Merle Hansen

From KeyWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Merle Hansen

Template:TOCnestleft Merle Hansen... died Friday, March 27, 2009, age 89 in Nebraska.


Merle Elwin Hansen was born Nov. 26, 1919, on his family's farmstead 11 miles northwest of Newman Grove, Nebraska. He was a nationally known advocate for family farm agriculture, conservation and environmental issues, civil rights and world peace.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Ruth (Petersen) and Carl Hansen of Newman Grove; wife Lucinda Hansen on Dec. 23, 2004; sisters Viola Beeso of Berkley, Calif., Irma Shade of Laguna Hills, Calif., and Phyllis Goodman of Fullerton, Calif.; and brothers-in-law Carl Shade of Laguna Hills, Calif., Leonard Burgart of Alta Vista, Iowa, and John Brummond and Harold Clark, both of Ionia, Iowa.

Survivors include seven children, John Hansen of Lincoln, Mary Hansen of Denton, Jean Hansen of Norfolk, Lee Hansen of Norfolk, William Hansen of Norfolk, Chris Hansen of Tilden and Juli Hansen (Scott DePriest) of Newman Grove; eight sisters- and brothers-in-law, Florine Clark and Norma Brummond of Ionia, Iowa; Lucille Burgart of Alta Vista, Iowa; Patricia Balk and Harold Balk of Charles City, Iowa; John Kramer and Judy Kramer of Sugar Grove, Ill., and Jack Goodman of Fullerton, Calif.;

After graduating from Newman Grove High School in 1938, Merle Hansen attended a business college in Chillicothe, Mo., until he enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a petty officer on Dec. 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor was attacked.

During World War II, he served on transport carriers, including the U.S.S. Fuller in the Pacific and North African theaters. He was awarded six battle stars, attained the rank of chief yeoman and was honorably discharged in 1945.[1]


Following the war, he worked as a multi-state field organizer for the American Veterans Committee headquartered in Omaha.[2]

Rural activism

In the late 1940s, Hansen worked as a field organizer for the National Farmers Union in South Dakota and Iowa. While organizing a farmer and labor picnic in northeast Iowa, he met his future wife, Lucinda Kramer, who was the labor union secretary for the Oliver tractor manufacturing plant in Charles City, Iowa.

On Feb. 18, 1950, they were married at the St. Boniface rectory in Ionia, Iowa. They moved back to the farm 11 miles northwest of Newman Grove where they raised their seven children.

Hansen served as a Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District supervisor, earned county and regional soil conservation awards, and made many presentations to elementary schools on the importance of soil and water conservation. He was the first in his area to use minimum tillage.

Always the innovator, Hansen formed Hansen Charolais in 1960, a nationally recognized purebred cattle business that sold breeding stock to commercial cattlemen and purebred breeders across the country for 24 years. He was a passionate promoter of the Charolais breed, serving as the first state vice president and second president of the Nebraska Charolais Association.

Hansen built and owned a fertilizer business with his family, raising and selling a wide range of certified seeds, including grasses, legumes and oats, along with their mostly irrigated corn, soybeans, oats and alfalfa farming operation.

Hansen's tireless fight for economic justice for family farmers led him to be active in many farm organizations, always building broad-based political and organizational coalitions while educating farmers about the importance of understanding farm policy history and the need to work together.

As were his parents and grandparents, Merle was active in the Nebraska Farmers Union. He loved to discuss all facets of farm policy and bring new members into the organization, oftentimes winning top state membership recruiter recognition.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Hansen was a key National Farmers Organization organizer, nominating Oren Lee Staley to head the organization at its national convention in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1956. In addition to organizing Madison County, Hansen organized several area counties of the NFO and believed in the value and need for farmers to use collective bargaining to market their products at more fair prices.

For many years, Hansen served as vice president of the U.S. Farm Association. In the mid-1970s, Hansen became a state leader in the American Agricultural Movement that organized the "Tractorcade" to Washington, D.C.

In April 1983, Hansen was elected president of the North American Farm Alliance, a loose coalition of more than two dozen state and national groups supporting national farm policy reform. The new organization worked with financially strapped farmers struggling with farm credit and foreclosures.

In 1986, he helped found the National Family Farm Coalition and would serve for years on its board of directors and executive committee. In 1997, the American Corn Growers Association presented Hansen with its "Carl L. King" award for distinguished service. The award read: "For representing what is really the best in agriculture and never forgetting the importance of maintaining a strong voice for the needs of farmers."

Hansen attended the first Farm Aid concert in 1985; worked with Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp; and was heavily involved in many Farm Aid concerts, including its third concert held in Lincoln at Memorial Stadium on Sept. 19, 1987.

He was influential in helping Farm Aid develop its message and supported its efforts to fund organizations that serve rural Americans.[3]


Hansen was active in the Democratic Party at the county, state and national levels. He served on the Nebraska Democratic Party Central Committee from Madison County for many years and received the state party Franklin Delano Roosevelt Award in 1990.

Hansen ran unsuccessfully for University of Nebraska regent in 1976 and the Nebraska Legislature in 1978, and volunteered on many dozens of local, state and national campaigns.[4]

Peace activism

Hansen was one of the founding members of Rural Nebraskans for Peace in May 1967, which later was integrated into Nebraskans for Peace. Hansen served as president of both peace groups and was an outspoken opponent of American involvement in Vietnam.[5]

Civil rights

While working for Iowa Farmers Union in the late 1940s, Merle Hansen became a close friend of African-American civil rights activist Edna Griffin and her husband, Dr. Stanley Griffin, of Des Moines, Iowa. Hansen volunteered his support to Edna's campaign to integrate the lunch counter at Katz Drug Store, one of the first successful actions of the civil rights movement. Hansen's friendship with the Griffin family led to his acquaintance and friendship with other civil rights leaders.

