Sunrise bonfires: For past 20 years, Alexandria couple enjoys morning coffee by the fire
If you've driven on County Road 82 west of Alexandria in the last 20 years, between 5 and 7 a.m., you've probably noticed Gary and Kathy Hanson enjoying a bonfire together, along with their morning cup of coffee.
Gary, 74, retired from 3M. He worked there for 33 years. Kathy, 67, is a retired bus paraprofessional for the Alexandria School District. She worked with special needs children for 19 years. Prior to that, she worked at Kmart for 10 years.
The Hansons, who have been married for 47 years, have lived on Lake Brophy for just as many years. After both retired, they started their morning bonfire ritual.
Around 5 a.m., Gary starts the day by grabbing a cup of coffee and then goes outside to build a fire — weather permitting, of course. Kathy joins her husband for her first cup of java about 90 minutes later.
Year-round, as long as the weather is nice enough, Gary and Kathy start their day the same way — by watching the traffic go by, listening to the birds sing, enjoying the fire and drinking their coffee. Gary said his wife doesn't join him too often in the winter, however.
"It's a relaxing start to the day," said Kathy.
"When we're out here in the morning," Gary added, "we have no problems, no worries."
Although they enjoy the sounds of nature with all the birds chirping around them, Gary's not too fond of the noisy crows.
A few years ago, when vicious storms blew through the area, the couple lost quite a few trees on their property. As sad as that was, it also provided plenty of wood for their fires, which Gary loves because the sound of the crackling wood is so relaxing and peaceful.
The couple, who met at a polka fest at the old Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, have four children and four grandsons.
Gary, a 1962 Alexandria graduate, grew up on a farm. He served three years in the U.S. Army and was stationed in Germany. After returning home, he helped his dad on their dairy farm and also worked in construction.
Kathy, who grew up in the metro area, graduated in 1970 from Johnson High School in St. Paul. For much of her adult life, she worked with special needs students and was a coach for the local Special Olympics bowling team for about 10 years. She was also a scorekeeper for the adaptive bowling team in Alexandria.
"Working with special needs kids was so rewarding," she said. "I just loved doing that. And they are so appreciative of everything. I loved teaching them different things. They are all pretty special."
As big fans of polka dances and dancing in general, they spent plenty of time at the New Munich Ballroom in their earlier years. They also recalled the Algon Ballroom, which at one time was a happening place in Alexandria. They loved going there to dance, although at that time it featured modern music more than polkas and waltzes.
Both are thankful to live in the Alexandria lakes area. Kathy had always wanted to live on the lake, and Gary finds it peaceful — except, he said, in the summer when all the tourists come to town.
"Then, our little town isn't so little anymore," he said.
The couple has done their fair share of fishing, and like sunfish and crappies the best. They actually like fishing for just about everything except northerns. They have even fished for carp and shared a story about a nephew who when he was about 10 years old caught a carp. He had never taken a fish off the hook before, and Kathy said he did not like that experience at all.
Having their children and now grandchildren grow up while living on the lake has made for some wonderful memories. Lake life has been very rewarding for the Hansons.
Gary and Kathy, who are coming up on 50 years of marriage, shared advice for those who are newly married. The couple said there are probably going to be arguments, but compromising goes a long way and it is best to try and work things out.
When couples are busy raising their children and working — sometimes two or even three jobs — they said that it's best to just go with the flow and know that sometimes plans have to change.
"Always remember to enjoy the time you have with family and friends," said Kathy.
Gary added, "Take life as it comes along and hopefully everyone can make it to retirement."