Former Williston mayor and longtime business-owner Larry Hanson died Friday following a brief illness.
Hanson, 77, was born in Powers Lake but had been a member of the Williston community since his family relocated in 1948. Hanson graduated from Williston High School in 1959, before attending UND on a full basketball scholarship, playing for four years as a member of the Fighting Sioux and serving as co-captain of the team. During his senior year, Hanson was named as Most Valuable Player.
"He was a great athlete," District 1 Rep. Pat Hatlestad recalled. "Just a very enthusiastic, nice gentleman."
In 1963, as an ROTC Distinguished Military Graduate, Hanson received his Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration , as well as his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Army, where he served as a helicopter pilot. During his time as a pilot, Hanson earned the rank of Captain, and served at several bases across the country before being assigned to the Medical Service Corps MASH unit in Korea, where he served for a year before returning to the states. After a brief period stateside Hanson was sent to Vietnam, where he flew medical evacuation missions for another year, which earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross with oak leaf clusters, which is awarded to individuals who distinguish themselves "by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight."
Hanson returned to Williston in 1968, where he met PattiAnn Benth, and the two were married the next year. Over the next three decades, Hanson and his wife raised their family in Williston, while he gave his time to various organizations in the community, such as the Chamber of Commerce, the Area Development Foundation, Great North West Boy Scout Council, as well as taking part in several fundraising drives for local community projects. During that time, Hanson operated Mobile Village, Hanson Mobile Home Park, Village Laundry, Park Laundromat, the Wash House and Village Apartments.
Hanson served as mayor of Williston from 1990 to 1994, where he was instrumental in creating property tax relief by helping to implement the 1-cent city sales tax. Coming into a post-boom community, Hanson faced some "challenging times" as mayor, according to former mayor and long-time friend Ward Koeser. Koeser added that his steadfast attitude and ability to work with all sides was a real benefit to the mayor's office, as well as to the community at large.
"He began the process of bringing stability to the community and getting the community to believe in itself again," Koeser said. "We'd gone through a boom and a bust, and people were kind of discouraged, but Larry was a very level-headed person. He worked to bring consensus. He would get people to work together. I know my job was a lot easier because the work that he had done and the four years that he served as mayor."
Tom Rolfstad, who served as Economic Development Director under Hanson, echoed Koeser's sentiments regarding Hanson's ability to urge others to work together for the common good of the community.
"He was very patient and he worked very hard to get all the commissioners to come to a consensus to get things done," he explained. "I think he got us through a difficult period, the post-bust period, and helped get our economy going again. He laid a lot of groundwork for Mayor Koeser coming in, and we built on that base that Larry established."
As well as serving as mayor of Williston, Hanson was appointed to multiple positions by six governors, such as serving on the State Pardon Board, State Water Commission and the North Dakota Employment and Training Forum.
Hanson's funeral service will be held Wednesday at 11 a.m. at First Lutheran Church in Williston. Interment with military rites will be held at Riverview Cemetery.