Harold Palmer Hanson was born December 27, 1921, in Virginia, MN. His parents (m. 1920) were Martin Bernard Hanson (b. 2/11/1890) and Elvida Elaine Paulson (b. 1902) Hanson. Martin, a carpenter and house plasterer, was born in Bjugn, Norway. Orphaned, Martin eventually immigrated to Canada in 1909 or 1911 and was naturalized in 1917. Harold’s mother was born in Minnesota. In 1920, Martin was a roomer in the Paulson household in Virginia, MN. Harold had a younger sister, Delores.
Harold attended Superior State Teachers College and graduated in 1942. At Superior, Harold was an outstanding student. He was selected for the Owl and Serpent which consisted of the top 12 academic students. He graduated with highest honors. Harold was also an outstanding tennis player at Superior, winning many tournaments.
Because of a couple of courses in physics he was recruited by the University of Wisconsin, Madison, to teach in the V-12 Program (program to train naval officers for WWII service). He earned a letter in tennis in 1943 and a masters in 1944, the year he married Mary Jean Stevenson, at right. Mary Jean was chemistry student from Superior, WI.
In 1944, Harold entered the Navy as an ensign, stationed in Washington, D.C., where his was assigned to conduct research on torpedo guidance systems. Following the war he left active duty in 1946 and returned to Madison for a PhD, graduating in 1948. He was not officially discharged from the navy until 1950. In 1948, he became an assistant professor at the University of Florida. His research was in Atomic and Molecular Physics. During the summer of 1953, he was a Research Physicist at MIT Lincoln Labs. He came to UT in 1954. In 1960–1961, he had a Fulbright Fellowship in Norway. In 1964, he was a consultant for General Atomic. He became chair of the department in 1962 as a result of a letter he wrote while in Norway, he writes, “I got to be chairman inadvertently by writing a letter when I was on my Fulbright in Norway. The Dean was looking for a new chairman in physics and asked for nominations. I wrote a strong letter asking him to look beyond the department. I said that, while there were competent physicists in the department, we needed someone who had a vision of greatness. We were one of ten or so UT departments that got a Center of Excellence grant for 10 million dollars, as I recall, and I thought this was the time to move. We got the lion's share by far. We were a department of twenty people when I was put in the position, and we were a department of seventy when I returned to Florida as Graduate Dean.” (The department’s operating budget jumped from $396,000 to $1,164,000—Mel Oakes). Harold was placed on several of the committees (Molecular Sciences, Relativity-Astrophysics-Astroomy-Plasma Studies) which were organized to implement the UT Science Development Program. Harold also was a member of the Presidential Selection committee that recommended Norman Hackerman as UT President.
In 1968, Harold was part of a group that proposed that academic deans term of office be limited to five years. At the Faculty Council meeting, faculty representatives from law, social work, architecture, pharmacy and fine arts protested the proposal by asking that their current dean be exempt from any limit. They all suggested that their deans were irreplaceable. Following the discussion, Hanson rose and said, " Apparently we have just witnessed a multiple second coming." The proposal however did not pass.
In 1969, Harold resigned as chair to become Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Florida. He was promoted to Vice-President for Academic Affairs in 1971 and served as Executive Vice-President from 1974–1978. During 1978–1979, he served as Provost at Boston University. He left to become Executive Director, Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, U. S. House of Representatives. A position he held from 1980–1982 and 1984–1990. During 1982–1984 he was Provost of Wayne State University. He also served as editor of Delos, a journal of translation and international literature. In 1977, the paper by Hanson, H. P., Herman, F., Lea, J. D., and Skillman, S., entitled, HFS Atomic Scattering Factors, Acta Crystallographica 17:1040-4, 1963, was listed as a Citation Classic. The SCI® indicates that this paper was cited 1,079 times in the period 1961–1975. He was also a Fellow of the American Physical Society.
