Cottonwood remembers community leader Hanson

COTTONWOOD — Cliff Hanson believed in doing his best at everything he did in life — as a husband, father, U.S. Army veteran, businessman, church member, and community volunteer.

Hanson died March 6 at age 83. His funeral was held Monday.

He served as chief executive officer for North Star Insurance, Cottonwood’s largest employer, from 1973 until 2001. He continued to play a lead role on its board of directors until 2012. He’s known for having pride and dedication at the workplace he cleaned in his first job as its custodian.

One of his four daughters, Heidi (Hanson) Beck of Cottonwood, said she recalls her father’s high standards both from how he and her mother Sue (Hawkinson) Hanson parented and by being a 20-year employee at North Star Insurance.

“I thank God for allowing me to be born to Cliff and Sue Hanson,” Beck said. “As a child, I didn’t always appreciate how they were strict and conservative. I remember being elated when I got my first pair of store-bought jeans in sixth grade, but now understand the importance of the homemade clothes. They’ve been wonderful, superb parents.”

She and her sisters recall many particular moments that show Cliff’s outlook on life. One that stands out is his response during a Mike’s Cafe breakfast in Marshall when someone asked how he was that day and he replied “I’d only be better if I was in heaven.” Another is the saying “Be Something More,” which he created for the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies during his year as its president.

She added that her father wasn’t usually a person who came up with witty replies and catchy slogans. Instead he was one of the quieter people in his high school class. His public speaking skills developed as he gained life experiences, one of which involved serving as a teacher for foreign servicemen during his Army service. When the interpreter handled translations, he had an extra measure of time to think of the best things to say next.

He also developed his speaking and leadership skills through membership at Christ Lutheran Church in Cottonwood, especially through his frequent service as a lay minister.

“When it came to small talk, he wasn’t real lengthy,” Beck said. “He could go on for hours if you put him in the pulpit at church. He loved to study the Bible and seek after the Lord in quiet time. Therefore he could share the Gospel so easily.”

She said his knowledge of the insurance industry gave him the same capability when he spoke to North Star employees or at industry events.

As North Star’s CEO, he presided over the construction of the company headquarters next to Barstad Road in Cottonwood. Its three additions since then have led to 100,000 total square feet of floor space.

North Star issues or renews more than 300,000 home, farm, auto and commercial insurance policies annually in an eight-state area, according to the company web site. It has premiums with a total value of $428 million and assets of $795 million.

“He was working here before I was born,” said current North Star CEO Jeff Mauland, who took over when Hanson retired in 2001. “He was a great mentor to many of us. He was a very gracious person; always ethical, very positive, encouraging and supportive.”

Retired Cottonwood City Administrator Greg Isaackson’s years at the city office corresponded closely to Hanson’s leadership tenure at North Star.

Isaackson said he’s always considered Hanson an important part of North Star’s success.

He also remembers him for extensive involvement in his church and for how he contributed to the development of the Cottonwood Community Center.

“Cliff was always very community minded,” Isaackson said. “He had a sense of what was needed to make a good idea move forward. He also knew how to sort out the details. He’d work hard to make all the pieces of the puzzle fit together.”

Les Christianson of Minneota recognized Hanson for his national insurance industry leadership role at a celebration and program held Dec. 8, 1985. It was held at the recently built Cottonwood Community Center and was designated as Cliff Hanson Day.

“You have been selected by your peers to the highest office in the world’s largest mutual insurance industry association,” Christianson wrote in a letter published for the occasion. “Congratulations! Your recognition is well deserved. And, unlike many other people, your hat will still fit your head, your good sense will not be lost, and you will continue to walk securely because of your integrity.”

Sue, who now lives in Marshall, said earlier this week that she and Cliff first met because of Cottonwood’s town softball team.

Cliff joined the team when he returned from his Army service. As a teenager from Cottonwood, Sue attended the games since her father was also a member of the team. Cliff and Sue were married in 1963.

“We enjoyed 55 wonderful years,” Sue said. “I remember hundreds of good things about him. If I had to choose one, it would be that he was always a man of faith. That’s what’s most important.”