Life Remembered: Gordon Hannagan larger than life

GIFFORD — Larger than life, loquacious, highly competitive.

Those are some of the words used to describe Gordon Hannagan, noted auctioneer, active in quarter horse breeding and developer of Gordyville USA event center in northern Champaign County.

Mr. Hannagan died Oct. 19 at Provena Covenant Medical Center in Urbana. He was 81.

Johne Dobbs, president-elect of the 300,000-member American Quarter Horse Association, said Mr. Hannagan was one of the prominent residents of Illinois in quarter horse breeding.

Dobbs said Mr. Hannagan's ability to speak and entertain were never more evident than when he was inducted into the American Quarter Horse Association in March.

Without notes, he gave "I think ... the longest acceptance speech in history," she said. "It lasted over a half hour. It was one story after another. We were about to fall off our chairs laughing."

Dobbs said Mr. Hannagan was the founder of the Illinois Quarter Horse Association in the late 1950s.

"He stood (bred) some very good stallions," Dobbs said. "I think he had a little hand in racing in Illinois. There used to be quarter horse racing at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. He was very instrumental in getting the (IQHA) started."

Dobbs said Mr. Hannagan and her father, Bill Huber, were good friends and had a lot in common — both being auctioneers and the father of six children.

"I knew him since probably I was about 12 years old," Dobbs said. "He was larger than life. Such a big personality."

Auctioneer Jim Clingan of Royal said Mr. Hannagan didn't "seem to have an enemy in the world."

Clingan said he had known him for about 60 years and looked at him as kind of "my second father or big brother and best friend."

Like Dobbs, he said his father and Mr. Hannagan were good friends, and Clingan rode along with Clingan's father and Mr. Hannagan to auctions. They were partners in the auction business for about 20 years.

"Gordy was one of the most influential auctioneers in the area," Clingan said.

As an auctioneer Mr. Hannagan sold more than 80,000 acres of land in Champaign County and the surrounding area and traveled all over the country selling American quarter horses at public auction.

"He had a heart as big as this world," Clingan said, "and he would help anybody at any time."

At the same time, Clingan said he was "a fierce competitor."

"He knew he did a good job. He'd tried to get all the business, and when he didn't, he'd try harder the next time," Clingan said

He and Mr. Hannagan and their wives were avid St. Louis Cardinals fans.

Mr. Hannagan's wife, Jan, a native of Havana, Ill., said a love of horses brought the couple together more than half a century ago. Both showed horses in Illinois.

"He must have saw me riding my horse and then he started going where I'd be," she remembers. "We went to a horse sale and our eyes kind of met, and he asked a friend if he thought I would go out with him."

She did, and they celebrated their 58th wedding anniversary in August.

"We've always had the same interests, mostly horse things," Jan Hannagan said. "We'd like to go to baseball games. We'd go to our kids' athletic events when we got a chance."

And he never met a stranger.

"He loved to talk," she said. "I'd stand there and wait and wait. He was that way with everybody. He wanted to know about them and was interested in them. And he liked to tell stories."

She called her late husband "a great guy, a lovable person."

Dobbs said Mr. Hannagan was an innovator — most evident in developing Gordyville.

"Twenty-five years ago that was a huge boon to our area," she said. "We didn't have any place to show in the wintertime."

Dobbs said a couple and two other people drove from Florida earlier this year to take part in the 25th anniversary celebration of the start-up of Gordyville. When she commented on them driving all the way from Florida, they said they wouldn't have missed the event, she said.

"They said, 'We would have starved if it hadn't been for Gordyville,'" Dobbs said.

The event center allowed quarter horse breeders to show and sell their animals during the winter in the Midwest, something that wasn't available until then.

Mary Hannagan, one of Mr. Hannagan's six children, said her parents opened Gordyville west of Gifford because her father got tired of traveling to horse auctions.

After the Hannagans built Gordyville, they discovered that one large section wasn't big enough to host everything, so they built another section. The Hannagans also built a restaurant next to the event center and ran it for five years. It is still open under a different name and management.

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