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Edgeley couple gives pumpkins and more to community

Darlene and Gene Hanson pose for a photo Oct. 6 in their old business' warehouse in Edgeley. The Hansons serve free coffee in the building every weekday morning. Katie Fairbanks / The Sun

EDGELEY, N.D.—On the side of U.S. Highway 281, just outside of Edgeley, signs advertising a pick-your-own pumpkin patch paired with a small pile of pumpkins point the way to Gene and Darlene Hanson's farm.

The Hansons have opened their pumpkin patch for free to kids and the public for 10 to 15 years, Gene said. The couple began by inviting Edgeley Public School to visit; now they see schools from Montpelier, Jamestown, Steele and more.

Edgeley Public School Elementary Principal MaryBeth Carlson said the prekindergarten through sixth-grade students love visiting "Gene's Pumpkin Patch." There is only one rule: Students can pick any pumpkin as long as they can carry it, Carlson said.

"Students love having a pumpkin of their very own to take home," Carlson said. "It's a nice opportunity they offer to our kids."

Gene said an old friend of his used to always tell him "give back to your community." And so they have.

Darlene is a lifelong Edgeley resident, and Gene has lived there since he was 18 years old. The couple have been married for 25 years.

Darlene's late husband, Erval Jackson, started Jackson Manufacturing in Edgeley, which produced aircraft kits, in 1986. Gene was a pilot for the company. After Jackson's death in 1988, Darlene continued running the company and bought Fisher Flying Products the next year. Gene and Darlene were married two years later. They sold the company in 2008 and retired.

The old manufacturing building has a very different use now. The Hansons use the building for storage and also open their doors every weekday morning to serve free coffee to the community. Gene said they usually see 15 to 20 people come in. The couple try to remember people's birthdays so they can put a sign up and host a small get-together, Gene said.

Patty Barnick of Adrian, N.D., has known Gene all her life. Barnick said she was best friends with Gene's oldest sister while they were growing up in Nortonville.

"He's a local boy, no doubt about that," Barnick said.

Barnick said he and Darlene are good people who do a lot for Edgeley. Having people involved in the community and promoting it is important, Barnick said.

"It's what keeps small communities alive," Barnick said.

Gene said getting his pilot's license was very rewarding. He has used those skills to benefit the community as well.

Gene used to dress up as Santa Claus and fly around the area and deliver bags of candy to farm kids, he said. One year, someone who lived in town wanted his or her kids to get some too, so he told them to go to the golf course and dropped their candy there, Gene said.

Barnick said Gene also uses his plane to take aerial photos, which he posts to Facebook.

"People who have moved away from the area can't wait to see my photos on Facebook because it brings them back to the community, and they can see what's going on," Gene said.

Gene said he has also given many kids their first plane ride. When they attended an air show in Oshkosh, Wis., Gene was involved in giving plane rides for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Darlene said.

"Gene and another pilot would give the kids rides. The smiles on their faces were the best thing you ever seen," Darlene said. "That's basically why we have the pumpkin patch. We like to see smiles and laughs."

The couple served on various committees and chaired many projects over the years.

Gene belonged to the Edgeley Economic Development Corp. for 30 years and was chairman of the beautification program to clean up Edgeley. He said he started the project to put up "Welcome to Edgeley" signs and flags around town.

Darlene is the treasurer of the Edgeley Lions Club and was chair of the North Dakota Women's Business Leadership Council.

Edgeley City Auditor Joe Neis said he has worked with the Hansons on various projects. Neis said the couple were instrumental in starting the Thanksgiving community dinner. While they are not as involved as they used to be, the community saw the effort put into the event and took over, Neis said.

"Gene is a real persistent person, which can be good or bad," Neis said. "But that's how stuff gets done."

Gene was co-chairman of Edgeley's 125th anniversary celebration in 2012. The Hansons were voted the grand marshals of the celebration.

Edgeley Municipal Airport Authority member Dave Lux said the Hansons were involved in getting a new runway for the Edgeley Municipal Airport. Gene approached the Edgeley City Council and Edgeley Economic Development Corp. with research arguing for a new or expanded runway in 1999.

Darlene served on the airport board for several years. Neis said while she was treasurer, the records were "immaculate." As the city auditor, Neis said he was very impressed with the detail and accuracy in Darlene's work.

Gene partnered with Eddie Fischer to build a Super 8 motel in 1991, which was sold in 2010 and renamed the Prairie Rose Inn. He said the motel brought a lot of people to town and was a big asset to the community.

"No projects can be done alone," Darlene said. "There are always people who step up to the plate and help."

The Hansons aren't leading as many projects as they used to, but they are still involved in the community. Even though he is retired, Gene does lawn and garden work and snow removal.

"I have to stay busy," Gene said.

Every morning, Gene visits the Cenex C-Store just down the road from the warehouse. C-Store employee Lori Hoots talks with Gene, who she calls "Mr. Edgeley."

"He is very good to the community," Hoots said. "He does a lot more for this town than people realize."

Gene said he and his wife have always been big promoters of Edgeley. Darlene said making the community inviting to people and encouraging them to move to Edgeley motivated her to be involved.

"We love Edgeley, and we want to do our utmost to see it survive and grow," Gene said.

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