Our Neighbors…Jennie K. HansonJennie Hanson’s email address is “jkh4president” – and it only takes a few short minutes with the energetic woman to understand why. She often dresses in red, white and blue and always – literally – wears her patriotism on her sleeve.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Jennie Hanson’s email address is “jkh4president” – and it only takes a few short minutes with the energetic woman to understand why. She often dresses in red, white and blue and always – literally – wears her patriotism on her sleeve.
“When I was a fourth-grade teacher, I always had my students memorize the presidents every year, and that’s how it got going,” related Hanson. “We’d recite them every day. I’ve always said my last words on the planet will be ‘George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson….’”
Hanson collected pictures of all the presidents that she’s donated to the Cromwell-Wright school where she taught, she’s visited many of the presidential museums, and when she goes to Villa Vista to entertain or teach, she’s fond of pitching presidential trivia to the residents.
“It’s just my thing,” she said. “I enjoy it.”
But there’s yet another reason Hanson admits she’s “all about presidents” – she has served on numerous boards and with many organizations over the years and, more often than not, she ends up serving as president.
“You have to ask the busiest person to do the job because you know they’ll do it,” she reflected matter-of-factly. “If you ask somebody who never does anything, they’ll probably never get to it.”
Hanson, a resident of Wright, came by her work ethic and sense of community responsibility quite naturally. The third of five children, she grew up on a farm in rural Cromwell where everyone was expected to carry their weight.
Her mother, the late Katherine Dahlman, was a lecturer with Weight Watchers for many years and became an accomplished artist at the age of 60, both of which Hanson said gave her more public confidence than the average farm wife of that day.
“She was quite the woman,” said Hanson. “She always wore hats, so I now wear hats in honor of her. Also, I always like to say that I wear many hats in the community.”
Her dad served on the Kettle River Rural Electrification Administration (now known as Lake Country Power) board, the Co-op Store board, and many other types of community organizations.
Hanson learned early on the lessons of hard work. She drove the tractor when she was only 5 or 6 because she was the self-professed tomboy of the family, though she ended up getting hurt a few times. One time when she and her brothers were raising the hay sling to the top of the barn, she failed to let go of the rope and got her hand caught in the pulley.
“I screamed bloody murder, and fortunately my sister heard me and my uncle came and got me down,” she said. “When you grow up on a farm you’re lucky you survive!”
Hanson admitted when she got to school she wasn’t particularly involved in things at first.
“I was more of a shy person back then – but somehow that changed!” she said with a sparkle in her eye. “I was involved in Future Homemakers of America, which was kind of a joke because I hate to sew! I did make an apron once, but I don’t think the ties would even tie!”
She said she did learn to enjoy knitting and crocheting, however, and attacks both with the same boundless energy with which she tackles everything.
“I’m not afraid to do menial work,” she said. “I just love doing the same thing over and over and over. One year I knit 512 dish rags. I decided as a New Year’s resolution that I was going to make one a day for a whole year. They take about an hour, and some days I made three or four of them and I ended up with 512. I have 13 nieces and nephews, and the following year they each got 12 of them. I gave the rest away and sold some of them. I’m never idle and I’m never bored. I can’t just sit.”
She graduated from Cromwell-Wright High School in 1963 in a class of 21 students and went on to the University of Minnesota Duluth.
“I always knew I wanted to be a teacher for as long as I could remember,” Hanson said. “As I was growing up, I had some really good teachers such as Helen Benson and Beth Ketchum, but I also had some really lousy teachers, and I figured, ‘If they could make it, then I can, too!’”
Just a few months before she earned her degree in elementary education and physical education, she got a call from her former Cromwell superintendent who said he’d like her to teach at the elementary school in Wright.
She started teaching in January.
“On the first day of school,” she recalled, “I came home, laid on the couch and didn’t move until the next morning – I was that tired!”
She had a class of some 25-30 fourth-graders.
“That was a good age for me,” she acknowledged. “I always said they were old enough to learn everything – and young enough to believe everything I said!”
Hanson met her husband, Bob, while she was teaching at the Wright school. Her mother was an Avon dealer and happened to be at Bob’s neighbor’s house one day selling Avon when Bob was there having coffee.
