life. Never one to wallow in disappointments and setbacks, AJ used every challenge he faced with faith in his abilities to find the gift and transform the seemingly bad into something good, for himself and for others.
While our days with him were far too few, AJ's powerful legacy will long live in the hearts of those he so deeply loved. May we find comfort in our many treasured memories of the fine man we were so blessed to know. May we also find comfort in carrying his legacy of love, loyalty, and laughter forward. Every time we choose gratitude, grace, generosity, hope, and connection, we celebrate the many ways AJ gifted our lives. In this way, we keep his spirit alive and inspiring others as he so inspired us.
Austin James "AJ" Hankla, a lifelong resident of the area, died on Friday, January 14, 2022, as a result of a car accident. Members of his family include his fiancée and soulmate: Shanae; Mother: Brenda Hankla; Father: James Hankla; Grandma Deb Brennan; Grandpa Gary Jones; 4 Siblings: Shawnia (David) Preston, Marla Bailey, Chelsie Hankla, Lindsey Coy; aunts and uncles; Randy Airhart; Vicky ( Parry) Freed; Larry Leipzig JR; Brandy(Duane) Vandenboss; Tasha Johnson; God son; Asahd Garcia; Nephews and Niece; Chase Preston; Trey Preston; Owen Harding; Nolan Harding; Avery Overland; Audra Overland Cousins; Lisa (Ivan) Harrison; Jessica Reese; Alyssa Freed; Larry Freed; Spencer Freed; Amber Leipzig; Cuddy bean(Perla) Vandenboss, Julie Vandenboss, Tandra Mckinney, Jose Equia; CS Mckinney, Many friends and his 2 faithful dogs- Coco, Chunk.Preceded in death by Grandma Donna Leipzig, Uncle Robin Airhart, Cousin Kaley Mckinney. Please join us at a Life Story Visitation where stories will be shared on Thursday (Jan 20) from 4-6 PM at Betzler Life Story Funeral Homes, 6080 Stadium Drive, Kalamazoo (269) 375-2900. Life Story Services will be held on Friday (Jan 21) at 11 am at the same location. Visit AJ's webpage at BetzlerLifeStory.com to archive favorite memories, photos and sign his guestbook. Memorial contributions may be made to the Kalamazoo Humane Society.