I imagine, one day, when they’re very old and can’t get around quite as well as they do now, Gene Hanson and Darlene Jackson Hanson will sit next to each other and say, “Do you remember when…?”
Only there is no way they will remember it all. Not because their minds will be failing, but because of the abundant life they’ve lived.
Some people just live kindness. It’s what they do. This couple falls into that category.
I originally got an email from Lana Schlecht, a dentist in the neighboring town, telling me about this amazing couple in Edgeley, N.D. “Can I throw an idea in the hat for a column? You would adore these people,” she wrote.
Actually, you might know them. Gene went viral, or at least his field did when he cut a Prince symbol into his land after the singer died last year. Darlene has been featured in two separate books for her business acumen. Her first husband died 30 years ago, just days after they opened an aircraft manufacturing business. Darlene picked herself up by her bootstraps and made that business into a success.
She has now sold the business, but kept the building. That’s where she and Gene host coffee get-togethers every weekday morning. They’ve been doing it ever since the cafe closed in town. Everyone’s invited and if they happen to know it’s your birthday, there will probably be a cake.
If it were up to Gene and Darlene to keep both the coffee and the conversation flowing, they could share their latest acts kindness each day and never run out of material.
Gene had a neighbor he and Darlene looked after who always said, “Give back to the community.” I guess you could say they’ve taken that commission seriously.
In the spring and summer, the Hansons are the first ones people call when a cow goes missing. Gene hops off the mower (which he was probably doing for free for an elderly friend) and takes his plane up to get a better look.
While he’s flying, he’s bound to take a few aerial photos to share on Facebook. It’s kind of what he’s known for, other than kindness of course.
In the fall, Gene plants acres of pumpkins and squash, and Darlene makes up the goodies. Then they invite every single school child in the area to come pick out a pumpkin. The only rule is that the kids have to be able to carry their own pumpkin. Darlene told me with a chuckle that you’d never believe how ingenious kids can get when they’re trying to get the biggest pumpkin in the field on that school bus.
Wintertime is full of magical acts of kindness. If Mr. and Mrs. Claus look familiar at the town’s Christmas on Main celebration, there might be a reason.
The elderly also look forward to that time of year when they too get a visit from the pair at Manor St. Joseph, a basic care facility. The senior residents revisit their youth as they sit on Santa’s lap and share their secret wishes.
Kids in the country look up to the skies, not for reindeer, but for Santa’s helper in an airplane. Gene flies over the rural parts of the community in his open cockpit plane and tosses down bags of candy. One time he threw his cellphone, but that’s another story. Darlene says he really started watching what he was grabbing after that.
And how about those Christmas hams and turkeys randomly left on the doorstep? You might have a better clue now who they come from each year.
Gene and Darlene have turned a book mobile into an ice cream truck, built a Super 8 Motel to encourage people to visit their community and were instrumental in establishing the town’s airport.
I could go on and on. I have pages of notes, but I’m hoping you get the point. With a little creativity and some love in your heart for the people around you, kindness can fill a life and leave you with plenty to talk about someday.
Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.
Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s men’s head basketball coach Saul Phillips. Her column runs every Saturday. You can visit Nicole at nicolejphillips.com.