Fred L. Hanson, a Spokane businessman devoted to his family and his community, died on June 24 from heart failure exacerbated by the coronavirus. He was 87 years old.
Fred grew up in Spokane but spent quite a bit of time as a boy on his grandfather’s farm near Cusick, Washington. He always said that milking cows at the break of dawn was his introduction to hard work. He graduated from Rogers High School in 1951 went to work as a telephone lineman, stringing and maintaining cables for the Bell System across Eastern Washington State. A two-year stint in the US Army interrupted his job with the telephone company. By his early 30s he had saved enough money to open a State Farm Insurance office in Spokane.
Later, he formed a business partnership with the late Frank Eichelberger Jr, and together they bought Center Ford in downtown Spokane. Fred, who became a member of the Ford Dealership Council, was instrumental in persuading Ford Motor Company to be a major sponsor of Expo 74 in Spokane. Those who lived in Spokane during the 70s and 80s may remember the humorous Center Ford commercials featuring Fred and Frank with Clarabelle the cow. Fred and Frank also owned H&E Investment Co., which handled investment and property management, as well as Construction Management Co., which supervised commercial projects for building owners. In 1987, seeing new opportunities in waste management, he founded Coeur d’Alene Fiber Fuels, a company that turned sawmill residue into high energy wood pellets.
In 1967, Fred married Elizabeth Johnston Butler who had four children from a previous marriage. He believed it was the best thing he ever did. After she died in 2013, he said he missed her every day. He embraced her children as his own, encouraging and taking enormous pride in all their activities. Although he could be very stubborn—he liked to call it “resolute”—he had a very generous spirit and keen understanding of personality differences that allowed him to adapt and compromise with four independent-minded stepchildren. He attended horse shows, basketball games, and wrestling matches. He was “handy” and loved projects, passing on his knowledge of how to build and fix things to his sons.
Fred’s biggest project was restoring an old summer home on Coeur d’Alene lake. The house, which was completed in 1910, was in terrible shape when the family bought it. He roped everyone into various renovations including re-wiring, re-roofing, and painting. However, it wasn’t all work. A generation growing up on the lake still talk about his purple speed boat and how he relished taking people on fast rides across the water. One winter Fred and his two boys built a boat together in the garage. With great excitement, they launched it on Coeur d’Alene lake that summer and used it every summer for years. He passed on to the next generation the sense of accomplishment that comes from completing a project as well as a love of water sports.
Fred and Elizabeth especially enjoyed entertaining family and friends at the lake house. Their annual Fourth of July party was the highlight of the summer. Elizabeth baked the pies and Fred manned the grill. Instead of fireworks, Fred had a miniature saluting canon he would fire off to mark the occasion. It wasn’t only on July 4 that he would ignite the canon. He loved showing his grandchildren how to set it off and watch their expressions as the blasts reverberated around the bay. However, the thing Fred enjoyed the most was sitting on an old swing watching the moon come up over the lake. “You can travel the world,” he would say, “and never find anyplace this beautiful.”
Once Elizabeth finally persuaded him to take up golf, he became passionate about it, relishing the competition with himself and the camaraderie with friends. He took Elizabeth all across the country to play golf courses from Hawaii to California to South Carolina. He watched the PGA tour from his Lay-Z-Boy recliner and chatted with his grandchildren about his favorite, and least favorite players. As macular degeneration claimed his eyesight, playing a round of golf may be the thing he missed most.
Fred and Elizabeth loved Spokane and supported many educational, cultural, and humanitarian organizations both privately and through the Johnston-Hanson Foundation. They strongly believed in the importance of education and saw providing scholarships as key to giving young people opportunities they might not otherwise have. They funded all kinds of scholarships, including for kids to attend summer camps and high schools as well as college. Together, they established a scholarship fund at Gonzaga University, where Elizabeth served on the board of Trustees. In the last few years, Fred encouraged the Johnston-Hanson Foundation to fund scholarships to help students attend Spokane Community Colleges. Fred, who had been a Shriner, also quietly supported a number of organizations focused on children, including the Shriner’s Children’s Hospital.
One of “the greatest generation,” he will be remembered as a businessman, husband, father, and grandfather who always tried to lead by example and gave more than he received. His grandchildren particularly appreciated his laugh, his big hugs, and wise counsel. He was preceded in death by his wife, Elizabeth, and son, Jack Butler. He is survived by his brother, Robert, three children—Victoria Butler, Ann Scarborough, Eric Hanson—and seven grandchildren. To share memories of Fred and leave condolences for the family, please visit Fred's Tribute Wall.
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