“He said to my mom, ‘Do you think your daughter would go out with me sometime?’” related Hanson. “He was a confirmed 35-year-old bachelor from Wright, and he had seen me at the school and knew I was teaching there. My mother said to him, ‘Well, you’ll have to ask her yourself!’ She told me about it afterward, so I sent him a Christmas card – and we were married that May! Our first meal together was liver and onions. That’s about the last thing you’d order on a first date, isn’t it? He liked it and so did I, so that was it!”
The Wright School closed in 1993, and at that time they built on to the Cromwell School and all of the teachers from Wright moved over there.
“That was supposed to be such a horrendous thing that was ‘never going to work,’ with the little kids together with the big kids,” said Hanson, “but it was wonderful.”
In fact, Hanson said she had a good time over all of the years she taught and has enough stories to fill a book – if she should ever choose to write it.
“One day we were doing our handwriting practice,” she related, “and one little boy was sitting there reading instead of writing his ‘Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.’ This other little boy came up to me and said, ‘Mrs. Hanson, Mrs. Hanson – Brian’s not writing his pickled peckers!’ I said, ‘Brian, you just made my day. You made my week. In fact, you made my whole year!’”
“One other time, my niece was in my fourth-grade class,” Hanson said, settling in to her storytelling mode. “That was a time when stickers were just coming out and everybody was using stickers on everything. I don’t know where it came from, but she had a sticker that said, ‘Is there sex after marriage?’ She came up and showed it to me and said ‘Jill and Cindy said there is – but they’re dumb!’”
In all, Hanson taught full time for 32 years, only missing a few weeks each time one of their three sons was born. At her retirement, one of her former fourth-grade students presented her with a silver 50-cent piece – the award she gave to each of her students for memorizing the presidents.
“I just had a real good time with all my years of teaching,” she attested. “Cromwell kids have been really successful. Even the ones who aren’t rich and successful are successful in life. They’re good kids, farm kids, hardworking kids.”
One would think that a busy wife, mother and career woman wouldn’t have much time for anything else. One would think….
But along the way Hanson became involved in nearly every aspect of their small community and took on a leadership role in most of them. She taught Sunday school for over 40 years and was Summer Bible School director for over 20 years. She still serves as lay leader at area churches and organizes and works at numerous church suppers. She chaired the Bethlehem Women of the ELCA group and took on numerous roles at the synod level.
She was on the committee to help plan “Wrong Days in Wright” for over 20 years and chairs the Wright Co-op Store Board as well as the Area Clothing Depot. She is a board member of Lake Country Power’s Operation Round-up program and served on the Carlton County Thrivent Board as well.
She has served as president of the Carlton County Retired Educators for over 10 years, and last year she received an award from the state organization for her community involvement.
Despite all of her work and volunteer commitments, Hanson, in typical form, stepped up to the plate when the community needed someone to write the Cromwell-Wright news for seven newspapers in Carlton and Aitkin counties. She’d already been writing for various small communities such as Tamarack and Beseman – pounding out her stories on an electric typewriter – but this was a far bigger responsibility.
“I didn’t want to see that column go away,” Hanson said. “There were a couple of women who wrote it before I did – Eva Alberg and, for a brief time, Kathleen Entner. And when Kathleen asked me if I would consider writing both the Wright and Cromwell news together, I just couldn’t say no.”
A couple of weeks ago, Hanson observed her 30th year writing community news, and she said she’s only missed about 10 weeks in all that time. She gets numerous phone calls and emails every week from people with news, but mostly from people who want information about what’s going on in the area or the people who live there.
“Some days I’ll get 17 phone calls before lunch,” she said.
She has traveled a lot, including to all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder homes with her granddaughter and on annual “Mystery Tours” with her grandchildren. She also watches sports and loves baseball.
So what could possibly be left on Hanson’s bucket list?
“I want to go hot air ballooning, jump out of a plane (though I thought I’d wait until my 70th birthday), go to the Kentucky Derby, and it would be nice to go to Norway, Sweden and Denmark, which are my roots,” she said. “Otherwise, I think I’m pretty happy with my life the way it is. At my age, I feel I’m pretty lucky to have experienced all the things I’ve experienced.”
It doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows Hanson that she’s already made arrangements for her own headstone at Forest Hill Cemetery in Cromwell. On the front it reads, “JKH 1945 – The shell is here, the nut is gone,” and on the back, “Jennie K. Hanson – School’s out, teacher has gone home.”