Posts Tagged: decorah

Richard Simon Hanson

richard simon hansonInterviewed by Benji Nichols

Dr. Richard Simon Hanson grew up in rural Wisconsin with a love of farm life that has led a journey of learning, teaching, and sharing. He was ordained, received his Ph.D. from Harvard University, and is a Professor Emeritus of Religion at Luther College where he taught for almost 40 years. He and his wife, Rita, were married for over 55 years and had four children throughout their life’s adventures. A highly respected storyteller, Chaplin, caregiver, mentor, and educator, Richard Simon now spends many days a week volunteering and visiting with those giving and receiving skilled, nursing home, and hospice care. He was a member of the Dead Sea Scrolls archaeology and translation team, and was awarded the Carnegie Foundation ‘US Professor of the Year Award’ for Iowa in 1998. He is the author of several theological and related works, including his own translation of the Book of Psalms. Hanson is also featured in the eight-part DVD series “How the Bible Happened” which was hosted by the NE Iowa Unitarian Universal Fellowship.

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?

I grew up on a farm in rural St. Croix County Wisconsin, and my father explained things very well, so there was a lot of good advice. “Always tell the truth,” although… At least I started off with good advice! My father also always said, “When opportunity comes, then maybe it’s time to jump.” That suited me well through the years.

How about the worst advice?

Oh, you know, you do and don’t follow advice.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Because farming was so much fun, I was going to be a farmer – what a life! But it didn’t occur to me until I was a bit older that our 72-acre farm would barely support a family. At 16 or 17 I thought, “No, I love to learn.”

What do/did you do?

I had taken to Latin on my own, and was interested in music, which I majored in at Luther College, with minors in German and Greek. I loved directing choirs and led many throughout my years, including the Schola Cantorum my senior year while Weston Noble was directing the Nordic Choir. And I wanted to keep learning, so I went to Luther Seminary in St. Paul, learned and taught Hebrew – much of it on my own, got my masters, and then had the opportunity to continue my doctoral studies at Harvard. The Dead Sea Scrolls had just been found and it was a very exciting time. In the time shortly after WWII there were not as many doctoral degrees, and we had the opportunity to look at moving to Indonesia, Israel, and other locations with our children – and there was also an option at Luther, which we took, partially due to the proximity of our families, and our own growing family.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you want with you?

Another person! Fresh water, and local edibles.

If you could eat anything every day for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Oatmeal. It’s very balanced – and growing up on a farm, you learn it has the highest protein among the grains.

Name one thing you could not live without.

Water. It is profoundly important.

Multiple choice: tell us about… Your wedding / engagement day!

I got through Luther College – too poor to date. In Minneapolis though, there was a nurse that I met who invited me to dinner with her three roommates. She had a fabulous chicken dinner which I thought she had cooked, and then I found out it was actually her roommate, Rita, that had cooked it. I was smitten. We dated a bit, and then I had a summer job in Thief River Falls. I spent all my money on an engagement ring. Really, I knew the church would have some leftovers, and I had a place to stay – I had very little money. Outside of Elk River there was a pretty spot above a lake that I had found and it was there that I asked Rita to marry me. We were so excited. I figured I would finish seminary and we’d get married in a year or two, but Rita’s mother and friends had other ideas – she was also three years older than me! A completely homemade wedding happened on September 2, 1954. We spent the morning picking flowers and ferns for the ceremony, and Rita had found a used wedding dress. When it got to ceremony time, I was almost panicked not knowing if I was ready, but I said ‘I do’. 50 years later, while Rita was at Aase Haugen with Parkinson’s, I decided we should re-do our vows. We brought down her dress and I read our vows out loud. It was quite special – and I said “Rita, this time I really do mean it!”

Thelma Reetz

ThelmaBestThelma Reetz was one of the many progressive leaders that were involved in getting services for people with intellectual disabilities started in Waukon, Iowa in 1986. She is now living at Good Samaritan in Waukon, Iowa.

What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?

“I do not remember…. but I can share that the best thing I ever did was to travel away from home when I was young. When I returned home, I had made many new friends and had many new experiences to bring back with me. I have friends from one coast to the other.”

How about the worst?

The worst advice was when one of the residents told us not to build a home for people with intellectual disabilities in their neighborhood. They told us… “No, don’t build that here.” The home was built eventually, and it turned out very well, so that was a rather shortsighted view at the time.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I was not sure of the opportunities that were out there when I was younger; but my destiny found me because of the good scores I earned on a typing test that I took in Ames, Iowa.

What did you do?

I worked for the FBI in Washington D.C. as a clerk/typist.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you want with you?

A guide to get me back home! Plenty to eat and drink! My dog – Jente’

Try to describe yourself in one sentence.

I have been rather independent most of my life, but it is always nice to have others around!

If you could eat anything every day for the rest of your life, what would it be?


Name one thing you could never live without.

Jente’ my faithful dog companion. The name Jente’ means “girl” in Nordic.

Tell us about….

I will never forget what I was doing when we heard the news about Pearl Harbor. I was sight-seeing in Washington D.C. with a group of co-workers near the White House, when someone came up to us to let us know of Pearl Harbor. We all went home right away because we knew we would be called in to work, and we were! And, when asked about J.Edgar Hoover, Thelma did say that she remembers that while he would always say hello; he was a very busy man.

You can support Iowa arts with new local crowd funding site!

The Puppet Project

Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) has launched Iowa’s First Crowd Funding Website for the Arts. The website,, is up and running and accepting donations for three projects. But only until July 31, 2014! Each project has a goal of $5,000. Contributions may be tax deductible as a charitable donation and some projects even offer super special incentives for contributors.

“We are extremely excited to launch this new crowd funding website,” Northeast Iowa RC&D Executive Director Lora Friest says. “As far as we know, this is the first crowd funding website for multiple art projects that anyone in Iowa has ever launched, but funding to advance the arts in our small communities is so limited that we feel this is an important initiative. We have seen individual projects raise funds over the Internet and certainly many art projects receive private funds but this is different in its scope. The public has a chance to contribute large and small amounts to multiple projects and then watch as those project funds are raised to see if the projects meet their goal.” It’s called crowd funding because many people can each donate a small amount to reach a larger goal. Image

The three projects open for contributions are The Puppet Project, Nisse on the Trail, and the Creativity Center: Artisan Café and Courtyard. The Puppet Project will help develop three enormous parade puppets that will make appearances in parades around Northeast Iowa and will join their mythological brother and sister puppets in the Nordic Fest parade. The Nisse on the Trail Project will develop permanent Nisse sculptures along the Trout Run Trail to be found by curious explorers. The Creativity Center Project will bring culinary arts to the after school fine arts program in Guttenberg.

While July is the only month to donate to these three projects, it may not be the end to crowd funding at for creative initiatives in Iowa.

“This crowd funding website will have a tremendous impact on our rural Northeast Iowa communities, bringing them alive with all types of private and public art that enriches our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren,” Friest says.

Projects for the site are selected through a competitive process by the Northeast Iowa Arts Funding Council–a multi-county group of volunteers that includes artists and community leaders. They aspire to “Encourage, Support and Strengthen the Arts in Northeast Iowa.” The Council plans to accept applications for projects annually from a seven county area of Northeast Iowa.

If donating through the Internet makes you queasy, you can also mail in donations to Northeast Iowa RC&D, PO Box 916, Postville, Iowa 52162 or call (563) 864-7112 and specify which project you’re interested in funding. Everyone else can donate at