In the pan of two years , Rodney Hanson retired from his career as a High School Teacher,
was diagnosed with cancer, defeated his illness, went back to school for his masters degree in
teaching and became Central Oregon Community College’s new political science professor.
Hanson’s journey as an educator began in California, 1975. He said he always had a love for history and spent a lot of his time serving as a camp counselor for kids and teaching Sunday school. He loved working with children and being “the center of attention.” So for
him the career choice was obvious. He combined his two passions and started teaching history.
“You have to be halfrock and roll star and half politician to be a teacher,” said Hanson.
In 1977, Hanson got married. He and his wife began exploring the possibility of moving to Oregon. He received several job offers from Oregon high schools, including schools in Redmond, Medford and Coos Bay. In 1978, he took the job offering from Redmond High
School where he taught social studies and government for 31 years.
One of Hanson’s former students from RHS, Stephanie Goetsch, remembers Hanson’s government class as a “right of passage” that students took their senior year in order to graduate.
“You walked into that class not knowing what to expect, but never leaving disappointed,” said Goetsch.
Goetsch said she was taught how to be a “good member of society,” and gained an understanding of her civic duties in Hanson’s
class. When she left his class, she envisioned herself becoming a social studies teacher herself.
“I clearly wanted to emulate him,” said Goetsch.
Goetsch describes Hanson as one of her “top five most influential people,” because he believes in his subject and teaches it on a level that all of his students can understand, because he “cares if they learn it.”
Hanson retired in 2009 because it was “financially, a good time to retire.” In Oregon a teacher becomes eligible to collect pension after 34 years of teaching. He always planned to return to teaching, either part time at the high school or at COCC. However, on his last day of teaching, a bump in the road came in the form of a doctor’s diagnosis. Hanson had tongue cancer.
He described the situation as ironic, because it would be horrible if “Hanson the blabbermouth” couldn’t talk anymore. Despite the rocky beginning to his retirement, Hanson said he wasn’t entirely discouraged.
“It was fine,” said Hanson. “Life stinks, stuff happens.”
The next six months of Hanson’s life was spent battling his cancer, a struggle during which he received overwhelming support from his wife, as well as former students.
He also created a web page on Caring Bridge, a website allowing people with an illness to create a free page where friends and family can follow their progress and lend support.
Goetsch was among the former students that heard of Hanson’s illness and flocked to give him moral support. Goetsch said that when she learned of Hanson’s illness she felt the emotional impact, but she was confident in his ability to fight it.
“I knew it wasn’t going to get him down one bit,” said Goetsch. She also said she wasn’t surprised to see how many other former students were part of his Caring Bridges web page.
“The overwhelming support he has from his students … just shows what a remarkable human being he is,” said Goetsch.
While his main focus was surviving, during the first few months with cancer, it also became a time of a lot of spiritual growth.
“In some ways, it was about the best six months of my life,” said Hanson.
Hanson’s treatment ended and the battle was over but when the dust settled, he discovered how much he missed teaching.
“It’s like someone ripped a piece of my heart out,” said Hanson. So he decided it was time to go back to school and earn his master’s degree.
November 2009, Hanson started his online courses with the American Military University. The entire process took about 18 months. June 2011, he was offered a job at COCC, teaching Political Science 201, which he accepted.
Goetsch, who now works in COCC’s Information Technology Services department, heard about the class and signed up. It had been 25 years since the first time she took Hanson’s class during her senior year in high school.
Hanson plans to continue teaching at COCC for “as long as they’ll have him.” His goal is around 10 years. He said he doesn’t plan on giving up teaching anytime soon.
“It’s a passion I have, to inspire students to civic duty,” said Hanson. “There is a responsibility we have to our nation. I think that’s the whole heart of social sciences.”
Goetsch expects that in his time at COCC, Hanson will continue to influence the lives of students.
“He’s like a rock star,” said Goetsch. “People follow him.”
You can contact Cedar Goslin at email@example.com.