Personal History of John K & Luise V Hanson
John K. Hanson was born on a farm near Thor, Iowa, on June 22, 1913, and soon after, he and his family moved to Forest City. He graduated from Waldorf College, Forest City, Iowa in 1932, and in 1934, he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in mortuary science from the University of Minnesota. At the 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, they 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, becoming sole owner in 1951. Both were sold in 1953.
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.
In 1962, John K. sold the Hanson Furniture and Funeral Home to devote his time exclusively to Winnebago Industries, Inc and his commitment to bring a better quality of life to Forest City together with jobs, which the community needed.
Winnebago Industries was devastated by fire in 1964. But determined as he was, John K. rebuilt and Winnebago Industries, Inc. re-opened in 1965. 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. Hanson was an innovative leader in the recreation vehicle (RV) industry and instrumental in the formation of RV industry manufacturing standards.
In 1967, John K. Hanson and Elliott Cooper purchased the Farmers Bank and Trust in Crystal Lake, Iowa, changing the name to Manufacturers Bank & Trust Company. In 1970, Manufacturers Bank & Trust built and moved their main office to Forest City, Iowa. Then in 1973, John K. became sole owner of both banks.
John K. 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 RV 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,
Some of the awards he was most proud of include: In 1929, the Eagle Scout Award from Boys Scouts of America; in 1975 he received the Boy Scouts top honor in business which was the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award. This award was for exemplifying the ideas and principles of scouting through his business career. John K. remained involved and supportive of the Boy Scouts, participating in many Eagle Scout presentations throughout the area.
John K. basically had three hobbies in his life -- reading, marketing, and people. He turned these hobbies into his career. His love of people was obvious in many ways. His goal was to provide jobs to young people of the community so it could grow and prosper. He wanted to improve the quality of life in the community with better wages, jobs, benefits and family recreation.
Luise V. Hanson was very active in donating her time and giving to the “Less Fortunate” and to children’s causes. She served on numerous boards; the Handicap Village Board, now known as Opportunity Village, the Children’s Home Board, the Lutheran Bible Camp board, all of which she took a personal interest in. She was also a deaconess at Immanuel Lutheran Church and was on the Waldorf College Board of Trustees for many years. Luise was a Cub Scout Leader, a Lutheran League Leader, and helped out many Waldorf College students, bringing them home for weekend meals or holiday meals. She was very interested in mission work, especially New Guinea where her sisters served as missionaries. She had several soft spots in her heart…one for orphans as her mom was an orphan, and one for pastors since her father was a pastor.
But that for which John K. and Luise would wish to be remembered for was their benevolence. This was definitely a trait they possessed throughout their lives. They convened a small group which committed funds to build Immanuel Lutheran Church, to their contribution of the Forest City Hospital, the Forest City Family YMCA, local churches, Boy Scouts, as well as funding the Park Board and neighborhood parks throughout the area.
John K. & Luise demonstrated a compassion for education by their belief in and support of Waldorf College. They strongly encouraged technology in the college, public schools, and Winnebago Industries, Inc., providing computers to all –even allowing Winnebago employees to check them out to take home to learn with their children. John K. joined with Control Data to gift computers to Forest City Schools, elementary through high school, and Waldorf College, earning Forest City the Rural Model Community of America Award.
John K. and Luise had a heart for worthy causes. Hundreds of their gifts have been publicly recognized but more are known only to the recipient as they demonstrated their caring and generous nature to many in need. John K. and Luise’s benevolence has touched the lives of everyone in the Forest City community.
Through the Hanson’s achievements, they have contributed millions of dollars to their local community through donations from the John K. and Luise V. Hanson Foundation and the Winnebago Industries Foundation which they established to support, strengthen, and enhance the quality of life to Forest City and the surrounding communities.