Loretta Hansen, the new Higher Education Coordinator in District III, understands the struggles and the rewards of pursuing an education.
Her first taste of both came as a high school foreign exchange student who left the small town of Danbury, Wisconsin, for the Central American country of Nicaragua.
"My first flight was in a plane not much bigger than a crop duster that landed what seemed like five times between Eau Claire and Chicago O’Hare," said Loretta. "I couldn’t imagine flying all the way to Central America this way but got on a real plane in Chicago and flew to Jacksonville, Florida, and then to Miami, which was really interesting."
Loretta found out her flight to Nicaragua didn’t leave until the next morning, which meant she spent her first night away from home wondering what she’d gotten herself into. "Tears were tempting, but I told myself this is what I wanted, and it was all good from there," said Loretta. "It was the experience of a lifetime and really opened my eyes to the fact that the world did not revolve around me, but there was so much to learn and absorb."
It was for that reason that the position of Higher Ed Coordinator appealed to Loretta: "I get to help people understand that education comes in many different forms, and I also get to convey the excitement of learning something new and different — how it can be scary but so rewarding. I see myself as facilitating students through the scary parts of the process to the fun and exciting ones. For example, a FAFSA can be daunting, but once completed it can open many different doors and paths, so just helping someone get past that will help them see all the opportunities."
Loretta’s next lesson came as an 18-year-old, when she traveled to Tahiti, spending her college savings on a week-long vacation. "That was 1978, and I did not get my degree from college until 2005," Loretta said. "Although it was wonderful and quite an experience, in hindsight I would have gone to school and saved Tahiti for some other juncture in life, but live and learn. I still smile when I think about it, though — being 18 and in paradise!"
Loretta is an Elder now, and the wisdom of age and hindsight will help her understand not only young students who want immediate gratification, but also non-traditional students who need to juggle college with the responsibilities of work and family.
Loretta has six grown children — five boys and a girl — and eight grandchildren — six girls and two boys. She lives with her significant other of over 30 years in Mora, but she has also lived in Aazhoomog and Hinckley.
She came back home after spending eight years in Oklahoma — a period of her life that has provided yet another lesson. "We were here on a visit when the May 1999 tornado destroyed our neighborhood in Moore, Oklahoma," she said. "Since there really wasn’t anything to go back to, we just stayed. We tried to get housing and jobs in Hennepin County but it was near impossible with six kids. I was told having a dog would be easier."
Loretta contacted the Mille Lacs Band, hoping for help with housing. "They reached out to me and my family with open arms," she recalled. "They helped me with housing, getting my children on Circle of Health, and really made me feel welcome. They pulled me out of the funk of losing everything and starting over. It was then that I decided that I always wanted to work for the Band in one capacity or another to pay them back in a small way for what they had done for me. We are blessed with so many opportunities and now in this position I hope I can help others like I was helped and just let everyone feel the sense of community I was given in my biggest time of need."
Loretta earned her AA degree from Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College and also has an AAS in Human Services pending her internship, which she completed in the Substance Use Disorder Department and is awaiting final approval.
As a life-long learner, Loretta hopes to learn conversational Ojibwe. She plans to enroll in Fond du Lac’s Ojibwe language program and wants to help bring language tables back to District III. "I am super excited about the Rosetta Stone program for Ojibwe and plan on using that as well," she said.
Loretta’s office is at the Corporate Building in Hinckley — office #107. She doesn’t have a phone yet but can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. "If I can help with anything higher education related, shoot me an e-mail and I will contact you as soon as possible to see how I can assist."
"I believe we all have specific gifts to bring to our communities, and I believe mine is using my life experiences to inspire and encourage others to find their gifts," said Loretta. "You can achieve so much once you determine what your gift is and obtain the help to get you on the right path. I want to be the mentor, the cheerleader, to help students when they get discouraged."
Loretta’s parents are her main inspiration because they worked hard to see that their children got what they needed (not necessarily what they wanted) and were always supportive of their choices.
"My dad had a lot of mottos about life, but the one that always sticks with me whenever I take on new challenges is that you never really value anything unless you work for it," said Loretta. "Not only has that guided me in my life, but I would like to pass that on to others. There is nothing like the sense of accomplishment when you have worked hard and achieved your goal."