The Old Ida Road twists and turns, swoops and dives as it wends its way through the beautiful rolling backcountry between Sherman and Whitewright. About dusk on a beautiful autumn afternoon the second day of November in 2012, the highway was more than just a strip of asphalt. It was a shining ribbon of adventure reaching out to a young man with a motorcycle.
No one knows what happened. No one was there to see it, so we are left with a newspaper report and the plain, terse language of the DPS Trooper who investigated the accident.
“Amaud Hassan, 19, of Denison, was killed around 5:30 p.m. when his 2007 Yamaha motorcycle left the road, hit a road sign and ejected him from the motorcycle,” said State Trooper Mark Tackett.
Tackett said Mr. Hassan appears to have lost control of the motorcycle on a curve in the road while traveling northbound on FM 697 near Whitewright. Mr. Hassan was pronounced dead at the scene.”
Amaud’s parents, Aziz and Mehfooz, were in their seats at Munson Stadium. It was Parents Night and their second son, Saad, a senior at Denison High School, was playing his last home game for the Yellow Jackets when they learned of the accident. For the Hassans, and in a different way for thousands of people half a world away whom they had never met, their lives would be changed forever.
Aziz Hassan was born and raised in Jhelum, Pakistan, about 75 miles southeast of the nation’s capital of Islamabad.
“My father was retired from the Pakistani Air Force and my mother was a housewife. Both of them came here to live with me, and both died here, although I took them back to Pakistan to be buried,” Hassan said. “I have two brothers and a sister. My brothers are all here now, working with me, and my sister, who is not capable of taking care of herself, is cared for in Pakistan.”
After high school and a couple of years of college, young Hassan was looking for a new world to conquer.
“My father wanted me to join the Pakistani Air Force and become an officer, but I had my doubts and did not think I fit into that category. I always heard that this (the United States) was the land of opportunity and freedom of expression. … My dad said, ‘Columbus discovered America — you can do more than that.’ So I said ‘I am going to go to that place and discover a little bit more.’”
In 1982, 490 years after Columbus got here, Hassan arrived in Salt Lake City, Utah where a friend was already living. After a couple of years, he moved to Mansfield, Texas to work for Ramco, a company that made aircraft connectors.
“I worked for them for a while, took some classes at Tarrant County College, but what I really wanted was my own business,” Hassan said.
What did Hassan know about business? Not much, but then he was not a chemist or an engineer when he ran the lab testing coatings for aircraft parts at Ramco.
“It was a complicated job, but once you put your head together nothing is too hard to figure out,” said Hassan.
Problem solved, as was the search for a suitable business.
“I saw an ad in the newspaper for a convenience store at 1201 W. Crawford Street in Denison, Texas, and I bought it in partnership with someone else,” explains Hassan.
The partnership did not work out as well as expected, and about a year later, Hassan bought the store, by then named the “Sunshine Store,” outright with the help of a neighbor, Jim Brady, who had taken a liking to the young entrepreneur. Brady, a retired air force veteran and father of former Denison Mayor Tom Brady, was particularly helpful.
“Mr. Brady helped me go to the bank, and helped with the business; I had a wonderful time with him, and he helped me a lot,” said Hassan. “God gifted me that store. I ran it from six o’clock in the morning to 10:30, 11 o’clock at night, by myself. I worked hard, saved my money, and then got Sunshine number two, Sunshine number three …”
And to the list you can add Sunshine numbers four and five and recently number six in Bonham, along with a Sunshine Lube and Tune operation.
“I adapted to the culture of this country very quickly,” said Hassan. “Sometimes I look back at where I was born and raised and where I have ended up, and I wonder how. People ask me where I am from, and I can say I am from the United States, or I am from Texas, but I usually say, ‘I am from Denison, Sherman.’”
With all this, Hassan raised a family with his wife, Mehfooz, a girl from Jhelum he had known since school. They were married in Pakistan and their first two children, daughters Anam and Sara, were born there. The couple’s two sons, Amaud and Saad, were born in Denison on the same month and day, Dec. 17, two years apart.
Early on, the Hassans decided that their children needed to experience life in both Pakistan and America, and to that end all of the kids have spent time living here and there.
“After a while I learned that my children needed to learn the community of both countries. I don’t want them to think everything comes too easily. So at different times, each one of them lived some time in Pakistan with their mother, while I stayed here,” said Hassan.
Anam Hassan, the eldest daughter, recently married, graduated with highest honors from medical school in Pakistan. She and her husband, also a doctor, will eventually move back to Denison to practice medicine here. Daughter Sara is at Baylor University, studying to be a nutritionist, and the youngest son, Saad, is a freshman at Austin College.
In the aftermath of the death of Amaud, Mehfooz Hassan, decided to go back to Pakistan for a time. While there, she and her husband concluded that there was no better way to honor the memory of their son, than by giving back some of the bounty they had found in their adopted homeland to the poorest of the poor in their native country.
Working with the Pakistani government’s National Rural Support Programme, the Hassans identified two villages where problems obtaining drinking water were acute.
“The nearest source of good drinking water was more than a half-mile away,” said Hassan. “This meant that the women of the villages spent much of their time walking back and forth carrying water for all of their families’ daily needs. We were able to design and build a simple system that brings water to the villages. Just imagine if you had to walk many blocks several times a day to have clean water on hand.”
In another village, the availability of water was not the problem, but the quality of the water was.
“The water was very salty, much too salty to drink or cook with,” Hassan said. “We were able to find a better source for water for the village, and drill a well and build some storage tanks.”
Much of rural Pakistan lives in conditions not unlike those of frontier America 200 years ago. People truly “make” rather than “earn” a living, and simple things — water from a tap or store-bought clothes — are the exception rather than the rule.
“In these villages, new clothes are expensive and hard to come by,” said Hassan. “Many villages have a tailor who can make clothing, but it costs a lot, and can take a long time. We started a program to provide young women in these places with hand-operated sewing machines — many villages have no electricity, you know — and to teach them how to cut the cloth and make their own clothing. It has been very well accepted, and now many of these women are sewing for others and bringing in money for the household.”
But not all of the Hassans’ efforts have been in rural areas. In their home city of Jhelum, they are addressing a pervasive public health problem that affects many people.
“In the area we lived in, a lot of people are suffering from hepatitis C. It is a big, big problem. There also are a lot of cases of breast cancer, but people often never know what is wrong, so we decided to open a diagnostic center to test people for these diseases,” Hassan said. “We call it the Amaud Diagnostic Center, and we went to every doctor in the area and told them that people could come here for hepatitis C tests, mammograms, and any other tests they need. If they could pay, they could pay; if they could pay a part of the cost, we would cover the rest, and if they could pay nothing, we would pay for it.”
Most of the lab work for the center is done on site, but some tests requiring very expensive equipment still has to be sent out. Hassan said that his next goal is to get an MRI machine.
For a moment, consider that all of the projects mentioned above have been identified, conceived, and accomplished in less than a year. How then, has one family from Denison, Texas, U.S.A, done so much in such a short time?
“I have done everything that I can, even to ignoring my business,” said Hassan. “My wife is happy because we are helping so many people, and we are honoring our son. We are helping people to stand on their own two feet. When you just are feeding somebody, it only goes so far, so we are trying to help people help themselves. One thing I learned in this country (the United States), if you work hard to help yourself, everybody will help you. Nobody can stop you. You can do it. We should all be happy we are living in the county where this can happen. We are very blessed.”
Perhaps that is what Aziz Hassan meant when he said he followed Christopher Columbus to America to “…discover just a little bit more.”