When she turned 35, Mary Hanson already had a busy life, two young children and a thriving career as a licensed independent social worker and social services consultant.
One fall morning, she attended a speech by a noted professor at the University of Minnesota.
“As I walked out, I looked around and saw there were only a handful of people in the audience,” Hanson said. “I thought, ‘He was a brilliant thinker and deserved a bigger audience.’”
A calling discovered
What happened next can be chalked up to fate, serendipity or perhaps the well-known business axiom of “making your own luck.”
That same morning, after sitting through that spottily attended lecture, Hanson was driving to a consulting job and passed a local radio station, KCHK-AM.
“I made a spur-of-the-moment decision and found myself suddenly turning my car into the parking lot,” she said. “I went in and asked to speak to the station manager.”
Hanson left with an agreement to create a radio show that “would do something for the community,” in the station manager’s words.
“I walked out the door,” Hanson said, “not realizing I had just experienced the beginning of a major career shift.”
Hanson’s radio show started out as a five-minute program and evolved into a 30-minute show.
Two years later, she began programming on what was then a new kind of medium — cable television.
In 1980, she became the host and executive producer of The Mary Hanson Show, now the longest running independently produced cable program in the United States.
She’s interviewed local, state and national leaders, often on topics of health and social issues.
For the past 20 years, the show has also been broadcast on the PBS affiliate, Twin Cities Public Television, on TPT 2-2, also know as The Minnesota Channel or TPT MN.
The show’s received numerous awards over the years, including the Minnesota Medical Association Media Award for Excellence in Medical Journalism (three different years), the Minnesota Psychiatric Society’s top award for Excellence in the Media and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Minneapolis Telecommunications Network.
Hanson, 73, is in her 36th year of broadcasting.
Over the years, Hanson has interviewed countless famous newsmakers and personalities, including politicians, business leaders, physicians, psychologists, authors, explorers and scientists.
Some of her past guests include Arne Carlson, R.T. Rybak, Don Shelby, Ann Bancroft and Patty Wetterling.
She recently interviewed Reatha Clark King — a former president of Metro State University and former vice president of General Mills — about race relations and her experiences growing up in segregated Georgia.
One of Hanson’s most memorable interviews was with motion-picture legend Milos Forman, who directed Amadeus and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
“His personal story, as someone who had lost family members during the Holocaust, was an excellent example of resilience,” Hanson said.
One of Hanson’s most challenging interviews was with famed psychologist Joyce Brothers.
“Her husband had recently died, and she started crying on camera during our interview,” Hanson said. “I believe crying is healthy, and that it releases pain, so we kept going, and she talked through her tears.”
Hanson’s guests have come from all walks of life.
“Almost everyone I interview is passionate about what they are doing,” Hanson said. “It might be a worker in the trenches at a homeless shelter or the CEO of a major company.”
Sticking with it
What’s kept Hanson inspired all these years?
It’s that same spark she felt so many years ago — bringing her guests’ ideas and knowledge to a larger audience.
“People ask: ‘Are you going to retire?’ The show, I believe, is making a difference, so I want to keep it going,” said Hanson, who is working on plans to archive many of her interviews from the past four decades.
Hanson’s guests appear to enjoy their time on the show as much as she does. On camera (and off) Hanson is exceedingly welcoming, gracious and positive.
She’s known for her sincere curiosity, penetrating questions and a calm, almost serene, interviewing style.
Ellen Kennedy, the executive director and founder of World Without Genocide, wrote to Hanson: “I have been interviewed by so many people all around the country and abroad, and your interview was by far the best.”
Richard Leider, a public speaker and author of 10 books, including Repacking Your Bags and The Power of Purpose, said: “Mary Hanson is one of the best interviewers in the country.”
Hanson has set herself apart by discussing topics that get less airtime from larger outlets.
“There are two kinds of people in the world,” said Michael Osterholm, a public health scientist, nationally recognized biosecurity expert and former Minnesota state epidemiologist. “Those who have been on The Mary Hanson Show and those who want to be.”
Hanson lives in Southwest Minneapolis in a home that’s more than 100 years old.
“I’ve been single, married, divorced and widowed, and being widowed is by far the hardest experience,” she said.
She remains close to her two grown daughters.
The oldest, Camille, is a professional dancer and independent choreographer. She lives in Madrid, Spain, and performs all over the world.
“She is 47 and is still dancing at the highest levels of modern dance,” Hanson said.
Her younger daughter, Jennifer, lives in Minneapolis.
Divorced, she works full-time for the School of Psychology at Walden University.
Jennifer has two children, one of whom has special needs and is non-verbal due to an undiagnosed neurological disorder.
“I try to help her out as much as I can, because it’s really a 24/7 job,” said Hanson. “Plus, I love hanging out with my grandsons!”
At a time when many baby boomers and other older adults are living longer — and sticking with careers well past traditional retirement ages — Hanson is an example of how to remain vital later in life.
Hanson also stays active by doing part-time work with seniors — her elders, actually.
“I get to work with people from a generation ahead of me, some well into their 90s who are still enjoying life, seeing the humor in situations and feeling needed and productive,” Hanson said. “On the show, I work with guests — well past the so-called ‘retirement age’— who are coming up with new strategies and goals, so I’m less afraid of aging because of these models who inspire me.”
After losing her father when he was 46 and she was 14, Hanson developed a “carpe diem” (seize the day) philosophy.
“That loss led to my determination to live life to the fullest and make each day as good as possible,” Hanson said. “I’ve never had great deal of financial security as an independent producer, but for me, doing something that is making a difference — and that I love doing — is energizing enough to compensate. Sometimes it’s hard for me to go to bed at night because I’m so busy planning the next week’s show.”
Hanson and her beloved production crew are gearing up for a brand-new season.
Upcoming guests will include civil rights activist Josie Johnson, the first African-American to serve on the University of Minnesota Board of Regents; and Mitch Pearlstein, founder of the conservative think tank, The Center of the American Experiment.
Hanson’s strong environmental focus will continue with guest Karen Zumach, director of community forestry from Tree Trust with a discussion about endangered ash trees.
Reflecting on a second act that’s brought so much purpose to her life, Hanson said: “There is something to pre-planning your career, but there’s also value in going with intuition and spontaneity.”
She’s convinced that it doesn’t take the full-time commitment she’s had to add a new sense of purpose to life.
“You can pursue something you’re passionate about, even for a very small percentage of your week or as a volunteer, and it can make life much more rewarding and exciting,” she said. “I started out with a five-minute radio show, and look where it’s led.”
Julie Kendrick is a frequent contributor to Good Age and many other local publications. She lives in Minneapolis and blogs at kendrickworks.blogspot.com.
The Mary Hanson Show
Mary Hanson has interviewed many famous Minnesotans on The Mary Hanson Show, the longest running independently produced cable program in the United States.
Mary Hanson’s next season starts Sept. 19 on TPT MN, also known as TPT 2-2 or The Minnesota Channel, reaching all of Minnesota and North Dakota and western Wisconsin.
The show airs Mondays at 4 a.m., 10 a.m., 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. Find a list of your TPT channels at tpt.org/channels.
Viewers can catch the show year-round at 9 p.m. Mondays on the Metro Cable Network, Channel 6, which interconnects all 14 cable systems in the seven-county metro area.
Learn more — and watch past interviews — at maryhansonshow.com.