A MAN OF HIS TIMES
By T.L. Petersen
Observer Staff Writer
Marvin Hansen knows how to survive an economic depression: Provide service.
He knows how to survive a marriage: Consider your wife the most beautiful, wonderful woman on earth.
He knows how to survive heart trouble: Keep exercising, eating right and active.
He knows how to survive 96 years: Keep your brain agile and busy.
He knows how to succeed in business, be it 1920 or 2001: First, above all, provide service.
Hansen is 96, lives next door to his retired daughter and son-in-law, works a few days a week helping out an Adams Avenue new business, reads the Wall Street Journal and a few weekly news magazines, several monthly business magazines, is a master teacher of Chinese brush painting, works out on an exercise bicycle and has a solid handshake that says if you cant trust him, there isnt anyone you can trust.
Hes got more years of experience in business than Ive got experience in life, says Deb Allstott, the current beneficiary of Hansens decades in retail furniture sales and decorating.
Allstott opened Deb Allstott Window Fashions at 1306 Adams Ave. in late 2000.
One day, shortly before Christmas, she was closing up the store when she noticed Hansen checking out her front window.
Asked if she could help him, he shook his head and said hed come back the next day.
He did. And he offered her his help.
Turned out Hansen was getting just a bit bored with his life, and a psychologist, after talking to him for less than an hour, had some advice.
He told me to either start a new business, or get back into business, Hansen says.
Allstott was a bit unsure of Hansens offer to help her out, for free, but she agreed to try it. And shes not regretting that decision at all.
Hes phenomenal, she says, adding descriptions that include great, wonderful, delightful, supportive, valuable, amazing, and real fun to have around.
A life in business
Hansen brushes aside the praise. Business is what he knows, and one of his remaining loves since his wonderful wife, Urith, died in 1996. She was my best critic. She was a brick.
Hansens business life started in 1920, when he became an apprentice in a Spokane, Wash., furnishing, home decorating and floor covering business.
He moved to a large furniture business in Hoquiam, Wash., in 1925, working there for the next 21 years and marrying his wife who, he says, never worked in the stores with him.
In the late 1940s, Hansen went out on his own in the business for 13 years, then came back and bought out the Hoquiam store.
He got out of the Hoquiam store in 1972, along with his son-in-law, Henry Basso.
He took his share (of the Hoquiam business) and bought out Globe Furniture, Hansen explains. The La Grande business is now in the hands of Dale Basso, Hansens grandson.
Marvin and Urith Hansen retired to California, a place with just about perfect weather, Hansen says.
They traveled, getting to just about everywhere but Russia and the Antarctic. I read up on Russia, but I had to have a hip replaced, he explained.
Discovering a passion to paint
While in California Hansen developed a new passion, at age 73. For years, hed used the work of Chinese brush painters in his decorating work. He joined a beginning Chinese painting class to give it a try himself.
I was the only man in a class of 15, he says with a grin. The grin turns into a satisfied, very pleased look.
Hansen stuck with the painting gosh, its tough and, at age 78, passed the Chinese painting teachers exam with a display of his work that earned him a masters status.
The exam was sort of an apprenticeship, he explained, a complex task, detail-oriented, and demanding a different mindset than European art.
I enjoyed it, Hansen said.
But he doesnt boast of his talent, having been given a private tour of the painting in Chinas Forbidden City. They really had the artists in the past. A lady took me through the area where they dont take tourists there are some real beautiful things in there.
Arthritis has limited what Hansen can paint now, but he is teaching one student, Ruth Yeates, an art teacher, one weekend morning each week.
Shes good, Hansen says. I laugh at her, and sit across the table while she paints boy, does she do good. I feel so good after each lessons over. Shes done a beautiful job.
Hansens energy and knowledge amaze Allstott. She notes that hes painted walls in her store and helped rearrange display windows and move the office from the front to the back.
Hansen shrugs it off. Instead he focuses on the thousands of drapery samples she has. Shes got more than anyone in Portland or Boise, he says with a shake of his head. It took me three days to price them, he recalls of the 8,700 samples. Thats crazy!
An interest in life
Why hes lived so long and so well isnt a topic Hansen dwells on. He says he isnt from an especially long-lived family, nor a well-to-do one. His family was, in fact, not very well-organized.
Ive just been like this since I was born, he shrugs.
Pushed to explain what keeps him going, he says, I love people. And he loves business and studying the subject. When I see anything that Im interested in, I follow it.
The stock market, he adds, has been good to him. I was lucky, and Im not greedy.
What he is, at 96, is observant. He rattles off lists of La Grande businesses that understand service and know the importance of retail displays. And he does the same for those that dont seem to grasp the concept of service.
So many managers here have the attitude that theyre big shots, they dont have to help customers.
It bothers me to see that.
But he isnt going to fret, not at this point in his life. Hes watched too many men retire and find they couldnt take the change.
Thats too bad, Hansen says. They should enjoy life.
Life is funny and I was very fortunate.