Dr. Nels Hanson Way – photo attributed to South Puget Sound Community College
- Panorama is not alone this year in celebrating 50 years. South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC) in Olympia has also reached the golden year. To commemorate this momentous occasion, the Winter 2013 edition of Soundings, the college magazine, featured reflections from past college presidents who have shaped SPSCC into the respected institution it is today. One of these past presidents is none other than Panorama resident, Dr. Nels Hanson. A man of great leadership and virtue, Hanson is considered a pioneer of the college as we know it today.
Dr. Hanson graduated from Washington State University and later earned his doctorate at Stanford. He began his career in education as a high school teacher in Randle, WA, where he taught for two years before joining the Army to serve in World War II. After the war, Hanson returned to teach at Randle, where he met a fellow teacher who would soon become his wife. Hanson’s knack for leadership was put to use during his time in Lewis County as manager of the Morton Loggers’ Jubilee.
In 1957, he took a teaching job at Olympia High School and, two years later, became the Director of Science and Math for the State Superintendent’s office. By 1966, Hanson was wearing two hats, as the president of Centralia College and the Director of Science and Math at the Superintendent’s Office. It was during this time that new legislation opened a door of opportunity for Olympia that Dr. Hanson would see through to a successful future.
Although Olympia had Evergreen State College, there was an academic gap to be filled. Once the Community College Act of 1967 passed, the ability to fill this gap became apparent. The act created Community College District 12 for the area and Dr. Hanson was named as the first district president. Centralia College was alone in the district and the gap remained in Olympia.
“I knew we needed a community college in Olympia but the legislature would never allow it.”
The solution came from an already thriving Olympia Vocational Technical Institute (OVTI) that was operating downtown. Under the Community College Act, OVTI could be transferred from the Olympia School District to the newly formed District 12 and thus be transformed into a community college with an academic focus. However, this idea was met by substantial resistance from OVTI faculty members and Citizen Advisory Committee. There was also concern that a community college in Olympia would take away from the college in Centralia, causing enrollment decline. On the other hand, Dr. Hanson knew a community college status for OVTI would provide access to funds that could create a better future for the school.
The transfer of OVTI from Olympia School District to Community College District 12 first went to a school board vote in December 1968, resulting in a 3-1 majority against the transfer. After another year of discussion and a second round of voting, the transfer was approved by the school board.
Conditions that accompanied the transfer were intended to prevent a negative impact on Centralia College and to ensure a continued commitment to vocational education. Thus, academic classes were prohibited for the first year of operation but the college would eventually grow to become fully comprehensive.
During his tenure as District 12 President, Dr. Hanson saw many big changes in education for the area. Along with the successful new beginning for OVTI, Hanson oversaw the establishment of an education program for inmates of the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton.
Speaking of the program in Shelton, Hanson stressed the importance of education in providing a personal identity for inmates.
“We did as much as we could to give them an identity outside of the prison and tried to distinguish their education as equal to that of a legitimate community college. “
To that end, inmates enrolled in the program were able to obtain the degree that was most appropriate to their previous schooling. For instance, if an individual had some college background they could obtain their 2 year degree. Others obtained General Education Degrees and some even finished their 4 year degrees. Each degree received through the program was identical to any other degree from the community college in Olympia.
Dr. Hanson decided to retire from his tremendous career in 1981. He still attends certain events for both colleges, Centralia and South Puget Sound, and says he is so proud of their accomplishments and continued success.
Even throughout retirement, he has continued to work hard and exhibit his qualities as a natural leader. At the age of 94, Dr. Hanson owns and manages 600 acres of forest land that he has collected over the years. His favorite piece of land is 300 acres located near Rainier. He likes to go out and plant seedlings and “just do things in the woods.”
“I haven’t really retired yet. I don’t give it a day’s rest…always keep it going.”
It comes as no surprise that Dr. Hanson is well known in the Panorama community. He moved here in 2002 and has since been involved in resident organizations as a producer for Panorama’s closed circuit television studio and a former president of the Lacey Sons in Retirement.
“It’s easy to stay busy around here. There are plenty of opportunities to get involved.”
Nels is another legend here at Panorama that we are proud to know and call neighbor.