Harold has had a longtime interested in Norwegian literature. In recognition of his “exceptional work for Norway”, he received the St. Olaf Medal from the King of Norway. He also received the Order of the North Star (Knight) from Sweden. In 2010, Hanson’s translation of the poetry of Norway’s literary giant, Sigrid Undset, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928, was published. The year 2010 marked the 100th anniversary of the publication of her single book of poetry, “Ungdom/Youth.” Hanson’s translation was the first ever in English. The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Md. and the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Washington co-sponsored a celebration of this significant event on the evening of April 21, 2010. Hanson, son of Norwegian immigrants, was the person primarily responsible for the translations of the poems. He was assisted in the preparation of the book by two collaborators, Undset’s niece Charlotte Blindheim and Evabeth Astrup, professor at the Museum of Cultural History at the University of Oslo. Hanson and his son Steven (shown at right) were speakers at the Bethesda celebration. Hanson and his wife Mary Jean, established the Harold and Mary Jean Hanson Rare Book Fund in 2003 at the University of Florida. The rare book collection is named after them.
(Several of the pictures here were provided by Harold’s daughter, Barbara Hanson Herbert. The Superior State College picture was made available by Thomas Bergh, Director of Alumni Relations at U. Wisconsin-Superior.)
Harold died at his home in Gainesville, FL, on April 7, 2016, at the age of 94.
An article published in Scientific Research summarizes Harold Hanson’s contributions to the Physics Department, Click Here...
“Hanson collected letters and pseudo-articles from crackpot scientists. He told some of his graduate students about the person who, back in the 1950s walked into a Physical Society meeting that I think was in Boston and started yelling ‘Where are the electrons?’ and then proceeded to shoot some people. I think someone was actually killed. A few days after telling us that story, Hanson, Jim Lea and I were having lunch in the lab when a weird-looking guy with one eye that didn’t track walks in and asks “Do you really want to know what light is?” Hanson said “Sure” and Jim Lea (the son of the famous artist and writer, Tom Lea) was out of the room like a shot. I can’t remember all of the guy’s argument but one piece of evidence that he had was the sheet music for ‘Some Enchanted Evening.’”
—David J. Cowan, BS 1958, MS 1960, PhD, 1965. Emeritus Professor of Physics, Gettysburg College. David was the Chairman of the Physics Department for thirteen years at Gettysburg. In addition to serving as a Dean, he was also Assistant to the President for three years. His wife was an Endowed Professor of Creative Writing at Gettysburg. She is an author and writes under the name of Deborah Larsen.
Women in physics owe a special thanks to Harold Hanson. When the architects’ plans for the new Physics-Math-Astronomy Building (later RLMoore Hall) were submitted, Harold pointed out there were no women’s restrooms in the Physics-Astronomy wing. He said, “This won’t do!” and it didn’t. They got one in the stairwell on every other floor.
—story from Harold’s children, Steven Hanson and Barbara Hanson Herbert
Harold P. Hanson, Class of 1942 (second from right), is shown here with Chancellor Wachter, his son Steven, and his daughter Barbara at the dedication of the Mary Jean & Harold P. Hanson Physics Laboratory in Barstow Hall.
Harold P. Hanson, a native of Superior, returned to the city he loves on July 18, 2013 to take part in the dedication of the Mary Jean and Harold P. Hanson Physics Laboratory.
In addition, he signed a copy of Ungdom, a translation of poetry by Sigrid Undset, which he co-authored and donated as well as other books to the Jim Dan Hill Library during his return visit to campus. Harold's education, at then-named Superior State Teachers College, launched a career in physics and higher education that lasted until 1990.
Harold met Mary Jean (Stevenson) in a physics laboratory on campus in 1941 and she became the love of his life. They were married for 68 years, until her passing in May of 2012. Harold said they would often take part in campus events together while at Superior. "We had some really fine athletes here when I was going to school. We had really good basketball players, especially. We went to all of the games together and enjoyed them."
Hanson graduated from Superior Central in 1938. Mary Jean was a product of East High School in Superior and concluded her studies at Superior State Teachers College two years after Harold. In 1944 Harold joined the Navy. He was an ensign stationed in Washington, DC where he conducted research on torpedo propulsion systems. Mary Jean went into education, teaching in Austin, Texas and Gainesville, Florida.
Harold became a successful physicist. He held faculty and administrative positions at the University of Florida, University of Texas at Austin, Boston University and Wayne State University. He also served as the executive director of the Committee on Science and Technology for the U.S. House of Representatives and was a Fulbright Research Scholar in Norway in 1960–1961.
