Patriarch Jerry Hansen ’51 leads the way in his dedication to the college
By Kathy Andrews
There’s the Trinity family and there’s the Hansen family, but, as one Hansen asks with a laugh, “They’re synonymous, aren’t they?”
For more than seven decades, Gerald J. “Jerry” Hansen Jr. ’51, P’78, ’84, ’88, GP’12, ’16, ’20 has been famous among Bantams for his passionate commitment to Trinity. Admirers describe his devotion as an administrator and consultant for 30-plus years—starting in 1975, as director of alumni and college relations and later as secretary of the college—and his ongoing zeal for making connections with and among members of the Trinity community.
After his 1998 retirement, when he was named secretary of the college emeritus, Jerry was a consultant for Trinity for several years. More recently, with great enthusiasm, he has continued serving the college as a volunteer.
Over the years, Trinity has celebrated Jerry by naming a residence hall, a squash court, and a crew shell after him. Twice he was honored with his wife of 62 years, Georgia, who volunteered tirelessly on Trinity’s behalf. Together they received the 175th Anniversary Award and The Eigenbrodt Cup, one of the college’s highest honors. While, sadly, she passed away in 2014, Jerry notes with pride that she was the first woman and non-alum to be honored with the Eigenbrodt.
The college plans to honor him once again on the occasion of his 70th Reunion in 2021 by presenting the inaugural Gerald J. Hansen Jr. ’51 Alumni Employee Award. The award, established by the Trinity College Alumni Association, will be given annually to a Trinity alumna/us employee of the college for distinguished and exemplary dedication to Trinity’s mission.
A FAMILY TRADITION
Born and raised in Philadelphia, the youngest of four, Jerry was the first in his family to attend college. On advice from family and a few Philadelphia alumni of Trinity and Williams, he interviewed with both colleges. He was accepted to both, and, as several of his friends planned to attend Trinity, he decided he would, too.
Jerry says, “The best thing you can give your kids is education,” and he’s delighted that a number of his children and grandchildren went to Trinity. This includes all three sons: Gerald J. “Trip” Hansen III, M.D. ’78, P’12, Barclay Hansen ’84, P’16, P’20 (who made the quip above about synonymous families), and Todd Hansen, M.D. ’88. Jerry also has a daughter, Pam, who graduated from Williams.
Three of Jerry’s 15 grandchildren also have attended Trinity: Gerald J. “Quade” Hansen IV, D.O. ’12, Krista Hansen ’16, and Garrett Hansen ’20.
“Obviously we’ve had a legacy at Trinity, and it starts with my grandfather,” says Garrett. “He’s always talked up Trinity and absolutely loves it. He’s Mr. Trinity himself.”
After seeing the parade of people who come to hug and catch up with Jerry at Homecoming, Garrett adds, “I think when he started working here, he realized how many people he could impact. He got to interact with all of these people in a positive way, and it just fit with who he is—it’s what he wants to do, to help people out in life.”
Krista says, “Our joke when we’re all on campus is, ‘Do you think we’ll get to speak to Pop-Pop for more than five minutes today?’ ”
Jerry says his decision to work for Trinity “changed the life of the whole family.” Realizing how much he enjoyed his role as an active alumni volunteer for years, he found himself ready to pivot away from a successful 20-year career in Philadelphia as an executive and business owner in the textile industry. “I had had enough of being on the road 100 days a year,” he recalls.
“I said to [then-President] Ted Lockwood [’48], ‘I’ll work harder than anybody around here, but I’m going to coach my kids’ sports and I’m going to see them play.’ Family is it for me,” says Jerry.
Son Todd Hansen, M.D. ’88, a family physician in Gastonia, North Carolina, calls the move “the smartest decision my dad ever made. It definitely improved his work-life balance. And we all grew to love Connecticut.”
Lee Coffin ’85, vice provost for enrollment and dean of admissions and financial aid at Dartmouth College, was a Trinity senior and Student Government Association officer when he first met Jerry, who was in Alumni Relations at the time. “Even before I met him, I knew who he was,” Coffin says. “He was the cheerleader for the college. He just had that kind of presence.”
At the time, Coffin figured that after Trinity, he’d go to law school. But then Jerry posted a one-year position for someone to help “build out class identity” among undergraduates. “I remember thinking, ‘Well, that’s an interesting opportunity.’ I applied, and he hired me. One year turned into four, and here I am, 30-whatever years later, still a college administrator.
“Jerry was the embodiment of somebody working in an academic institution who saw a clear role of moving the institution forward,” Coffin continues. “He was exceedingly fair, decent, and loyal to the people who worked with him and around him, and he had a heroic work ethic. All these years later, I find myself thinking, ‘What would Jerry do?’ ”
Jim Whitters ’62, P’95, ’97 was a young lawyer in Boston in 1975 when he met Jerry to discuss forming a Boston alumni club. The resulting club remains a success today, with many well-attended events.
