The other day, I was with a small group of folks, whom I respect and trust, when the subject of naming public places in honor of prominent people came up. I was surprised that a few thought it was not a good idea, mainly because by the time these places are funded and constructed, who remembers them anyway? It was an honest point of view, albeit in the minority amongst us.
That got me to thinking about the future community park to be built on Phase II of the Snoqualmie Ridge. A small part of this 16-acre site is being used as a temporary dog walking area. A sign at the entrance annnounces this space as the future “Jeanne Hansen Community Park.”
I have a very strong hunch that a vast majority of the new residents are totally unaware of who Ms. Hansen was or what she meant to the revitalization of Snoqualmie. She was mayor from 1987 to 1997, and died Jan. 3, 2001.
I first met Jeanne in 1975 when I was seeking employment as a tree planter. We were about to discuss my qualifications when she took a call from the mill regarding a worker’s need to see the nurse. Everything stopped between us until she made sure the worker’s needs were met. I remember her saying how glad she was that Weyerhaeuser still had a registered nurse on site.
Years later, Jeanne and I became colleagues at the Snoqualmie mill site. She had been promoted to human resources manager, responsible for assisting over 1,000 employees at both the Snoqualmie and Enumclaw mill sites. Her influence had expanded within the company and the Upper Snoqualmie Valley.
Soon after my first meeting with Jeanne, Weyerhaeuser phased out the last vestige of the “mill town” when it stopped providing first aid and health care services. Jeanne used her position on the Weyerhaeuser Company Foundation Committee to successfully lobby a grant of $25,000 to build the first full-service hospital in the Valley. With this promised gift, she used her artful persuasion with other regional corporate giants to match Weyerhaeuser’s gift. The Snoqualmie Valley Hospital was largely built due to Jeanne’s dogged determination to see the needs of the people met.
At that point, Jeanne was on a roll. She saw to it that the hospital was located in Snoqualmie. But the community was also in dire need of a community center, where senior citizens, retirees, and those in need could congregate for assistance in matters beyond their expertise, get a warm and nutritious meal, or for social interaction. Jeanne can be credited with obtaining another grant for a North Bend senior center.
Jeanne understood that a community thrived when the people could count on finding services within their community, rather than traveling outside their hometown. She also understood that people needed basic skills to improve their lives, and the lives of their children. As Human Resources Manager for the Snoqualmie Mill, Jeanne was confronted with the frustrations of the illiteracy of many of Weyerhaeuser’s workers, and community members too.
She helped form the Eastside Literacy Council which for years quietly made reading mentors available to mill workers, and citizens alike. Her understanding of an enormously sensitive issue, never openly discussed, but undermining her community and generations of families, required a long-term plan of reaching out to the non-readers and helping them transform into lifelong learners. Because this was such a personal situation, Jeanne never sought, nor received any recognition for her efforts. Those whom she helped will never be able to thank her enough.
It was her humanitarian spirit which brought her into City Hall every Saturday morning. Jeanne wanted to hear from hard-working constituents who were unable to attend the nighttime council meetings, or who just felt more comfortable speaking privately with the mayor. It was her humanitarian side that pushed her lifetime PEO membership by actively supporting deserving young ladies with scholarships.
Snoqualmie’s favorite daughter has earned the highest form of tribute which the city can bestow. Naming a prominent park in her honor is a start.