On a trip to the Philippines in 1998, Robert Hanson came across a little boy sweeping a floor and asked him why he wasn't in school. The boy said that his parents had dropped him off at a bus station two years earlier because they were too poor to care for him, and that he had since slept on benches and lived on a little rice he earned by washing buses.
When Hanson came home to Edina weeks later, he told his family he had decided on a second career. After three decades teaching the schoolchildren of Minneapolis, Hanson spent his last 13 years helping street children in the Philippines. On June 24, Hanson died in his apartment in Dumaguete City, Philippines. Although an autopsy wasn't performed, his family suspects he had a heart attack. He was 64.
Born in St. Croix Falls, Wis., Hanson moved as a child to Edina. He graduated from the University of Minnesota with a master's degree in elementary education and received a draft deferment during the Vietnam War because he taught in the inner city.
For three decades, he taught elementary school in Minneapolis. When teachers went on strike three times in the 1970s, Hanson crossed the picket lines.
"He believed in teaching kids. He wasn't going to cost the kids by doing this. He walked through the line and taught whoever was there," said his brother Steve.
After his trip to the Philippines in 1998, Hanson became a full-time volunteer with the Dumaguete branch of a Georgia-based Christian aid organization, Little Children of the World (LCW). Soon after Hanson arrived in Dumaguete, everyone began calling him "Uncle Bob" and he was always found with large groups of children around him. He helped build a dormitory that typically housed 50 to 60 kids under the age of 13.
Laurie Beth Sneed, LCW's sponsorship coordinator, said Hanson would approach homeless children on the street and "talk to them about the dorm, the opportunity to go to school, the opportunity basically to be a little boy." Hanson would drop the kids off at school every morning, pay for their lunch and bring them back in the afternoon.
At night, he would tutor the children and carried around a stack of math worksheets that he had been grading.
Hanson helped two of the kids graduate from college, and hundreds have graduated from high school since 1998. Hundreds of children from the dorms and city residents showed up for his funeral. LCW President Glenna Waller, who described Hanson as having "a heart of gold," said that her organization planned to rename one of their four dorms after him.
He is survived by his parents, Robert and Helen; three sisters, Judy Peterson, JoAnne Todd and Rose Morris; and two brothers, Steve and Sam. A memorial service was held Monday in Crystal.
Tasnim Shamma • 612-673-7603 Twitter: @TasnimS