Founder and CEO of Winnebago Industries Dies
Hanson was born in Thor, Iowa, on June 22, 1913, and soon after he and his family moved to Forest City. An early achievement for Hanson was earning his Eagle Scout Award from the Boy Scouts in October, 1929. He graduated from Waldorf College, Forest City, in 1932, and in 1934, he graduated with a bachelor of science degree in mortuary science from the University of Minnesota. At that time, he was the youngest person to receive a mortician's license in Iowa.
Following graduation, Hanson became funeral director in his father's funeral home and began assuming responsibility for his father's furniture and appliance store. Hanson married Luise Voss on November 14, 1935 and in 1937, he purchased Hanson's Furniture and Funeral Home. Hanson drew his first national exposure in 1947 with a Time magazine article that featured a unique sales promotion for his store which allowed customers to exchange farm produce for furniture and appliances. In 1948, Hanson also became a partner in an International Harvester Implement and Oldsmobile dealership which he purchased in 1951.
An avid outdoor camping enthusiast, Hanson began his recreation vehicle career by becoming a travel trailer dealer in 1957. Convinced that travel trailer manufacturing was an attractive opportunity for the community, Hanson convinced local investors to lure Modernistic Industries, a California travel trailer manufacturing firm, to open a branch facility in Forest City. In 1959, Hanson became president of the new firm, Modernistic Industries of Iowa.
Immediately, Hanson began to explore methods for improving the company's trailers. He identified the potential for new products and implemented effective cost-cutting measures. Hanson ultimately brought mass production to motor home assembly and led the company -- renamed Winnebago Industries, Inc. -- to dominance in the motor home field.
The result was a revolution in the recreation vehicle industry. Today, Winnebago Industries is one of the world's largest manufacturers of motor homes and a major industrial operation for the state of Iowa. The company now employs over 3,000 employees and has annual revenues exceeding $450 million.
Hanson was an innovative leader in the recreation vehicle (RV) industry and instrumental in the formation of RV industry manufacturing standards. He won numerous awards for professional, civic and fraternal activities. In 1965, Hanson was selected as Iowa Small Businessman of the Year. In 1983, he was inducted into the RV Hall of Fame and the Iowa Business Hall of Fame, and in 1984, he was named to the Babson College Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs and received the People of Vision Award from the Iowa Society to Prevent Blindness. Hanson was also honored as a native son of Norway by the King of Norway on June 23, 1984 at the opening of the "Promise of America" exhibit which was held at the Sonja Henie Museum and Nels Onstad Art Center in Oslo, Norway.
Hanson received the Distinguished Achievement Award from the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association in 1988 for contributions to the long-term growth and prosperity of the R.V. industry. In 1990, he was inducted into the Scandinavian-American Hall of Fame in Minot, North Dakota. In 1995, Hanson was honored by the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) as an industry pioneer during their annual convention in Las Vegas, Nevada. He also received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Waldorf College, Forest City, for a lifetime of achievement in business and of service to the college, the church, the community, the nation, and the world. Hanson also received the 1st Annual Meredith Wilson Humanitarian Award in 1995 from the city of Mason City, Iowa, due to his tremendous humanitarian contributions to the North Iowa community.
Through Hanson's achievements, he and his wife, Luise, have contributed millions of dollars to the local community with contributions from the Hanson Foundation and the Winnebago Industries Foundation. The Hansons have also provided for the community's well- being through the endowment which created the Forest City Family YMCA; providing recreation facilities and training to thousands of people throughout the North Iowa area.
Hanson is survived by his wife, Luise; daughter, Mary Jo Boman and her husband Gerald of Palm City, FL; and sons, John V. Hanson and wife, Carolyn, of Jensen Beach, FL; and Paul Hanson of Clear Lake; three grandchildren, Janet Boman Coe and her husband, Lt. Col. Robert A. Coe of Middletown, RI, Gregory Boman and his wife, Rebecca of Englewood, CO; and John J. Hanson of Coralville, IA; three great grandchildren, Elizabeth and Cameron Boman of Englewood, CO, and Aaron Coe of Middletown, RI; and two step great grandchildren, Erika & Jesse Coe of Fallon, NV. Hanson is also survived by three sisters, Mildred Sager of Story, Iowa; Dorothy J. Nelson of Minneapolis, Minn. and Barbara Bulman of Forest City.
Hanson is preceded in death by his parents, Knut J. and Gina J. (Jennie) Hanson, and sisters; Marilyn Hanson, Enid Robinson, Ruth Stougaard and Margaret Wright.