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'A joy to get to know': Friends remember Ruth Hanson, Byron journalist and church musician

Driving to events in her red VW Beetle, Hanson attended "absolutely everything. ... She was an extremely conscientious, dedicated reporter."

Ruth Hanson.png
Ruth Hanson
Contributed / The Hanson family
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DODGE CENTER — Members of the Dodge Center, Kasson and Byron communities are remembering Ruth Hanson, who died on Nov. 9 at age 87 . The longtime Byron Review reporter had a passion for covering local school athletics and events, and she was deeply involved with her church community at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Kasson.

Hanson was born in Liberia in 1935 while her parents were doing mission work in West Africa. She attended Iowa State University, where she met her husband, David Hanson. The two moved to Dodge Center in 1966 and raised five children.

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"She was always such a positive and happy person," said Sue Braun, a former Byron Public Schools choir teacher. "A joy to get to know and a really beautiful person to have in my life."

Braun's first year teaching in Byron coincided with Hanson's first year with the Byron Review: 1983. After Hanson wrote a story about Braun being a first-year teacher, Braun said she and Hanson became friends.

"We just made this connection," Braun said. "I don't know, maybe because she was a fellow musician in her own right. But, yeah, she and I got together every year, every spring. We did hot fudge sundaes at the Dairy Queen and just talked about the year and our personal lives, as well as our school lives."

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Through Hanson's 29 years reporting for the Byron Review, she covered high school athletics, activities and other events. Wendy Shannon, superintendent of Byron Public Schools from 1999 to 2012, said Hanson attended "absolutely everything."

"I mean, there wasn't an event I can think of that she didn't cover, for all students," Shannon said. "She truly loved music, but athletics, fine arts, theater — she was at these events."

Like for Braun, Shannon's relationship with Hanson started out professional but later turned into a personal friendship.

"She was an extremely conscientious, dedicated reporter," Shannon said. "I would call her a friend of mine, but even more importantly, she was a friend and supporter of Byron schools and did everything she could to make sure that students were well-represented in the paper."

Hanson was known for her "Student of the Week" features and her presence at out-of-town school events. Her red Volkswagen Beetle helped her stand out on the road, Braun said.

"Her favorite color was red," Braun said. "And she was just so recognizable around town because she drove very slowly and carefully."

When Hanson wasn't working, she was likely playing music. For 35 years, Hanson served as the organist at Kasson's St. Peter's Episcopal Church, where she and her husband were members. Pat Dibble met Hanson through church.

"We worked on many things together," Dibble said. "Music was the real binding thing for us in the beginning, because she sought me out to help with children's programs."

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As an organist, pianist and guitarist, Hanson was very dedicated to her role in the church and to spreading her love of music, Dibble said.

"She was always teaching kids, she was always offering people opportunities to do something within the church," Dibble said. "She'd have a spare ukelele or a spare guitar, and anybody that wanted to learn to play (could) — in fact, that's how I learned to play."

Hanson even bought a year's worth of flute lessons for Dibble as a Christmas gift.

"When I think of her, I think of the willingness to share her gifts," Dibble said.

That affinity for music followed Hanson when she moved off of her and her husband's farm, Hanson Apple Acres, and into Fairview Care Center in Dodge Center in 2019.

"I'd be like, 'Hey, Ruth, how about we go play some piano duets?'" Braun said, reflecting on her visits with Hanson in the care center. "I would roll her over to the piano, and by that time, she couldn't play the piano per se, but she would play with one finger, and I would be improvising something that would make musical sense."

Braun continued to visit Hanson throughout her time in the care center, playing the flute and singing to her while wearing a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though Hanson had some trouble speaking during the final few months of her life, Braun said she could still sing one of her favorite songs.

"She could still sing the words to 'Amazing Grace,'" Braun said. "Music is really powerful in that sense for everyone, but I think it has a really special connection with Ruth."

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Hanson's friends and family continued to care for her after her death. Dibble, a co-owner of Dibble Funeral Home in Kasson, helped with Hanson's funeral arrangements.

"It's never easy, especially if it's someone you're very close to," Dibble said. "It's such an honor to be able to do that for them and for their family. So, in some ways, it's healing for us because we're able to do that for our friends.

In the eulogy Dibble delivered at Hanson's service on Saturday, she called Hanson a great listener. "The trait that made Ruth such a good journalist was also the trait that made her such a good friend," she said.

Hanson's legacy in the communities she immersed herself in, according to Braun, will reflect her kindness.

"I think a lot of people in the community see her as almost an omnipresence," Braun said. "She reflected the really good things about Byron and the kids, and I think everybody would recognize that. They knew that she had goodness in her soul, and that was coming out in her writing and in her reporting and just in her personhood."

Dené K. Dryden is the Post Bulletin's region reporter, covering the greater Rochester area. Before joining the Post Bulletin in 2022, she attended Kansas State University and served as an editor for the student newspaper, the Kansas State Collegian, and news director for Wildcat 91.9, K-State's student radio station. Readers can reach Dené at ddryden@postbulletin.com.
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