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PRESS RELEASE NO. 33
Ione Hanson: Woman
of the Prairies, Woman of the World
An Interview with Wife of
LWF President-elect Mark Hanson
WINNIPEG, Canada, 30 July
2003 - Ione
Agrimson Hanson, wife of LWF president-elect Mark Hanson, describes
herself as "a woman of the prairies." Her roots and soul
are there, she says, in the wide open spaces of North Dakota and
Minnesota, where she grew up. The Norwegian Lutheran pastor’s
daughter, named Ione Evangeline after her grandmothers’ (Inga and
Ella) initials, was blessed with a liberal father who was a leader
in the Lutheran church of the upper Middle West. Pastor J. Elmo
Agrimson encouraged ecumenical relations among the Lutheran bodies
still separated by ethnic divisions and encouraged his daughter to
read widely and think deeply.
Thus this "woman of
the prairies" also grew up with "eyes open to the
world." Her worldview expanded further when she and her new
husband, Mark Hanson, both 1968 graduates of Augsburg College in
Minneapolis, moved to New York City in 1970. There they continued
their education. He pursued a Master of Divinity degree at Union
Theological Seminary. She earned a Master’s Degree in social work
from New York’s Hunter College. "It was the height of the
feminist movement," she stated -- a fascinating time to live in
She remembers as
especially "powerful cultural and clinical" experiences
her two internships in New York, one at a public school in the
Bronx, the other, in the psychiatric outpatient department of
Montefiore Hospital. The experiences also reinforced her growing
interest in and concern for children’s problems.
Ironically, however, it
was back in Minneapolis, where they returned so her husband could
finish his studies at Luther Seminary and move towards ordination,
that she "learnt more than I ever learnt in graduate
school." They lived in an apartment owned by Prince of Glory
Lutheran Church, where Mark Hanson was on the staff. "We truly
lived amongst the people," who were mostly single mothers and
poor. During that period, she began what would become a career in
social work with troubled children.
By then the Hansons were
ready to start their own family. For many reasons – Ione Hanson’s
parents had adopted children; she was in daily contact with children
in desperate need; and there was the problem of infertility – the
Hansons decided to adopt.
In 1976, they adopted
Aaron, a three-week-old baby of African-American/Caucasian descent.
Aaron became the first of four children of mixed race adopted by
Ione and Mark Hanson over the next six years. The others are Alyssa,
Rachel and Ezra.
Then, at the age of 40,
Ione and Mark Hanson learnt to their great surprise and joy that she
was pregnant. Isaac was born in 1986, followed by Elizabeth, in
1988. Of raising an interracial family, she tells a simple but
eloquent story. "One day when Isaac was three, he rubbed the
back of his hand and asked, ‘When am I going to turn brown?’"
With a houseful of young
children and a husband who shared equally in the domestic chores,
Ione realized, "I’d had jobs but not a profession." In
1990 she went to work as a clinical social worker at Children’s
Hospitals in Minneapolis and St Paul. There she remained until 2002
and eventually rose to the position of director of social work.
She negotiated every step
up the career ladder with one condition: she would work Monday
through Thursday so that she could spend more time with her family.
Her husband took every Monday off to be "house husband,"
and her mother helped out. The invariable component of family life
was that the entire family always, every night, sat down together
Of her marriage to Mark
Hanson, she says, "We are incredible partners together. Whoever
came home first cooked dinner. Mark ironed his own clothes, and we
shared all the housework." That partnership also extended to
"going through everything one can go through with children,
short of death." She credits the trials of parenting for
"preparing us for public leadership on many issues. It informed
who we are."
She also credits the
experience of raising four interracial children as the
"horrible privilege" that has opened her eyes in the most
intimate way possible to the hard reality of racism in society. When
she saw her own son strip-searched outside the family home just
because the police thought he was in the wrong neighborhood, she
felt the pain of racism at the most personal level.
In 2002, Ione and Mark
Hanson’s balancing acts of career and domestic life came to an end
when he was elected presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran
Church in America (ELCA). An enormous career leap for him spelled
great loss for her -- the loss of both professional and family life,
because it required a move to Chicago, where the ELCA is located.
Today, five of the six
Hanson children live in a variety of independent living settings
back in Minneapolis, and only the youngest, Elizabeth, lives with
Mom and Dad. "It gets lonely for both of us," admits Ione.
"Elizabeth misses her Dad, who is often on the road. The other
kids miss him, too."
She says she has
experienced a certain loss of identity, particularly professionally,
but wants to give herself two years to adjust to her new environment
before making any decisions about resuming her career. And "I
don’t want to spend time away from Mark in this decade of our
Of her husband’s
position as presiding bishop and now his added responsibility as
president of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), Ione says, "I’ve been with clergy my whole
life, and I believe in the Call." She knows her husband’s
gifts and affirms his summons to leadership in the church. But she
also admits that, as the wife of the LWF president, it would be easy
to become "just a comma."
Although she readily
acknowledges that this has been a difficult transition, she says,
"I won’t get stuck." She looks forward to traveling with
her husband as much as possible. "This is a marvelous
opportunity to become a global citizen, to meet people where they
are." She is eager to explore her own interests in their
travels: issues concerning children and violence in families, which
are present in every country.
Like her husband, Ione promises to be a listener first. That is perhaps easier for
her, the self-described introvert who has had to learn some
extroverted behaviors, than it is for her husband, who is much more
outgoing. She says that he has taught her to be more expressive and
she has taught him to be a better listener.
The eyes of this gracious,
articulate and hugely honest woman light up when she talks about
life immediately post-Assembly. "The whole family’s going to
be together. We’re going to the Great Wall (a favorite Chinese
restaurant in Minneapolis), where they know us so well, they know
when to bring out the birthday cakes." She smiles as she
anticipates the central event in the Hanson family life: gathering
around the table for a meal.
(Martha Lindberg Mann,
Boston, USA, conducted the interview with Ione Agrimson Hanson.)
Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is taking place
21-31 July 2003 in Winnipeg, Canada, under the theme "For the
Healing of the World." It is being hosted by the Evangelical
Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC).
There are around 820 men, women and youth participants in the Tenth
Assembly including 380 delegates from the
133 churches with full membership and three associate members. The Assembly is the highest
decision-making body of the LWF, and meets normally every six years.
Between Assemblies, the LWF is governed by its Council that meets
annually, and by its Executive Committee.
To order photographs, please contact
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