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Pastor retires after 37 years in active ministry

The Rev. Gary Hanson, 65, is retiring this month after serving as pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Woodbury since 2000 as the church’s third called minister. 

Born and raised in Minneapolis, his first full-time call was as associate pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church in Edina. After seven years there as an associate, he and his wife, Beth moved to the Washington area where he served at Neelsville Presbyterian Church in Germantown, Md., for 11 years. Hanson recalled that the 150-year-old church was in a rapidly growing suburban area. The church grew from about 200 members in 1985 to more than 500 when he left in 1996. 

From Maryland, Hanson was called by First Presbyterian Church in Wausau, Wis., an 800-member church in the city’s downtown. 

The pull of Minnesota became stronger as his parents aged and the Hanson’s children grew older. When Trinity called him, the family once again pulled up stakes to head west.

Hanson had not always planned to become a Presbyterian minister. He was raised Lutheran and says his parents were surprised but also pleased when he entered the seminary. He attended Macalester College in St. Paul and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1971 with a degree in geography. 

While in college, he was a varsity athlete in track. Following graduation he went to California to train at Cal State University in Long Beach and aspired to make the U.S. Olympic team. When he realized he would not be an Olympian, he returned to Minnesota and worked full time for a commercial finance company, but also continued volunteering with church youth groups. 

He entered Bethel Seminary in St. Paul “to learn more about the bible and theology,” he said. Midway through his seminary years, he realized he had a calling to be a minister and chose to be ordained Presbyterian. He recalled what a whirlwind June 1978 was. 

“I graduated from seminary, married, and began a full-time ministerial position all at once,” he said. 

Hanson isn’t worried about finding enough to keep him busy in retirement. When asked what he would do with his first day as a retiree he said: “Enjoy the day with our son who returned to Minnesota to attend my last service, and play church softball.”

Of course, he said there are always those chores that have been put off with intentions of doing them “someday.” For Hanson, that someday has caught up with him. He is an avid Gopher sports fan and as a season ticket holder, will continue to attend basketball and football games. He and Beth will travel some, especially to the North Shore, which they love. He also desires to continue reading, dabble in writing, and take continuing education classes through the university.

Hanson is proud of his Norwegian heritage and is on the board of directors of Norway House in Minneapolis, a new Norwegian-American cultural center in Minneapolis. He said there are about 900,000 Minnesotans of Norwegian descent and dozens of Norwegian-related organizations, but no single umbrella facility for them. He hopes to volunteer more time to this effort.

Hanson stressed that he is and will always be an ordained minister and will continue helping out in some form of ministry, but not as a full-time pastor.

“It’s been wonderful and I’m not sure I would have changed anything,” Hanson said. “What a privilege to serve the Lord in this way.”