Harley and Sally Hanson of Long Prairie have lived full lives with their large family and countless people who have been the recipients of their hospitality. The number of candles on their birthday cakes each year has done nothing to slow them down. They value life and live every day to the fullest.
“We love people. We love activities,” Sally said.
“We’ve been blessed and we want to bless others,” Harley said.
Harley grew up in Long Prairie. While attending Bethel College in St. Paul (now Bethel University), he met Sally Haaland from Iowa, who was a dorm mate of his sister. After Sally graduated, they were married and four sons came along to join the family.
They were still young marrieds when they had to face a time of multiple tragedies. Within three months, Sally’s 20-year-old brother died in a motorcycle accident and then Harley’s sister died at age 28 of cancer, less than a year after her diagnosis.
“It really made us put things in perspective, in our marriage and in our lives,” Sally said. “We were taught to make good choices, growing up, but something like this really made us stop and ask ourselves what life is really about.”
“Our faith in God was always strong, but it got stronger. We chose not to be bitter,” Harley said.
Life was busy as the Hanson sons grew up: Harrison, Stephen, Mark and Bjorn. Often, the boys’ friends filled their home, making it seem “like Grand Central Station.”
“We have always had a lot of company. Harley and I love having people in our home; we are both very gifted in hospitality,” Sally said.
The Hanson family hosted three exchange students over the years, from Venezuela, Belgium and Germany. They have also had many different people stay in their home for periods of time, for various reasons. Some people needed a short-term place to stay during employment or visits in the area.
“Hospitality is one of those things that’s almost a lost art,” Sally said. “People need a meal, then I bet they need a place to stay for the night. We have four empty bedrooms; we don’t need to send people to a motel.”
Sally loves cooking and baking and taking food to people in need. For more than 35 years, she has hosted a coffee time every morning and every evening that she is home.
For 24 years, the Hansons celebrated Christmas with an open house sing-a-long. Anywhere from 100 to 200 people came. It was canceled in 2020, due to pandemic restrictions, but it will be back once more this year.
Both Hansons often speak on hospitality for groups throughout the area.
Sally is fully retired from employment. She taught elementary school for four years when first married. She later worked in the elementary gifted program in Long Prairie for more than 30 years, where her schedule depended on what funding was available. She did some substitute teaching after that.
Harley, however, continues to go in to the office each day. He is the remaining family member still involved in Cathedral Press in Long Prairie. The company was established in the mid 1940s, and his father and his great-uncle bought it in 1964.
Together, the Hansons help out as much with grandchildren as they can. There are 13 now, with one more on the way.
“We just spent four days with grandkids in the Twin Cities,” they said.
They also have a cabin north of Park Rapids, which Harley’s parents bought in 1963. Having family and friends visit at the cabin is very special for them.
For nine years, Sally was on the board of CentraCare - Long Prairie, eight years as board chair.
“I got to be part of building the new hospital,” she said. “It was a lot of fundraising and a lot of meetings.”
Now, both Harley and Sally are on the Community Relations Committee for CentraCare.
They are both extremely active at First Baptist Church in Long Prairie. Harley keeps busy as financial secretary. For the last 22 years, Sally has led a young mom’s Bible story.
“It’s the highlight of my week. I’ve seen so many moms come and go, but there are also some who have been involved all 22 years — they’re not so young anymore! One of the unique things is that there are women involved from every church in town,” she said.
The Hansons have also been pleased to be able to travel throughout their lives. Harley has been to more than 50 countries, many of those while visiting missionaries overseas with his parents.
“I always wanted to live in a small town, with that life, but I’ve been so thrilled to travel too,” Sally said.
The last trip they took, in 2019, was a “Footsteps of Paul” tour of Greece and Turkey.
Currently, Harley and Sally have their hands full as Harley is executor of an estate in Long Prairie. The elderly man who died had no children, and his home was packed with many collections and other things. They are preparing for the estate auction.
Sally’s hands are seldom idle. Adding to the quilting skills that she has shared for many years, she is now learning to knit.
Life won’t slow down any time soon. The Hansons are now co-chairs of the First Baptist Church 150th anniversary celebration, to be held Aug. 5 - 7, 2022. The co-chairing duties are shared with another couple, but they are deep in plans for tours, a women’s coffee, a men’s prayer breakfast, worship service and celebration dinner.
“We are hoping that hundreds of people come back and visit, including former pastors and youth pastors,” they said. “We hope so many people come that there won’t be room inside for everyone!”
They both agree that the Lord has been faithful in their lives. Everything they do is one more step on leaving a profound legacy.
“We want our lives to count,” they agreed.