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From foster care to Yale University

Children’s Mercy volunteer still enjoys boyhood ‘job’

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October 28th, 2015
Tallgrass Creek residents Barbara and Jim Hanson
Tallgrass Creek residents Barbara and Jim Hanson

Tallgrass Creek resident Jim Hanson has enjoyed a rewarding life that includes an Ivy League education, an impressive career, and hospital volunteer work.

But it didn’t start out that way. 

While still pregnant, Jim’s biological mother relinquished her parental rights. Soon after his birth in 1930, Jim became a ward of the state of Alabama. Jim was just days old and knew nothing about his biological mother’s circumstances or age. 

Jim was placed in a foster home, and as he grew, he became adept at holding, rocking, and feeding babies who were also placed in the home. He went to school but came straight home each day to do his ‘job.’

“I was counted on to help with the babies, and I liked it,” says Jim. “I never felt like I was being used.” 

At one point, Jim was sent to another foster family considering him for adoption.  But the foster father suffered a serious accident, so Jim was sent back to the first home where he continued helping with the babies for several years. 

A new life

When Jim was ten, an older couple with no children adopted him, and he moved into his new parents’ home in Auburn, Ala. His new mother, a retired teacher, was well educated and took a great interest in his education, teaching him at home after school. One summer, Jim learned the entire Latin language. 

Along with his studies, Jim became a paperboy delivering papers around Auburn for several years. 

“I didn’t know then, but that job opened up wonderful opportunities for me,” says Jim. 

Jim had never heard of the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, N.H., but his mother had. She also knew that research undertaken at Exeter showed boys with paper routes were very accomplishment-oriented, and that a handful of scholarships were available for paperboys. 

At age 16, Jim received one of those scholarships, became a boarding student at Exeter, and graduated in 1949. He was offered a private scholarship to attend Yale University, which he gratefully accepted and received a Marine Corps commission upon graduation. 

“My freshman year, the yearly room, board, and tuition at Yale was $1,250,” laughs Jim. “Quite different than it is today.” 

Jim, an economics major, had a particular interest in grain and agricultural commodities. After serving several years as both a pilot and flight instructor in the Marine Corps, he enjoyed a career in commodities trading and stock brokering. 

In 1961, he answered an ad in the Wall Street Journal from a company in Kansas City, Mo., looking for someone with experience to manage a small brokerage. He got the job and worked locally in the grain and agricultural trade until his retirement in 1997. 

Nurturing nature

About 28 years ago, Jim decided to volunteer at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., doing—what else?—helping out with the babies. He is well known around the hospital and has been recognized several times for his service.

One notable recognition stands out.

“In 2002, I was asked to carry the Olympic torch as it came through Kansas City on its way to the games in Salt Lake City,” says Jim. “We still have the torch. It was quite an honor.” 

Jim’s wife Barbara is also an enthusiastic volunteer at Children’s Mercy. As a former pre-school owner and teacher, she has many fun art projects for children between ages 3 and 5 and began volunteering her talents several years ago. She and Jim met at a volunteer meeting and married eight years ago. The Hansons have another beloved family member, their cat Pickles, rescued about six years ago. 

Jim plans to continue volunteering and rocking babies far into the future. He believes his caring nature hearkens back to his childhood and it has brought him great happiness.

“I love rocking babies for many reasons,” notes Jim. “But when they smile at you, it’s the best feeling you can have.” 

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