Was it luck or a diet of beaver tail and beans? Chewing each bite a hundred times or living simply? Richard Hanson doesn’t claim to know the secret to living a long life, though he suggested “eat a lot of fat and work hard” worked for him — he’ll celebrate his 100th birthday with family and friends in Kake on Monday, Dec. 9.
Born in 1913, Hanson has lived through both world wars, the Great Depression, 17 presidents and countless innovations. Most all experienced from the vantage point of Whitehall, Mont., where he lived most of his life as a trapper, hunter, farmer and rancher, and devoted husband and father (and grandfather, great grandfather, and even great, great grandfather). He said his first memory goes back to age 4, on the homestead living in a tent before the family home was built.
The things Hanson is most proud of in his long life include being a devoted husband — nearly 74 years, raising “four nice children,” and being a master trapper and an excellent horseman.
Hanson only moved to Kake earlier this year, though his daughter-in-law, Shirley, said he’s already making an impression on the small community. The move followed the death of Hanson’s wife, Eda, only a couple months before what would have been the couple’s 74th anniversary. Hanson said her nickname was Lucky — “lucky to have me,” he laughed, adding that he was sure lucky he had her.
He pointed to a photo of the two of them in front of a line of pelts, directing attention to the patched knee of his coveralls — proof that she took good care of him, he said.
The couple met on a blind date, a double date with his brother and her sister — both couples married.
He was attending college in Bozeman, Mont., when they met, on scholarship from his livestock judging awards, and he joked that he didn’t know how to take care of himself, but with a little help he could manage.
The couple raised a family, two sons and two daughters, on a farm and ranch in Whitehall. In his years working as a trapper for the Anaconda Mining Co., he’d be gone a week at a time during the summer, managing the populations of predators and nuisance animals, while Eda would stay home taking care of the children and their farm and ranch.
“Boy, I really lucked out,” Hanson said. “I had a dandy, hard worker, true as can be. Worked right with me, never fussed about nothing.”
Being a hard worker was something he prized in himself and his wife.
He was quite active up until he moved into an assisted living community with his wife a few years ago.
“Until I moved to the Rainbow (assisted living home), I was in perfect shape. That took me down a bit,” Hanson said.
Milton estimated “it probably knocked him down 10 years.” He said his dad could push Eda in her wheelchair up handicap ramps, but after a few years in assisted living he had lost that ability.
Hanson doesn’t regret the choice to move into assisted living with his wife, though, he’d have done anything for her, he said.
Now that he’s relocated to Kake with Milton and Shirley, Hanson speculates he might take up trapping again in a year when he can get a license in Alaska — but just for fun.
He’s been to Alaska a number of times before to visit, including a trip down the Yukon River, and admitted in a recent interview with the Whitehall Ledger that the only furs better than Montana furs are Alaska furs.
Hanson learned to trap from his father and trapping put food on the Hanson family’s table for decades, whether trapping for hire or by selling the pelts. When he trapped beavers for the mining company — during that time he said he ate a lot of beaver tail — it was to keep the beavers from releasing the arsenic-laced waters of tailing ponds, as had happened in the past. At one point it killed all the trees, he said, but then they raised sheep there. He was also tasked with protecting the sheep from predators, trapping bears and coyotes.
In all his years trapping and hunting — a week or three a year was dedicated to a hunting trip — he doesn’t recall having any close encounters.
“I probably was scared of nothing, so it didn’t bother me.”
Some of that daring must have come in handy with the horses, some of which were for play, not work. Hanson competed in and won races and other events, including the ‘saddle and go’ style races that include readying the horse in the contest.
“He was top dog at the county fair,” Milton said. “Nobody could beat dad.”
His way with horses got him more than wins, he also got to ride the Budweiser wagon with the famed Clydesdales when it passed through Montana in recent years.
Now in Alaska, he doesn’t have his horses, but he’s still found ways to enjoy some of his other hobbies. Shirley said he’s been to moose camp, attended bonfires and ridden ATVs and snow machines.
Friends back in Montana seem to miss Hanson — members of his coffee club offered to buy him a plane ticket to return to the state for his birthday, though he’ll remain in Kake, where his family will throw him a party.
Looking back, Hanson can say, “I almost had a perfect life. I worked hard. I did about everything I liked.”