The Free Press, Mankato, MN

September 12, 2013

Former Nicollet County commissioner dies

By Mark Fischenich

---- — NORSELAND — Judy Hanson — a farmer, a mother, and a bedrock supporter of her church and rural community — managed to get more than a few tasks done before her death Tuesday at the age of 70.

The rural St. Peter resident was a writer and blogger, a quilter and dressmaker, a 16-year member of the Nicollet County Board and a lobbyist when she thought lawmakers needed some talking to, a keeper of history and a woman who liked to dance to '50s rock 'n' roll.

"She was just a woman to look up to," said Sue Schott, who said Hanson taught her "how to be a farm wife."

Schott met her own husband in college and followed him back to farming after they'd lived in New York working in corporate America. They bought a farm in Minnesota and Schott found Hanson at a Bible study group at the Scandia Grove Lutheran Church in 1974. Hanson was just five years older chronologically, but she had plenty of wisdom to offer the novice on how to keep a farmer happy.

"Always have some food on the table for one thing," Schott said. "And always have the table set so your husband thinks dinner's ready. We joked a lot."

Hanson shared her thoughts on rural life in newspaper columns and in a blog while also tackling some of the biggest challenges facing the region. She was elected to four terms on the Nicollet County Board, retiring in 2010 after 16 years.

"I admired her for her tenacity," said Bridgette Kennedy, the Nicollet County auditor and a 40-year county employee. "She was very passionate about the concerns of her constituents. But it was not just her constituents, it was concern for the entire county."

"On a personal level, she was a very kind and compassionate person as well," Kennedy said.

Even while dealing with county ditch disputes, working to persuade lawmakers to approve more funding for rural roads, digging up answers to questions from constituents, Hanson found time for canning vegetables, constructing quilts, sewing wedding dresses for daughters and helping to track the history of the county and of tiny Norseland. Schott said Hanson managed to do so much because she was able to prioritize, never wavering about what was at the top of the list.

"I think Judy had a way of picking out what was important in life," she said. "She never said a bad thing about anybody, so she never wasted time with gossip. ... The real priorities for her were Fred and her children and, then, her church."

Judy and Fred Hanson, who would have reached their 50th wedding anniversary on Saturday, were active members of the Scandia Grove Lutheran Church.

"Judy was faithful in her worship, but her faith didn't end there," said Scandia Grove Pastor Joyce Tollefson Capp. "She lived her commitment to God with her family and in the community."

At church, like elsewhere, Hanson demonstrated her talent for getting things done, Capp said. For instance, Hanson believed the future viability of the small rural parish depended in part on building broader connections through technology. So she coordinated the church's web page and pushed church leaders to get involved in social media.

"She said, 'You want our church to grow, then we need to figure out Facebook.' That's what I mean about getting things done. She just kind of took that on."

And she was a natural leader and representative.

"When people came to her with a church issue or a community issue, she knew how to listen and what to do," Capp said. "People trusted her. And they trusted her with their concerns and with their joys, as well."

Hanson had a deep sense of emphathy, Schott said.

"She had a really big heart, a really big heart. You could see her dab her eyes if she heard about somebody being hurt."

But she also knew how to have fun, playing with grandkids, listening to country music and joining Schott in dragging their husbands to dances featuring '50s-era bands like the White Sidewalls Rock 'n' Roll Revue.

Then came a pair of strokes in the past five months, one that Hanson was determined to recover from and a second that was debilitating.

"It was amazing to see her lay still there these last few weeks, and I sat with her many hours," Schott said. "I realized how hard it must have been not to move, because she was always moving."