A Heart for Union, Robert Hansen

Community means everything to Bob Hansen. His career and volunteer work over the course of his life reflect that.

Throughput his life, Hansen, 85, has run his family company, Hansen Franklin County Land Title & Abstract, while helping the Franklin County area grow.

Early Life

Hansen was born Aug. 2, 1931. He was the third son of Herman F. and Rosie Hansen, though one of his brothers did not live past infancy.

Both Hansen boys, Bob and his brother Charles, went through the Union public school system.

After his high school graduation, Hansen attended Drury University for a year before transferring to the University of Missouri-Columbia where he joined the fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

“I had a lot of friends there,” said Hansen. “I had an awfully good time while I was there. That’s probably what got me drafted into the Army.”

Hansen served in the Army personnel division as a record keeper at Fort Leonard Wood.

While he never went overseas, he did go through rigorous basic training which he describes as “tough and cold” because it was the wintertime and the troops would often go out and spend days in the wilderness.

“I tried to learn how to drink coffee,” he said. “I couldn’t stand it then and I can’t stand it now.”

Hansen served in the Army for two years before being discharged as a sergeant.

“I’m not particularly a hero in any sense of the word,” said Hansen. “But, I have never regretted having served the two years in the Army that I did.”

After his discharge, Hansen returned to Drury University to finish his degree in economics. After graduation, Hansen was hired as a public relations and recruitment member for the president of Drury University.

“It was wonderful,” he said. “Springfield became like a second home to me, and I still have many, many friends from the area that I’ve kept up with until now.”

His Many Different Jobs

While being a public relations member for the Drury president was his first big-time job, Hansen had worked at his father’s office from the time he was young. The building where Hansen Franklin County Land Title & Abstract currently resides was constructed in 1865.

Hansen’s father bought the building after his return from World War I, around 1918, and turned it into the fixture that remains in Union today.

Hansen said that as high school students, he and his brother were always in and out of the office.

“We were always doing stuff,” he said. “It wasn’t always fun either. We would empty trash or pull weeds, that kind of stuff.”

Hansen didn’t remain a weed puller for long. His time at Drury landed him his next job at Ford Motor Company.

The chairman of Ford Motor Company at the time, Ernest Breech, was a Drury alumnus and opened a business building on Drury’s campus. Part of Hansen’s duties in PR was planning building dedications, so he worked very closely with Breech during this time.

“It was a pretty exciting time for me,” said Hansen. “There was a program called ‘The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show,’ and they produced his show there and filmed all the commercials with Drury students.”

Because of his work with the program and Breech, Hansen said he was offered a job in PR for Ford Motor Company and began working in Kansas City.

Hansen’s new job required him to travel to the eight states that his office covered to do publicity and introduce new models of Ford cars.

“I’m not a big car guy,” he said, “but I continue to only drive Ford products.”

Hansen had worked for Ford for two years when his father died in 1962. It was then that he had a choice to make.

“It was either time for me to come back and join my brother in the family business or forget it completely,” he said. “So, I came back then.”

Hansen and his brother worked side by side until Charles’ death in 1995. Charles was the attorney who searched the titles at the courthouse to make sure they were getting them free and clear. Bob said he was the closer, who worked a lot more with the people to purchase or sell.

“We had a great partnership,” he said. “He really allowed me to be active in the community. I got to be involved in a lot of organizations and areas. I kind of handled that part of it and he took care of the legal part.”

Hansen also had another partnership from 1963 to 1984 with Tony Shroeder. They owned a business called Hansen-Schroeder Realtors.

East Central College

Shortly after Hansen’s return to Union in the mid 1960s, plans for a community college began to take shape, and he was asked to run for the East Central Junior College board of directors.

“Just down deep I knew that education would mean a lot for the area,” he said. “For people to have available education after high school is very important. I just felt very strongly about that, and I still do. I’m still very proud to have been a part of that formation.”

Hansen served as a board member for 28 years, from 1968 to 1996, which is the longest tenure in East Central College’s history.

Dr. Jon Bauer, current president of ECC, said that Hansen’s contributions to the college are invaluable.

“He provided leadership to both the board and the college,” said Bauer. “He was an instrumental part in making ECC what it is today by ensuring that the vision for what the college could be was seen.”

During Hansen’s time on the board he helped choose East Central’s very first president, find the best location for the community college and raise funds to construct the first buildings.

“The biggest hot-button issue was the location of the college,” Hansen said. “Everyone wanted it in their town.”

The board decided on Union because it was more central for the entire student body. After the location was decided, the board passed a bond issue and bought the land to begin building.

“I vividly remember standing out on the hill there with our shovels breaking ground on our first building,” said Hansen. “I think we made a wise decision. It is convenient and it has really blossomed into a wonderful institution.”