In 1984, Hansen became Jesse Jackson's agricultural adviser and heavily influenced his farm and rural policies for his 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns. He often traveled with Jackson, including a trip to Africa and Europe. Hansen gave one of Jackson's nomination seconding speeches at the 1984 Democratic National Convention.

Hansen won one of two inaugural Dixon Terry/Tom Saunders Rainbow Rural Leadership Awards from the National Rainbow Coalition in 1990 for his leadership on economic and social justice issues.[6]


Studs Terkel featured Hansen in a section of his book "Coming of Age: Our Century As Told By Those Who Lived It." Hansen was featured in many national publication articles, including USA Today, The New York Times and Ms. Magazine, as well as many documentary films on rural issues.

He served as a source of information for many of the articles and books written on the Farmers Holiday movement, including "Cornbelt Rebellion: the Farmers' Holiday Association" by John L. Shover. Hansen wrote two chapters for Jim Schwab's book, "Raising Less Corn And More Hell," which describes the struggles of Midwestern farmers during the farm crisis of the 1980s.

Across the country and around the world, Hansen made hundreds of speeches. He wrote dozens of articles for a wide range of publications. He was a mentor to countless younger leaders and activists. Often with a combination of humor and preaching, he linked together the themes of peace, human rights, environmental conservation, economic justice and the plight of the family farm.[7]

United States Farmers Association

The United States Farmers Association, was founded by Fred Stover and Merle Hansen in the 1940s. It attracted many progressives who were members of the National Farmers Union. The USFA helped to organize grassroots movements to address commodity prices and debt relief. [8]



SURVIVAL FEST 84 was held August 5 1984 in MacArthur Park.

"Come To Hear And Strategize With Those Changing The 1980's"

  • How can we support each other in electing progressive local candidates?
  • How can we make electoral work serve the grassroots movements for a freeze, for U.S. out of Central America and human needs?
  • How can we over turn the racist dual primary system in the South?
  • Is working inside and outside the Democratic Party a viable strategy and how can it be done?
  • How can we formulate demands to revitalize our basic industries without falling into the pitfall of the chauvinist anti-import solution -- letting U.S. finance capital off the hook?

This event was organized by the Communist Workers Party front, the Coalition for a People's Convention. The event was advertised in a half-page notice in the Marxist weekly Guardian, their Book Supplement - Summer 1984, p. 12, and the Communist Workers Party and Federation For Progress were listed as participants.

Speakers included Merle Hansen - Chair, North American Farmers Alliance and, Vice-Chairman of Farmers for Jesse Jackson Campaign .

1987 Rainbow conference/Board

At the 1987 National Rainbow convention in Raleigh North Carolina, a new board was elected, which included Merle Hansen.

Rainbow Coalition

Carl Davidson on the Rainbow Coalition.

I worked both of Jesse’s campaigns as an LRS member. In Chicago, my cell did this by putting together ‘Peace Voters for Jesse’ fundraisers in neighborhoods with a lot of white progressives. We did OK. I also worked with Merle Hansen of the North American Farm Alliance in mass meetings in Iowa to bring in the ‘Green’ stripe of the rainbow in all-white areas. That worked too.
I had a birds-eye view on why everything collapsed at the end. I don’t blame it on Jesse. He often told us his job was to shake the cherry tree, while our job was to gather the harvest.
Why did we fail to bring in the harvest? Because we were ‘building a movement’ when we needed to be ‘building organizations.’ Of course, there is a dynamic between the two. But we don’t need to build movements. The abuses of capitalism do that, in regular waves. Riding the waves, we need to know how to cast the net out, and how to pull it in, meaning into new organizations, so when the next wave comes for us to ride, we have an even stronger means to cast out and draw in. And so on, until we have a new Modern Prince to bring in a new order.
Here’s a little motto I made to keep myself on track these days. ‘Organization is the central task, revolutionary education is the key link.’ [9]



In 1988, in the July 18 issue, Merle Hansen endorsed Unity, the newspaper of the League of Revolutionary Struggle.

Unity correspondent

Unity, April 16, 1990

In 1990 Regional Correspondents for Unity, newspaper of the League of Revolutionary Struggle included Merle Hansen, Nebraska.

"Where to in'92"

The the February 1992 issue of the Unity Organizing Committee's Unity, carried commentary from several activists on their thoughts on politics in the 1990s.

Those interviewed were Rose Sanders, civil rights attorney, Selma, Oscar Rios, mayor of Watsonville California, Roger Green, state assemblyman Brooklyn, Wilma Chan school board president Oakland, Dr. James Zogby, president Arab American Institute, Pedro Noguera, president Berkeley School Board, Richard Moore, SouthWest Organizing Project, Tajel Shah, United States Student Association president, Merle Hansen, North American Farm Alliance, Wilma Mankiller, principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, Walter Johnson, secretary treasurer San Francisco Labor Council, Ginny Montes general secretary NOW.

Independent Progressive Politics Network

In 2009 Merle Hansen served on the Advisory Committee of the Independent Progressive Politics Network[10].