Elisabeth Hanson

Elisabeth Hanson

URBANA – Elisabeth M. Hanson, 98, a 70-year resident of Champaign-Urbana, died surrounded by family on Saturday (May 14, 2016) at Clark-Lindsey Village.

She was married in 1942 to Alfred O. Hanson, who died in 2005. She is survived by their four children: Andrew J. Hanson (Patricia Foster) of Bloomington, Ind.; Donald F. Hanson of Eden Prairie, Minn.; Ardith M. Hanson (Royce Field) of Colorado Springs, Colo.; and Craig D. Hanson (Janice) of Rochester, N.Y. All four of the children attended Leal School and Urbana Junior and Senior High Schools.

She is also survived by four grandchildren: Russell Hanson and his sister Sonya Hanson, both of New York City, Katherine Field Carlton (Cory) and her sister Elizabeth Field, both of Colorado Springs, Colo.; and one great-grandchild: Maddox King Carlton of Colorado Springs.

Elisabeth was born on Nov. 2, 1917, and grew up in the university town of Columbia, Mo., where her father, M.F. Miller, was a professor and then dean in the College of Agriculture, specializing in soils.

Her mother, Grace Ernst Miller, had also been an academic in the natural sciences, specializing in botany.

When her three brothers, Edward, Robert and Dan Miller, grew up to be academics in various branches of physics, she declared that she alone had managed to escape the family bent toward the academic sciences. Her own interests evolved eventually toward statistics, the graphic arts bolstered by two short sessions at commercial art schools, interpretive cartography, and the study of natural history (including field courses in botany and geology).

She was a wonderful example to her family, providing a role model of a life spent engaged in curiosity and search for knowledge to her very last days.

Throughout girlhood and college years, known as Betty Miller, she lived at home with her family, joining them during summers in outdoor-oriented activities. One summer, the whole family accompanied her agronomist father on a weeks-long tent-camping tour of the Corn Belt, where he collected soil samples for his research.

As a girl, Elisabeth was active in a Nature- and Native-oriented Camp Fire Girls' Group. In 1938, after graduating from Stephens College and the University of Missouri - with an art major, English minor - she worked one summer as crafts and nature counselor at the Washington, D.C., Girl Scout Camp in Virginia.

During the Depression, she was employed as chartist and layout artist for the Curtis Publishing Company in Philadelphia and as book-designer/checker for the University of Wisconsin Press in Madison at the beginning of World War II.

At Madison, she met her future husband, University of Wisconsin physics graduate student Alfred O. Hanson, whose research, using one of the two Wisconsin van der Graaff generators, was earning him his doctorate as well as a position with the secret Manhattan Project.

A year after their 1942 wedding, Alfred was called upon to follow the generator to the newly established atom bomb laboratory in Los Alamos, N.M. The couple then spent the rest of the war years at Los Alamos, where their first child, Andrew, was born.

At Los Alamos, on July 16, 1945, Mrs. Hanson welcomed her husband home as he returned from observing, earlier in the day, the first atom bomb test shot from a post only 10,000 yards north of ground zero.

In December 1945, after the end of World War II, the couple moved to Champaign-Urbana, eventually owning a home on West Iowa Street in Urbana for 50 years.

When Andrew and the three subsequent children were all in school, she found work locally as proofreader, paste-up artist and editorial checker for Our Wonderful World Encyclopedia, Spencer Press; later as assistant production manager for two American Oil Chemists' Society journals.

She was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the Piatt County Historical Society, Natural Areas Study Group of Champaign County, Grand Prairie Friends and the Map Committee of Middle Fork Valley Partners. She served one term on the Urbana Park District Citizens' Advisory Committee.

When the Hansons had lived in Champaign-Urbana for all of 20 years, Mrs. Hanson made an astonishing discovery. Although she had come as a total stranger to the state of Illinois, her paternal great-grandfather of Ohio had, in fact, settled for a time just 10 miles west of her home here, in the early pioneering year of 1836.

Thus, her paternal grandmother had been a pioneer child here for the first years of her life until the family returned to Ohio.

Curiosity then drove her to study the native prairie as known to her pioneer great-grandfather and family here. She and her husband spent a number of years as stewards of local prairie remnants, with varying success.

In July 1956, six months pregnant with her fourth child, Mrs. Hanson and her three young children (ages 7 to 12) escaped the sinking Italian ocean-liner Andrea Doria via lifejackets, the Atlantic Ocean and lifeboat. The family was on its way home after accompanying Professor Hanson on his yearlong Fulbright Fellowship in Torino, Italy. Mr. Hanson had flown ahead to retrieve the car from storage.

In 1977, Mrs. Hanson organized and coordinated a short-lived consortium for taping oral histories of older local citizens, which was named "Memory Bank, Champaign County." Collections of oral histories taped at that time were first located in the public libraries at Fisher, Rantoul, Mahomet, St. Joseph, Tolono, Sidney and Urbana. They are now collected at the Urbana Free Library.

Mrs. Hanson served as publications manager in the early years of The Committee on the Middle Fork and managed production of the "Blue Folder on the Middle Fork," which was distributed at the 1990 dedication of a portion of the Middle Fork as the first National Scenic River in Illinois.

In 1967, Mrs. Hanson commenced a long-term study of the pre-settlement landscape of Piatt County, the first government land surveys there, and the first purchases of the public lands as correlating with natural features, a study that evolved into a geography department colloquium presented in April 1988.

For expansion of these studies to include ecological and cultural developments since the last glacial makeover she chose an area, "East-Central Illinois," which is a relatively homogeneous, glacial-loess-based, world-class agricultural region. This study led to a design for a regional historical-geographical volume, titled "East-Central Illinois: Exploring the Beginnings" (www.EastCentralIllinoisBeginnings.com).

The book explores the development of natural landforms and ecosystems, how native hunting territory became U.S. public domain, and how the unmarked wilderness landscape was transformed into the marked private property that we call real estate.

Completed in library-bound hardcover, copies may now be found in many university and regional libraries, including the UI Lincoln Library, the Albert R. Mann Library of Cornell and the Newberry Library in Chicago.

Mrs. Hanson's lifetime hobbies included long-distance driving, hiking, tent camping and canoeing. She camped with her late husband in many of the states of the Union, including Alaska and Hawaii, as well as Canada, Guatemala, New Zealand, southern France, former East and West Germany, and Norway.

She was unable to pursue these activities after shattering a leg bone in 1996, the first of three breaks. She and her family are grateful for the care she received from the staff at Meadowbrook Health Center during her final years.

A celebration of life will be held on a date to be announced at Clark-Lindsey Village, 101 W. Windsor Road, Urbana.

Condolences may be offered at www.renner-wikoffchapel.com.