Merle Elwin Hansen of Newman Grove, Nebraska, died last Friday. He was a farmer, an organizer, a civil rights leader, a conservationist and a peace activist. He was participant and an integral part of the great debates and decisions of the last century.
Hansen was born on his family’s homestead in 1919, joined the Navy the day after Pearl Harbor and when he returned to Nebraska he began work at an organizer for the National Farmers Union. He was both an innovative farmer (raising purebred Charolais, starting a fertilizer business, selling seed) and a man who was deeply involved in the politics of his time. He was a leader in American Agriculture Movement and helped organize the mid-’70s “Tractorcade” to Washington, D.C. He helped found the National Family Farm Coalition. Hansen was an early participant in the Civil Rights Movement, supporting an effort to integrate the lunch counter at the Katz Drug Store in Des Moines in the 1940s. He was the ag adviser to Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign in 1984 and ’88 (seconding Jackson’s nomination at the ’84 Democratic Convention). He helped with the first Farm Aid concert in 1985. Hansen was a founding member of the Rural Nebraskans for Peace in May 1967.
An oral history of Hansen’s involvement in farm protest movements is available in Coming of Age: The Story of Our Century by Those Who’ve Lived It by Studs Terkel. Services for Merle Hansen will be this Saturday at 2:00 P.M. at the United Methodist Church in Newman Grove. The family asks that memorials be sent to the Nebraska Farmers Union Foundation, 1305 Plum Street, Lincoln, NE 68502,Nebraska Peace Foundation, 941 “O” Street,Suite 1026, Lincoln, NE 68508, or your local food bank.