by Frank Hyde
December 6, 1980
Bob Hanson - Area's Mr. Speed Skating
The Hanson family, not unlike the famous Jacobson brothers who preceded them by many years, was dominant in the later era of speed skating when the flashing blades were a major competitive sport in Jamestown and the area, Canada included, prior to World War II.
Robert M. Hanson, Bob to the many who know him, started as a "small fry" speedster in the late 1930s. He became a power in local and area meets and was good enough to compete statewide. His competitive years were about the same as those of the great Beatrice Freed, whose name looms large in the bulky scrapbooks Bob has kept of his and his youngsters' feats.
Marriage finally came for Hanson followed by four children, Sally, Sonya, Jim and Susan. The first three were the skaters, especially the girls. Papa Hanson turned coach and had his kids on skates almost before they learned to walk.
Chautauqua Lake, especially the Lakewood Fireman's Rink, was a mecca for skaters during the years Bob Hanson was coming to the fore. "Sometimes there would be a couple of thousand people at major meets, especially the Great Lakes Championships," he explained.
One particular Great Lakes meet points up the class of local skaters of that period. Hanson won the Boys 220 and the Intermediate 880; George Wilson copped the Midget Boys class; Freed the Intermediate Girls and Milt Garfield the Juvenile Boys. Wally Carlson (no relation to the Wally Carlson employed in the City Recreation Department, also a fine modern-day athlete) won three trophies in a star-laden city meet and about this time Hanson and Freed were runners-up in their divisions at the state meet in Schenectady. Freed lost in a skate-off to Mary Lynch of Newburgh.
In addition to Hanson and Freed, some other outstanding skaters were Hank Hendrickson, many times city champion and president of the reorganized Western New York Skating Association, a post held later by Hanson. Also tops were Hendrickson's brother, Jiggs, Howard Berg, Carlson, Bob Lamb, and Joe Freed, Beatties' brother, to name a few. Gane was a member of the Fluvanna Skating Club where Hanson started.
Besides Jim, Sally and Sonya, other young standouts developed later included Pat Hoover, Jeff Wallen, Bob Trubic, John Messina, Jody Hanson, Kip Forsberg, Chuck Weber, Lorraine Miletti, Steve Kulig, Andy, Melinda and Mary Alm, Jeanine Torrey, Wilson and Scott Reichard.
Reichard in 1967 won the Juvenile 440 in one of classiest fields ever assembled at Barrie, Ontario, where the Canadian Championships were held for years. To illustrate the interest in ice-skating then, a new report stated 25,000 spectators watched the daylong program.
Hanson, who started competitive skating when he was 12 years old, recalls those beginner years vividly. "We skated at Jamestown, Buffalo, Cleveland, Erie and other places," he remembers. The late Dick Shearman was an "angel" to the young skaters for he furnished transportation to many meets. "My dad was only making $45 a week and so were the fathers of the other kids, so we sure appreciated Shearman," Bob added.
Some years later Shearman served as the manager of the United States speed skating team that competed in the World Meets in Sweden and Russia. He was also president of the United States Speed Skating Association for two terms and helped form the United States Olympic team those years.
In addition to Shearman, other workers who lent their weight to the skating programs included Charlie Jacobson, who served as starter at many meets, Doc Demarist, Clayton Webeck, Harold Van Buren, Shirt Hardenburg and Louie Collins. The latter brought the famed Olympic winner Kit Klein to Chautauqua Lake on at least two occasions.
Speed skating was big nationally and especially locally until World War II broke out. Hanson and other skaters and organizers served in the armed forces that interrupted the sport until Hanson, Freed and others reorganized it when he returned from the military.
Hanson's biggest competitive thrill was placing third in the 220 of the North American Championships at Schenectady. Third was quite an honor in this instance for the event was won by Ken Bartholomew of Minneapolis, an Olympic team member and winner of the national title 14 times. Bobby Fitzgerald of St. Paul, runner-up in the nationals several times, placed second with Hanson a close third.
It received little recognition at the time because there was more important business at hand, the war. But one meet Hanson will never forget was the All-Japan U.S. Servicemen's Skate-off on Lake Yamanaka, right at the foot of Mount Fuji. "It provided a relaxing outing from the tensions of military life and I won three watches, " he said.
Speed skating covered a blanket of events then and still does, usually the 220, 440, 880 and the mile. Often in earlier meets, a three-fourths mile event was available, plus two, three and five mile races.
Hanson's ice-skating covered many meets in many places but his athletic ability spread beyond that sport. He played four years of six-man football at Bemus Point High School, four years of baseball and four years of volleyball. He was also with the Vikings of the Buffalo District Soccer League. "Zuhr Faulkner was on the soccer team," he recalled. "So was Eric Lundgren, the goalie. They were a couple of fine players."
In 1944, Hanson was named to the County Six-Man All-Conference First Team along with Bob Janes, Ripley; Chuck Norton, Bemus Point; Don Bonner and Barry Meahen, Cassadaga and Wes Lindquist, Celoron. The Second Team was Don Stowell and Tommy Gregg, Bemus Point; Bob Woodard, Cassadaga; Fred Thomas, Mayville; Don Coogan, Ripley and Roger Crandall, Panama.
After the war, Hanson continued to skate competitively and still at the age of 53, takes his recreational turns around the local skating sites. He attended the Olympic Games at Lake Placid and was a spectator at every event except skiing. "It was a great six days I'll never forget," he smiled.
Hanson, who operates Hanson Sign and Screen Processing Corporation at 627 Prendergast Avenue, was married to the former Doris Emley. Mrs. Hanson died two years ago.
The additional financial assistance of the community is critical to the success of the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame. We gratefully acknowledge these individuals and organizations for their generous support.