Hanson was on-campus as part of the Journeys program, which hosts alumni and gives them opportunity to come back to St. Olaf, converse with old friends and participate in "thought-provoking programs."
Growing up in Lake Mills, Iowa, Hanson said, "I always had a curiosity about the world of fields, wood, and swamps around me." He credited his "wonderful teachers" in high school who encouraged his artistic curiosity, despite there being no art classes at his school.
Hanson came to St. Olaf at the suggestion of his speech teacher and began taking studio art classes. He classified the initial experience as, "a disaster," and recalled being overwhelmed by his first project as a first-year in October, 1962. "I was sitting on a cold, damp bench in front of Steensland, in tears while wearing gloves, trying to draw that nightmarish building."
After struggling through his first year, Hanson was offered a position with the Manitou Messenger, the college newspaper, in the fall of his sophomore year.
The editor of the Manitou Messenger, Tim Fossum, approached him about doing a weekly cartoon strip depicting everyday life on the Hill. Hanson said he had always appreciated "the role of humor in mitigating the harsh realities of life," and a cartoon seemed like an ideal medium for blending his love for art with his knack for humor.
Thus, "The Uglies" were born. Hanson said he cannot recall how he came up with the name, but he confessed that the cartoon was his "ticket to notoriety on campus. It was a perfect venue for ideas and opinions of campus life in the 60s." The strip, which ran for the next three years, differed from most cartoons in that it included a significant amount of writing. "This was the one thing he drew some criticism for. "People said I was too verbose. But I wanted to say these things," he said.
After graduating in 1966, Hanson decided to join the Peace Corps. "It is a decision I have never regretted," Hanson said of his time teaching English in the Phillipines. Shortly after returning to the United States., Hanson was drafted into the army, the very fate he had been hoping to elude by joining Peace Corps. He was stationed in Germany and served in the security section of a military police battalion. It was a discouraging development in his life, but Hanson recalled making a vow to have a positive mindset. "I told myself, 'I am goiing to make the best of this.'" He quickly became proficient in German (a language he studied at St. Olaf), drew cartoons and wrote essays. "I spoke my mind," he said.
When he returned from Germany, Hanson worked several jobs and did some freelance work but was not completely satisfied with what he was doing. Finally, in 1978 he met a reporter from the Star Tribune who helped get him a job at the paper. "The deadline-driven newsroom was a heaven I didn't know existed," Hanson said. "It was a stimulating environment full of interesting people," something he said he had been searching for since leaving St. Olaf.
At the Star Tribune, Hanson did thousands of cartoons for whichever section requested his services. Among others, he did a series that parodied Tom Ridge and the Department of Homeland Security for their color-coded terror alert system; as well as another, more light-hearted cartoon entitled, "Snapshot of Minnesotans in Hell."
Hanson credited his time at St. Olaf with helping him discover his calling. "When you're in college you're surrounded by intelligent people I had good teachers and met good people who touched my life. You take a lot of that with you."