NORTHFIELD, Minn. – With deep sorrow Carleton College announced the passing of Eleanor "Ele" Hansen, long-time chair of the Women's Physical Education Department. Hansen, age 92, died on Saturday, July 20 in Northfield.
Hired by President Larry Gould in 1952, Hansen also taught physical classes and coached both women's softball and cross country for 34 years, until her retirement in 1986. She will forever be known as one of the true matriarchs of women’s athletics, not only at Carleton but also across the country. A highly dedicated physical educator and coach, Hansen was responsible for appointing Carleton's first women's athletic director in 1970 and remained a sharp, feisty, and fierce advocate for women's sports for decades.
“Ele Hansen did it all,” said former Carleton athletic director Leon Lunder. “She maintained a strong balance between athletic, physical education and recreation. She ran a nationally recognized intramural program, taught numerous classes and coached multiple sports. She was instrumental in developing a coaching/teaching workshop at Carleton, which drew both men and women from the region. She was a strong voice in the Title IX debate and provided an avenue at Carleton to blaze the trail for women's varsity opportunity. She served as a valued mentor to many of us. She was decisive and tough, and although she may disagree with your perspective, she was respectful in the debate. Ele was a class act who will be deeply missed. Our profession not only was changed by her, but it is better because of her.”
Together with Pat Lamb, her life partner of 52 years, Hansen advocated for women's physical education and other issues with a gentle but firm hand. Because of their work, Carleton was ahead of its time in providing a wide range of PE classes and resources. Hansen was a role model for generations of Carleton women students who were encouraged by her to be and become themselves.
Cowling Recreation Center, (aka “The Women’s Gym”) was built in 1965 through Hansen’s strong encouragement, and it became the center of an emerging feminist movement on campus as well as providing much needed indoor space for an ever-expanding program of coed and women’s PE classes and intramurals.
Upon her retirement, her friends and former students established the Ele Hansen Award, which annually recognizes two senior female students who bring to their sport the joy of participation and who have positively influenced others through their example, service, and leadership in the athletic or recreation program.
In addition to being revered by students, she was greatly respected by faculty and staff throughout the college. Jerry Mohrig wrote that when he was hired to join the department of Chemistry by Dick Ramette, he was told that Chemistry was the second-best department on campus. Mohrig asked which department was the best, and Dick replied, "Women's Physical Education. Ele Hansen is the Chair."
"Ele was respected and loved by our entire department here at Carleton,” said current associate athletic director and senior woman administrator Heidi Jaynes. “We are deeply indebted to her and Pat for all the joy, time, and hard work that they put into our women's physical education and athletic programs and how committed they still were to getting to know our coaches and student-athletes. We will miss Ele’s enthusiastic support and infectious smile."
A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at The Church of St Dominic in Northfield on Thursday, July 25, at 10:30 a.m. Visitation will be held one hour prior to the service at the church. A Carleton memorial service will be held during Homecoming Weekend. The ceremony is scheduled for Friday, October 18, at 7 p.m. in the Skinner Memorial Chapel.
Remembrances of Ele Hansen may written at the Farewells website:
A more complete obituary will be found at: www.biermanfuneralhome.com.
In lieu of flowers, donations in memory of Ele may be sent to:
Northfield Senior Center
1651 Jefferson Pkwy
Northfield, MN 55057