In addition to the Mary Jean and Harold P. Hanson Physics Laboratory, Harold established the Harold P. and Mary Jean Hanson Scholarship that will be awarded annually to one student attending UW-Superior from the city of Superior.
On behalf of the UW-Superior Foundation and entire campus community, we sincerely thank the entire Hanson family for their generosity.
Mary Jean Hanson Obituary
Mary Jean Hanson, age 90 of Gainesville, FL, passed away Wednesday, May 2, 2012. She was born January 25, 1922, in Fargo, North Dakota, to William B. and Florence M. Hancock Stevenson. She taught school in Austin, TX for 10 years and then at Santa Fe Community College for 10 years. Mary traveled the world with her husband, Harold. She was a very talented quilter as well as a variety of other hand crafts.
She is survived by her husband of 68 years, Harold P. Hanson of Gainesville, FL; children, Barbara (John) Hanson Herbert of Gainesville, FL and Steve (Janice) Hanson of Austin, TX; grandchildren, Sandra Decker and Michael Herbert of Gainesville, FL and Erik Christopher Hanson of Austin, TX.
Memorial Service will be held Wednesday, May 9, 2012, at 4:00 p.m. in the chapel of Williams Thomas Funeral Home West Srea, 823 NW 143rd Street, with Dr. Don McGarity officiating.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in her name to the General Scholarship Fund, Santa Fe College Foundation, 3000 N.W. 83rd Street, RAB 207, Gainesville, FL 32606 or Gainesville Pet Rescue, 5403 S.W. Archer Road, Gainesville, FL 32608.
Harold Palmer Hanson Obituary, 94
Harold P. Hanson passed away at home in Gainesville, FL on April 7, 2016, from natural causes.
Born in Virginia, Minnesota on December 27, 1921 to the late Bernard and Ella Hanson, he was a first generation American Norwegian. Harold developed an early love of the written word and spent many hours in the local public library. He earned a BS from Superior State Teachers College (University of Wisconsin at Superior) in 1942 and an MS in physics from University of Wisconsin in Madison in 1944. While there he lettered in tennis. Harold served as an ensign in the Navy during WWII, conducting research on improving torpedo guidance systems. He married the late Mary Jean Stevenson in 1944, and they were together for 68 years, until her death in 2012.
After the war, Harold returned to University of Wisconsin where he earned a PhD in physics in 1948. He first came to University of Florida as an Instructor in 1948, leaving in 1954 as an Associate Professor to go to University of Texas at Austin. He was a Fulbright Research Fellow in Norway in 1960 and served as chairman of the Physics Department at Texas from 1961–1969. He returned to University of Florida in 1969 as Dean of the Graduate School, serving as VP for Academic Affairs from 1971–1974 and as Executive VP from 1974–1978. During this time, he helped UF's library acquire the Price Judaica Collection which gave him great satisfaction. Harold then served as Provost at Boston University (1978–1980) and Provost at Wayne State University (1982–1984). His career culminated as the Executive Director for the committee on Science, Space and Technology for the U.S. House of Representatives. He served in that capacity from 1980-1982 and from 1984 until his retirement in 1990.
He returned to UF as an adjunct professor and was the editor of Delos, a translation journal. His love of literature was further manifested by his volunteering for Friends of the Library, and the establishment of the Harold and Mary Jean Rare Book Fund at UF. He collaborated with a Norwegian friend to translate and publish Ungdom (Youth), a collection of poems by Norwegian Nobel Laureate Sigrid Undset. Harold was a member of numerous professional and honorary societies as well as public service committees. He received many awards during his life including St. Olav's Medal, Order of the North Star, University of Florida Presidential Medallion, a Congressional Commendation, and Franklin Medal.
He is survived by his two children, Barbara Herbert (John) of Gainesville and Steve Hanson (Janice) of Austin; four grandchildren, Erik Hanson, Chris Hanson, Michael Herbert, Sandra Herbert Decker (Chris) and two great-grandchildren, Jordan Decker and Cameron Decker.
Harold P. Hanson Photos and Documents