Long-standing Kent State journalism professor dies

Gary Hanson helps student Jon Jankowski edit a video in 2013. 

Lydia Taylor

Gary Hanson, an emeritus professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication known for his dedication to students, died Thursday following a long battle with cancer.

“Gary was a mentor to me as well as a colleague and friend. He was a tremendously influential and effective teacher and provided service to all levels of our discipline and produced research that had national impact,” JMC Director Thor Wasbotten said when reflecting on Hanson’s importance to the journalism school. “Above all else, Gary accomplished all of this without compromising his principles and values of being compassionate, thoughtful, while maintaining the highest integrity and a genuine appreciation for others. We will miss him.”

Hanson spent 18 years at Kent State. He established the International Storytelling course along with his wife, LuEtt Hanson, emerita associate dean of the College of Communication and Information, and associate professor Mitch McKenney.

They traveled with over 100 students to six different countries, including China, India, Cyprus and Brazil.

“I think most of Gary’s colleagues consider themselves his friend. He always had what was best for the students, and the program, and the university in mind,” McKenney said. “Students would find him in his office past midnight, desperate to get some edit to work on a video project, and he’d be there to help them.”

Kiana Duncan, a senior broadcast journalism major, went on the Cyprus trip and said it was one of the best experiences she had so far as a journalist, mainly because of Hanson’s guidance.

“I just want to thank him. I don’t think I would have placed in (The Hearst Competition) if it hadn’t been for him. I don’t think I would have made it this far as (a) journalist,” Duncan said. “He wasn’t just a part of my education — he was my education.”

He was the TV2 newsroom adviser from 1999 to 2008, and from 2015 to his retirement.

In 2011, Hanson received the Distinguished Teaching Award. This award, sponsored by the Alumni Association, is given to faculty who show outstanding teaching in the classroom, but also those who impact students’ lives.

Prior to retirement, Hanson received the Edward L. Bliss Award for Distinguished Broadcast Journalism Education in 2016. This award is presented annually by the Electronic News Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC). It recognizes those who demonstrate lasting contributions in the field through teaching, scholarship and service.

“If someone were to say, ‘What’s your legacy here?’, I would show them a big picture that I have of students at graduation,” Hanson said after receiving the honor. “Knowing that I can go and point to various people on that board, and I can tell you where they’re out doing good work in journalism and helping their communities understand the kinds of things they need to know, that’s extremely gratifying.”

He also served as the division head for the Electronic News Division, which was known as the Radio Television Journalism Division of AEJMC at the time, from 2009 to 2010.

Prior to being hired at Kent State, he worked at multiple news stations.

Hanson began his career at a 1000 watt NPR affiliate in North Dakota. In 1971, he was the news director at KXON-TV in Mitchell, South Dakota, and in 1973, he earned his B.A. in speech from the University of North Dakota in 1973.

In 1992, he chaired the Radio Television News Director’s association. He then served as news director at WKBN, the CBS affiliate in Youngstown from 1984 to 1997.

Hanson also received his Master’s Degree from Kent State’s School of Journalism.

Jacob Derwin, a 2016 Kent State alumnus, traveled to Cyprus and Greece with the International Storytelling class.

“Even when I wasn’t doing super well on assignments, (Hanson) wanted everyone to succeed,” Derwin said. “Even people who weren’t sure what they wanted to do or what they were doing, he was there supporting them, being honest, and he wanted to share his knowledge with everyone. That’s the kind of guy he was.”

Lauren Stebelton, a 2017 Kent State alumnus who also traveled to Cyprus, said the experience of reporting abroad wouldn’t have been the same without Hanson.

“I am so grateful that he gave me that opportunity,” Stebleton said. “In certain situations, I tend to ask myself ‘What would Gary do?’ because he taught us so much about journalism and helped me grow into a better journalist.”

Ben Hollis, director of Instructional Design, worked with Hanson on an online course called Media, Power and Culture. Hollis said he wanted to get students to think critically about how media connected with the world and give them the tools they needed to succeed.

The Association for Education and Mass Journalism awarded the online course third place for Best in Web – Team Innovation in 2010. The course also won Best of Festival – Faculty Interactive Multimedia, from the Broadcast Education Association in 2011, Hollis said.

Hollis said Hanson taught him how to “very sweetly ask for the moon and the stars.”

“I would say this because Gary had the keen sense of knowing how and when, whom to talk to, and where to push ideas, technology, equipment, any and all things forward to create a better student experience,” Hollis said. “Gary tirelessly advocated for elegant systems, the latest and greatest resources, anything else that would help students tell timely, meaningful, and engaging stories.”

Hanson wasn’t just known among students and staff but also in the community.

His love of visiting the Starbucks in Kent, just up the street from his faculty office in Franklin Hall, became a tribute to him in the last stages of his cancer battle. His many friends on Facebook posted photographs of various beverage cups with the name “Gary” written on them.

John Richardson, the store manager, said whenever Hanson came in, there was always a genuine human connection.

“He would ask engaging questions about you, (and) let you know that he was interested in what you were thinking,” Richardson said. “Gary would receive his recharge here at Starbucks, not just because of coffee, but also the connection he made whenever he walked in the door. The smiles he received were the energy to keep Gary going through his busy afternoon. Everyone here at Kent State Starbucks will miss that little piece of conversation that we had everyday with our friend Gary.”

Calling hours will be on Wednesday May 24 from 6-8 p.m. and Thursday May 25 from 10-11 a.m. at the Bliss & Sons Funeral Home in Kent. The celebration of life will also be at the funeral home on Thursday beginning at 11 a.m.

Memorials can be made to the College of Communication and Information Study Abroad Award through Kent State University. 

Video of Gary Hanson by former student Kaitlynn LeBeau:

KSU professor faces rare cancer from KentWired.com on Vimeo.

Lydia Taylor is the editor-in-chief, contact her at [email protected]