After serving 18 years on the board, Hansen decided it was time for him to step down. However, some of the college faculty had something different in mind.

“It was time for re-election and I had decided not to run,” he said. “All of a sudden a group of faculty members came to the office and met with me to encourage me to refile and run again. I think that was quite an honor for them to even make that effort.”

Hansen did run again and won re-election. After serving a full 24 years on the directors board, the college named a building after him, Hansen Hall.

“It was probably the biggest thrill of my life,” he said. “It was certainly unexpected and I was rather hesitant because I thought they usually name buildings after people when they’re dead. But, it was quite an honor for this guy.”

President Bauer says that even though Hansen is retired from the board, he continues to be a fervent supporter and ambassador for the college.

“We are coming up on the 50th anniversary of the college and when you think of that history and the people who have played the most important role in the history and development of the college, Bob Hansen is on that list,” said Bauer.

The college is what is in large part due to the vision and leadership that Bob provided,” Bauer added. “I would hope that he sees his work at the college as an important part in our legacy because we certainly do.”

Community

Hansen has always been interested in the arts. At one point, he started an art gallery in Union with his friend Lee Young.

“We used to have many different artists come in and change shows every month,” he said. “It was a little ahead of our time, but at any rate, some people enjoyed it.”

It was this interest that got Hansen appointed to the Missouri Council of the Arts by Gov. John Ashcroft in 1997. He served on the board for six years.

“We allocated state funds to various art groups throughout the state,” said Hansen.

In addition to his service on the Council, Hansen is a lifelong member of Zion United Church, where he is the president and serves on the council. He also is a former member of the Union Industrial Committee and a member of the Franklin County Historical Society.

“I try to support the Historical Society,” he said. “We have a lot of information in our files that people like to look up.”

Former Union Mayor Greg VanLeer said that Hansen has been a great asset to the community.

“I’ve known (Bob) since we were both little boys, and he has always done just tremendous work for the community,” VanLeer said. “He’s served on many different boards throughout the years, which really helped me when I was mayor.”

In 1968, Hansen served as chairman of Franklin County’s sesquicentennial.

“It ended up being a huge celebration,” said Hansen. “The parade was the largest one I had seen back then, with every little organization bringing in a float. It was a wonderful celebration.”

Hansen then served as the Union bicentennial committee chair in 1976. He also served on the United Bank of Union board of directors, the Industrial Development Authority and the Franklin County Board of Realtors.

In addition, Hansen is a big supporter of the Franklin County Area United Way.

One of Hansen’s lifelong friends, Bill Miller Sr., describes him as a true Franklin Countian.

“He knows and respects the history of the county and because of his company, he knows every inch of the county very, very well,” said Miller. “Whenever there was a civic project or movement to better Union or Franklin County, Bob Hansen was involved.”

For all of his community support, Hansen has won many awards, including the Community Service award from Mercy Hospital, the Union Chamber of Commerce Distinguished Service Award in 1975 and the Union Chamber Long Haul Award in 1997, which is given to members of the community who are over 65 and who have supported the city.

He also has won the Union Jaycees Award and then was one of four to win the same award for the state of Missouri.

“It’s quite an honor to win all those awards,” said Hansen. “It’s just hard to describe how good it feels.”

Retirement

Hansen sold his company a little over a year ago to a law firm that his brother and Ed Stierberger formed back in 1963.

“I was 85 years old with no heirs,” he said. “Something had to be done. Luckily we came to an agreement with the law firm and it’s been a very pleasant relationship.”

Hansen still reports to work, though not as early as he used to.

“My favorite thing is when people come into the office and say ‘Oh, you’re still alive,’” he said “I’m so happy to see them and love it when they mention having been there years and years before.”

Throughout his many years at Hansen Franklin County Land Title & Abstract, Hansen said he had the opportunity to meet some incredible people.

“It was a most enjoyable time,” he said. “For many years we were the only titling company in the county so we have lots of wonderful records in the past of dealing with a lot of fine people.”

Now, in his free time, Hansen likes to go out to dinner, see movies in the city and collect old stuff.

“I usually try to haunt some of the antique shops,” he said. “I would say ‘I really like this, but I don’t have room for it,’ and the shopkeeper’s comment was, ‘just shove your stuff over.’ And, I’ve adhered to his advice.”

Hansen’s home is now decorated with pieces that he’s found in local antique stores and from all over the world, ranging from zebra rugs to a glass Buddha sculpture.

However, his favorites are a metal fish that he acquired from a ski chalet in Switzerland and a wooden carving that he found covered in snow riding a ski lift in Aspen.

Hansen said he is enjoying being “retired” and has very fond memories throughout his life in Union.

“I’ve been very lucky to meet the people I know, and health-wise I’ve been pretty good. I’ve got no complaints.”