“Jerry brought Trinity into the modern age, in terms of building a national organization of clubs,” says Whitters, who served on the Board of Trustees from 1984 to 1995. “He’s a great communicator and a tremendous networker. He was extremely supportive of coeducation and played a pivotal role in identifying alumni—women and men—who were going to emerge as leaders. He was very interactive, not just with alumni but faculty and students, too.”
One of those students was Ray Jones ’97, former NESCAC Football Offensive Player of the Year. Jones set numerous records on the gridiron and also was a New England Champion and All-American wrestler and a record-holding triple jumper.
While on campus in October 2019 for induction into the Trinity College Athletics Hall of Fame, Jones shared a story about one day when he was out on the track, ostensibly practicing but actually procrastinating on writing a sociology paper. Suddenly Jerry appeared and told him, in no uncertain terms, that he knew Jones had a paper to write and he’d better get to it. “It was the right kick in the pants,” said Jones, “… to work hard and be better.”
Jerry’s own athletic prowess is legendary, particularly on the squash court. Before he came to work for Trinity, he won many championships in squash and tennis at Philadelphia Country Club. As a Trinity administrator, he loved to challenge members of the men’s varsity squash team and others on campus to a match.
“My dad loved building relationships with students, faculty, parents, and alumni—everybody,” says Barclay, president and CEO of AquaHealth. “He was also the most competitive athlete I’ve ever met. My question was always, ‘Has any coach or faculty member beaten you in squash this year, dad?’ ”
A GREAT EDUCATION
A relatively new Hansen family member is Madeleine “Maddie” Dickinson Hansen ’14, recently married to Jerry’s grandson Quade. The couple lives in Philadelphia, near where Jerry resides in Gladwyne, the town where he and Georgia first made their home.
Maddie is in fundraising at Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center and says she and Jerry share a special bond, having both worked supporting higher education institutions. “To see the legacy he built and how others hold him in such high regard, that’s something I aspire to,” she says. “I only hope I can be half as successful in terms of transforming a place and really leaving your mark on it.”
Jerry points out that Maddie, who was a Posse Scholar from Chicago, is a terrific example of someone who came to the college through scholarship support.
“I like the direction of Trinity today,” Jerry says. “I do feel strongly that we need to build the scholarship fund, and I know [President] Joanne [Berger-Sweeney] and her team are working on that.”
Jerry still hears from people whose kids are in the midst of a college search, seeking advice. “I tell them Trinity is a great school and give them the example of my kids,” he says. “You get a great education, and that’s what it’s all about.”
ON A MISSION
As Philadelphia-area residents, a father and son might catch an Eagles football game together. Or, in the case of Gerald J. “Trip” Hansen III, M.D. ’78 and Gerald J. “Quade” Hansen IV, D.O. ’12, they could participate in a medical service trip, providing health care for hundreds of people with limited resources.
Both Trip and Quade say a weeklong mission trip to the Dominican Republic in February 2019 was an incredible father-son experience and a chance to reconnect with why they went into medicine in the first place. Each morning, they rode a bus to a different area in the city of Santiago, bringing medical supplies and creating a care clinic in a church or community building. Patients lined up, and each doctor would see between 30 and 40 patients a day.
“They would walk and wait a long time to see us,” Trip says. Many had la grippe—the flu—or other respiratory illnesses. Many patients suffered from parasitic diseases. For Quade, providing prenatal care and vitamins to pregnant patients and inhalers to children with asthma were among the most satisfying aspects of their service. “Asthma can be very dangerous but is also very controllable,” says Quade, who also has asthma.
Trip and Quade are affiliated with Abington Hospital-Jefferson Health in northern suburban Philadelphia. Trip has served for 38 years as a family physician and also teaches residents and medical students, noting that his teaching style emulates that of one of his favorite professors, Craig Schneider, Charles A. Dana Professor of Biology.
Quade is chief resident of family medicine, completing his third year of residency. He says he decided to pursue medicine after a junior-year opportunity through Trinity’s Health Fellows Program to intern at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, which included researching how H1N1 influenza affected different populations. “I realized that not only does medicine provide a unique challenge every single day, but it’s a tremendous way to impact someone’s life on a daily basis.”
Says Trip of the experience, “You recognize the gifts you’ve been given in terms of your upbringing, in terms of the country you’re from, in terms of your education. This was one of the best weeks of my life, and to share it with my son was such a blessing.”
Editor’s note: You’ve just read about a loyal Bantam family. Do you know of another family with multiple alumni and/or current students? Maybe you’re part of one! Please let me know by emailing email@example.com. I may include your submission in a future issue of the magazine.