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Annette Hanson bids goodbye


Annette Hanson, a Sequim School District employee set to retire at the end of this month, is right at home in Railroad Bridge Park. Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Annette Hanson would prefer very much that she stay on the viewer's side of the camera, the writer of press releases and not the subject, the spotlight holder and not the one on stage.

But she's not getting away that easily.

For more than 30 years, Hanson has been a constant with the Sequim School District. For more than 12 years, she's been the proverbial voice of Sequim schools as the public relations specialist and resource coordinator.

Now she's ready to let her voice be her own.

Departs on Friday

Hanson is retiring at the end of April.

"I could have kept working," Hanson says.

"I love my job. I love the people I work with and what I do in the community. It's not easy to let it go."

For more than three decades it's been plan this, schedule that, promote this, edit that. Hanson still is planning, of course, but for her future.

See, Hanson's got a sweetheart named Gary Poor waiting for her in Kalispell, Mont. That's where the two plan to make a home until he retires and she can convince him to move back to Sequim where she has family and a good part of her heart.

Deep roots

"My roots are deep here with both family and friends," she says. "I'm not willing to give that up totally ... so I will be back and forth."

Hanson was born and raised in Yakima, the daughter of a high school-teaching father. After graduating from Eisenhower High School in 1969, she attended Washington State University where she met her future husband Mark.

The two found in each other kindred spirits, a love for the outdoors and education.

"I wanted at first to be a P.E. teacher; I was really into sports," Hanson says.

"(But) I like to plan things so I went with the next best thing. I majored in program planning and recreation administration."

Here since '75

The two moved to Sequim in the late summer of 1975.

"I had worked out here at Camp David Junior (by Lake Crescent) back in my college days as a camp counselor, so I knew the area," Hanson says.

"I knew about the Banana Belt out here. I thought, 'That'd be a great place to live.'"

Mark took a job at the then-intermediate school as a sixth-grade teacher, then taught seventh- and eighth-grade science years later.

She was hired as a teacher's aide in the vocational department at the high school helping instructors in the metal, agricultural and wood shops.

Coaching, too

Hanson also took on coaching while at the high school, leading the varsity softball team and junior varsity basketball squad for a couple of years before she and Mark decided to expand their family - first with son Sean, then second son Aaron.

"The practice schedules are brutal," Hanson says. "I couldn't do that and have a baby."

Hanson moved to a position as a part-timer at the career center at the high school library and, in 1979, shifted to special programs secretary and resource coordinator.

Expands duties

With the blessing of then superintendent Lew Moorman in the late 1990s, Hanson was hired as resource coordinator and public relations specialist for a 10-month contract that became full time about four years ago.

Her role expanded for a five-year stint - from 2003-2008 - as she led the PROTECT coalition, a federally funded anti-drug and alcohol abuse group.

She continued to do a variety of jobs for the district, from writing press releases and helping write grants to working with media, being the district liaison to the city council, helping pass levies through the Citizens for Sequim Schools group, coordinating the Sister City program (and going on two trips to Japan in the process) updating an evolving Web site and more.

No neatnik

"I'm really happy with what I've been able to do with the position," Hanson says, as she readies her abundance of information to pass along to the district's next public relations employee.

"I'm not known for a very tidy desk - but I know where everything is," Hanson says.

"People sometimes tease me about how much stuff I keep. But they're glad I have it when they want the information."

Stayed for levy

With retirement in sight earlier this school year, Hanson eyed the district's maintenance and operations levy vote as a good time to bow out. If it failed, perhaps she would stay on and help the district formulate a second proposal that likely would come to voters in May.

If it passed, well - what a perfect time to bow out?

But she says she will miss the relationships she's made, the connections throughout the community, even the drive to work.

Home on the bridge

"It's gorgeous in Kalispell but it's gorgeous here, too," she says. "Every day I drive into work I see the Olympic Mountains."

Hanson seems right at home here on this bridge, a restored railroad bridge now carrying pedestrians, bicyclists and the like near the Dungeness River Audubon Center.

She should feel at home. She helped build it.

Her late husband, Mark, was into taxidermy and, by all accounts, pretty good at it. He'd fill up his classrooms with bird after bird after bird.

At some point, the collection got to be too much for the Hansons - and enough for everyone else - so that, along with volunteers and the Audubon Society, they created a natural history museum and housed it in the old Sequim High School building (now known as the Performing Arts Building) from the mid-1980s-1992.

'My sanctuary'

By the early 1990s, with the school district seeking to use the room that housed the museum, the Hansons and others sought a new home for the collection and found it at the site of the restored railroad bridge.

Combining forces with the parks department, the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe, the Rainshadow National Sciences Foundation (renamed twice since then), the Olympic Audubon Society and national Audubon Society and other volunteers, locals created a unique learning center now known familiarly as the Dungeness River Audubon Center and Railroad Bridge Park.

"This place is my sanctuary," Hanson says, her eyes scanning the lush, wooded forests and gurgling Dungeness River.

Planning and construction of the River Center interpretive building finished in 2001. Now the 1,600-square-foot building provides exhibits, classrooms and labs, meeting spaces and more.

Montana and beyond

That, she says, will be tough to leave behind.

Though Mark died in the fall of 2005, Hanson has many ties in the area. In fact, she points out that after she and Mark moved to the area, the rest of her family seemed to follow, including her parents for a time, two sisters and a cousin. While not residents,

her two brothers own property here.

Even her sons, now fully grown, remain nearby. Sean, now 30, is head purser on the MV Coho while Aaron, 27, works at Sherwood Assisted Living.

Invitation to dance

But a chance encounter last year has Hanson looking eastward. At Eisenhower High's 40-year reunion, Hanson bumped into Gary Poor, an equipment technician who serves dentists and dental offices across Montana.

A Yakima native until five years ago, Poor attended Eisenhower along with Hanson but the two didn't know each other then.

"He asked me to dance," Hanson says, grinning.

The pair stayed up with friends until 4:30 a.m. one morning during the reunion and simply hit it off.

"We talked a lot about what we like in life, what we like to do," she recalls. "So we found out we had a lot in common."

Long train trips

For several extended weekends since then, Hanson's commuted by train to Whitefish, Mont., a 17-hour shuttle, to see her love.

"We kind of knew it could be long-term within two months," she says.

They don't have a wedding date set yet but they each have a ring.

Hanson plans to start moving her stuff in June and try life in Montana until both can claim the retired life.

Hanson has this saying, this dictum, she keeps ready when things get a little crazy.

"'The friendship of those we serve is the foundation of our progress.' It's kind of my motto. It kind of grounds you back in, 'Why am I doing this?'"

She'll be missed

Others say Hanson will be sorely missed.

"I feel like Annette has put her heart and soul into working in the school district," Sequim schools superintendent Bill Bentley says, "and doing what she can to advance the causes and the needs of the school district. It's been her passion. We're going to miss her."

Loanna Torey, the superintendent's secretary, has worked with Hanson for more than 20 years at the district office.

"I was very fortunate to start with Annette," Torey says. "She is my go-to person. It's going to be a big loss for the district."

Hanson says simply, "It was time."

Reach Michael Dashiell at miked@sequimgazette.com.

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