Uncommon woman among men
Bonnie Hanson of American Legion Post 270 in Buffalo recently completes term as Tenth District Commander
By Ed DuBois
Many women are active in the American Legion Auxiliary, but seeing a woman rise through the ranks among the men in the American Legion veterans' organization is a rarity. One of those uncommon women is Bonnie Hanson, who recently concluded her term as the Tenth District Commander and is a past commander of Post 270 in Buffalo.
Her achievements in the Legion and Legion Auxiliary were recognized by U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar on Memorial Day, Monday, May 29. Klobuchar made a stop at the Buffalo American Legion Club that day and presented Hanson with a U.S. flag that had flown over the nation's Capitol.
"I was floored," said Hanson, who loves a good laugh. "How did she know all those good things about me?"
Daughter of veteran
Those "good things" began to develop when Hanson was growing up in Brooklyn Center. The daughter of a World War II veteran who fought in Germany, she graduated from Osseo High School and began to consider enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps.
"The Marines recruiting office was right across the street from church," she recalled.
Interestingly, Hanson came back to Osseo in May 2016 for the Legion District Convention, during which she was elected the Tenth District Commander. She mentioned she was also uninstalled as the District Commander a year later in Osseo during the 2017 District Convention.
Joined the Marines
Hanson was only 18 when she joined the Marines. She said she had never been away from home before. It was a tough experience.
"A girl from Minneapolis was with me at the beginning. She was released because she walked in her sleep," Hanson remembered.
One thing that helped Hanson, both in the Marines and later in life, was her attitude about work.
"They could always depend on me to be there," she said.
Her basic training took place at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island in South Carolina.
Her first duty station was Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in California, and then she was assigned to Camp Pendleton near San Diego.
"There were not a lot of women there (at El Toro)," Hanson commented.
"You had to be 21 to go overseas," she added.
Her duties at Camp Pendleton included delivering mail and processing orders for supplies that were needed on ships. The mail run involved driving a golf cart-like vehicle to stops at various buildings.
She completed two years of active duty during the Vietnam War era, and then four years of inactive duty with the Reserves. During her time with the Reserves, she reported to the Great Lakes Naval Station.
Moved to Madelia
Hanson's civilian life included about five years in Fargo, where she was a nurse's aide at St. Luke's Hospital. Later, she lived in Northeast Minneapolis for a while after a divorce. She and her second husband bought a bar in Montgomery, Minn.
It was during her time in Montgomery when Hanson joined the American Legion. That was 36 years ago, she said.
After a move to Madelia, Minn., she became a Post Adjutant, and then she was elected Vice Commander of the Second District. She has a copy of a Madelia newspaper story that says she was not actively seeking the Vice Commander position, but people started campaigning for her after one of the endorsed candidates withdrew. An hour and a half later, she was elected over five other candidates, including one who held the position during the previous year.
Hanson has a friendly, outgoing personality, which was enhanced while working at a bar her husband managed in Madelia.
Served as sheriff's deputy
Her confidence grew as she attended Department (State) Conventions, as well as a couple of National American Legion Conventions. She said she "learned a lot."
In Madelia, where her husband took a job as manager of the Legion Club, she was a bartender by day and Legion commander by night, you might say. They lived in an apartment upstairs at the Legion.
Additionally, she studied law enforcement at the vocational school in Mankato, and then she became a part-time sheriff's deputy.
When she was asked how she managed to serve so many ways all at once, she exclaimed, "I was a lot younger then!"
"Patrol was sometimes an adrenaline rush. I learned how to handle situations," Hanson commented. "I had good luck with people. I said please and thank you, and people responded well to that."
A turning point
Meanwhile, her growth as a leader in the American Legion continued.
"I had never been up in front of large groups. But then at a Department Convention, I had to nominate someone. Afterward, people stood and clapped," Hanson recalled.
"I gained confidence in myself," she stated. "That was a turning point. I learned I can do more."
After Madelia, Hanson and her husband lived in New Hope and owned a North Minneapolis bar. Bonnie took a job as the manager for parking ramps in downtown Minneapolis. She monitored the parking ramps with "a whole wall of cameras," she said.
Her staff included people who walked in the ramps, and for those positions, she often hired veterans.
Before she retired, Bon-nie worked for United Health Care ten years as an intake coordinator. She said she was like a liaison between doctors and clients. She helped answer questions such as, "Is this doctor in the network?"
Legion Post 270
Bonnie moved to Rock-ford 17 years ago, and after several years of not holding a leadership position with the American Legion, she returned 6 years ago.
"I joined the Buffalo Legion and was soon elected Post Commander for two years," she said.
"We have good mentors here," she added.
She served with the Honor Guard, and she "moved up the ladder" to Vice Commander of the Tenth District. As she visited posts throughout the district, she became known. After being elected District Adjutant, she wrote the district newsletter. She then became Membership Chair.
Bonnie was elected Tenth District Commander for 2016-17. She said there are 53 posts in the district, which includes communities from Clearwater to Pine City and from Fridley to Howard Lake.
She was proud when the National American Legion Commander visited three posts in the Tenth District last February, and Buffalo was one of them.
As a dual member of the Legion and Auxiliary, she was proud when the National Legion Auxiliary President visited Buffalo just two weeks ago.
Bonnie is also proud that Carol Kottom of Buffalo has been serving as the Legion Auxiliary Department President.
Blue and white
Bonnie is "turning over the reigns" to a new American Legion Tenth District Commander in July.
"I will take off the blue and white cap and put on a regular navy blue cap," she said.
This will happen at the Department Convention in the Shooting Star Casino at Mahnomen, Minn.
"Serving as District Commander has been so much fun, meeting new people and seeing old friends. There were many hugs," Bonnie said.
She has a great appreciation for all the projects undertaken by the Legion and Auxiliary. The projects benefit the community, and the Legion family ("We're all family.") volunteers to help.
"We're there to help," she stated.
One of her favorite people-helping organizations is Helping Paws, which trains service dogs for those who need them.
Believes in cause
Born after her dad came home from World War II, Bonnie grew up with an appreciation for veterans. After serving with the Marines during the Viet-nam era, it hurt to see a lack of respect for Vietnam veterans. Her involvement with the Legion and Auxiliary has helped heal some emotional wounds, and she has seen a gradual increase in Legion involvement by fellow Vietnam-era veterans.
After 36 years in the American Legion, Bonnie said she is a strong believer in the many Legion projects, which support veterans, their families and the community.
A rare woman among many men in the American Legion, she believes in the cause and has thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
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