Rodney Hanson’s many friends and family members are mourning the loss of one of the “good guys.”
Hanson, a nearly-lifelong resident of Vergas and the man behind Hanson’s Plumbing and Heating, passed away Monday at Perham Health at the age of 91.
Well known around the Vergas and Perham areas for his longstanding family business, extensive community involvements and fondness for local history, Hanson is remembered as a kind, friendly man with a soft-spoken voice and a lot to say.
“He always had a smile on his face and a song in his heart,” according to a post on Hanson’s online obituary guest book on the Furey Funeral Home website.
Others who posted to the site expressed their condolences to the family and recalled Hanson as a “great friend,” “incredible boss,” and “the nicest man I ever knew.”
“Vergas won’t be the same without this man,” wrote one woman. “He truly was one of the ‘good guys.’ …He will be missed, but his legacy will live on forever.”
Born in 1925 in Pelican Rapids (along with his twin brother, Rodger), Rodney moved to Vergas at the age of eight and attended grade school there. He graduated from Frazee High School in 1943.
Throughout his boyhood and for a few years following graduation, he worked for the family’s hardware store in Vergas. The store was started by his father, Henry Hanson, better known to locals as “Hardware Hank” Hanson.
In 1948, Rodney joined the U.S. Army Air Force, helping to deter atomic bomb experiments and nuclear efforts in the Philippines, Guam, Japan and Tokyo. After a four-year enlistment, he was discharged and returned to Vergas, where he went back to work for the family business.
About a year later, he married Olive Antonsen, of Frazee, and continued making a name for himself as an active family man, businessman and community man. While helping to raise four children, he also kept busy with several civic, religious and veterans organizations.
He was an active member of the Vergas Methodist Church, a charter member of the Vergas Lions, life member of the Frazee-Vergas VFW, served as village clerk for 32 years, volunteered with the Vergas Fire Department, and was a Boy Scout troop leader in the 1950s and '60s.
A singer, writer and history buff, he sang with a barbershop group for almost 40 years, was a life member of the Otter Tail County Historical Society, and wrote occasional columns for the Frazee-Vergas Forum.
In 2005, he published a book on Vergas history, called “A Collection of Memories.” Excerpts are available online at vergasmn.com. In 2007, he published a second book, “More Memories,” a continuation of stories about local characters and happenings. His most recent, and final, book, “Fading Memories,” is due out soon.
Rodney started Hanson’s Plumbing and Heating in 1974 – the Hanson family itself, as well as their original hardware store, had grown and evolved over the years, so he established a separate plumbing and heating business in Vergas (Rodger continued to run the hardware store) and then opened a branch office in Perham.
Since then, Hanson’s Plumbing and Heating has grown into something of an institution in Vergas, and the Perham branch has also been successful. In his book, “Final Memories,” Hanson attributes that, at least in part, to the business skills he learned while working for his father at the hardware store, where “we learned the trade but we also learned how to treat customers as friends.”
Two of Rodney and Olive’s sons, Jeff and Robin, now run the Vergas and Perham stores.
After his retirement, Hanson continued visiting the Vergas shop every day to chat with customers and make new friends. He came to be known as the unofficial historian of Vergas, and people would go to him with all kinds of questions and information about the area’s past, people, places and events. It was a role he cherished.
In “Final Memories,” he reflects, “Now that I’ve gotten older and am forced to relax, I find myself having time to sit back and quietly reflect on the many people whose paths I have crossed over the years. What a rewarding panorama of old friends, wonderful times, unusual experiences, insecurities overcome, loves realized and disappointments forgotten. There’s no end to the fleeting memories that flash across my mind. I realize they are like passing dreams…”
Later in the book, he shares his thoughts on aging and death, and assures his loved ones that he is at peace: “In these final days I find myself thanking the good Lord for the wonderful life he has given me -- without a worry about tomorrow. ...Just know that I feel all is well with my soul.”
Funeral services for Rodney will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, May 26 at the Vergas Event Center in Vergas. Visitation will be held from 4-7 p.m. Thursday, May 25 at the United Methodist Church in Vergas, with a prayer service at 7 p.m. Burial will be at Vergas Village Cemetery.
Visit the Furey Funeral Home website, at www.fureyfh.com, to leave online condolences.