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Longtime Cook Co. Board member Carl Hansen dies
By Kimberly Pohl | Daily Herald Staff

Carl Hansen, with his beat-up old briefcase, reminisced about his years on the Cook County Board on the eve of his retirement.


Daily Herald file photo

Carl Hansen


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Published: 2/3/2010 10:39 AM | Updated: 2/3/2010 4:47 PM

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Anyone taking the time to examine thousands of Cook County Board roll call votes spanning more than three decades may notice a political lone wolf.

Carl R. Hansen, who served as the 15th District commissioner from 1974 to 2006, never hesitated to cast the only "no" vote in a sea of 16 other "yeses." Nor did the strong suburban voice always blindly side with Republican ideology.

But Hansen wasn't an obstructionist who stood in the way of progress, longtime friend and colleague Cheryl Axley said.

"By being a squeaky wheel on occasion, Carl shed important light on some problems," said Axley, a former state senator. "From reading everything to following all the committee reports, he was the kind of watchdog that's sorely needed today."

Hansen, of Mount Prospect, died late Tuesday at a Skokie hospice facility. He was 83 years old.

Hansen was the second-longest serving Cook County Board member, behind only the late President John Stroger. He was narrowly defeated in the 2006 Republican primary by current Commissioner Timothy Schneider of Bartlett.

Hansen, whose mother immigrated from Denmark in 1909, also led the local Republican party as Elk Grove Township committeeman for 40 years.

Together with Don Totten, Marty Butler and Connie Peters, the longtime GOP committeeman of Schaumburg, Maine and Wheeling townships respectively, they were a political fortress that made getting elected a long shot for local Democrats.

"Carl was a stalwart in the region for the last quarter of the 20th century," state Rep. Paul Froehlich said.

After his retirement, Hansen, who until late December remained an active consultant on civic movements such the Viking Ship Restoration Committee in Geneva, said his greatest political accomplishment was to block a landfill plan at Poplar Creek that kept 600 acres of forest preserve intact.

Hansen was instrumental in bringing a Cook County branch courthouse to Rolling Meadows. He also called for juvenile court system reform and pushed for county hospitals to go after non-receivables collection from those able to pay - hot topics still today.

Hansen was a Republican but was appreciated for the respect his showed to all his colleagues. His eloquent and heartfelt tribute to John Stroger on the occasion of the elder Stroger's retirement from the county board in July 2006 moved the board and gallery to tears.

Just as memorable as his political contributions were Hansen's personal quirks.

He carried around the same briefcase for decades, in later years holding it together with a belt. Friends chipped in to buy him a new one, only to find it unused in his office, still adorned with the bow.

He also insisted on jelly beans - tangerine-flavored only - in his office and continued to drive a beat-up car, causing passengers to sink to the floor due to seats long past their expiration date.

Hansen never took to using a computer, either.

"He could be challenging and stubborn, but I couldn't have learned from anyone better," said Deborah Santana, Hansen's former assistant and then chief of staff. "He was like a dad to me."

Hansen joined the U.S. Army in 1944, rising to the rank of first lieutenant and then major while in the Reserves. He served in Germany following World War II and there met his late wife, Christl.

He returned in 1952 and earned his MBA from the University of Chicago.

His niece, Jean Jackson, said Hansen was extremely patriotic and a world history buff, especially when it came to his Danish heritage. He played chess, tennis, skied and traveled. She'll remember him as an active intellectual whose 6-foot-5 frame and big, bellowing laugh made his presence known to anyone nearby.

"I thought it was appropriate that he passed on Election Day," Jackson, of Western Springs, said. "He affected so many elections throughout his lifetime, so it's nice he made an impact one last time."

Hansen is survived by his son and granddaughter, who reside in Germany, as well as a sister, nephew, nieces and a half-brother.

Visitation will take place late afternoon and early evening Friday, Feb. 19, at Friedrichs Funeral Home, 320 W. Central Road, Mount Prospect.

A funeral service will be held on Saturday, Feb. 20, at St. Mark Lutheran Church, 200 S. Wille St., Mount Prospect.