At Hance Ace Hardware in Hopkins, help from the “Helpful Hardware Man” came with a wide smile from owner James Hance.

Hance ran the store that has been in the family for three generations, and the warm, personal attention he gave his customers kept them coming back to the store on 9th Street between Mainstreet and 1st Avenue N. for more than 50 years.

“I’d walk out, and I felt happy just dealing with Jim,” former Hopkins Mayor Jerre Miller said. “He was happiest when in that store selling. For Jim, happiness was a daily occurrence. He was never bothered by anything.”

Hance, of Brooklyn Park, died April 16 at Hennepin County Medical Center from injuries sustained in a car crash when a driver allegedly under the influence of drugs and alcohol swerved into Hance’s lane and hit him head-on on Minnetonka Boulevard. Hance was 75.

Born in Dorothy, Minn., in the northwestern part of the state, Hance served in the U.S. Army and logged perfect attendance as a 50-year member of the Hopkins Rotary Club.

He was twice named a Paul Harris Fellow for his gifts to Rotary Foundation of Rotary International.

But his generosity and community commitment were felt most in Hopkins, those who knew him said.

Hance started the Hopkins Rotary Club’s Foundation, which provides scholarships for kids and invests in community projects. At Christmas, the one-time club president volunteered to play Santa. He charmed kids and parents alike with his hearty “ho-ho-hos” as he passed out gifts.

“He was the perfect person for that,” said the club’s president, John Anderson. “He had an extra smile that made people feel comfortable and happy when he was around them. People’s eyes lit up. That is a testament to his character.”

Hance invested in the lives of teens by hiring them to work in his hardware store, and he served as a mentor to underprivileged kids through the Rotary Club and the Boys & Girls Club. He also volunteered to pack food at Feed My Starving Children, Hopkins Rotary member Jim Block said.

“Lives were made better by Jim Hance,” he said.

Miller said Hance also helped complete strangers. Last fall while cleaning out his cabin, Hance encountered a woman who was having trouble loading up a pontoon boat. She told Hance that the boat had a few problems and that she needed to sell it. Even though he already owned one, he took it off her hands.

“That was the perfect description of how Jim operated,” Miller said.

Hance was known for having the brightest display of Christmas lights on his cul-de-sac. He also enjoyed landscaping, his cabin and annual fishing trips to Canada with relatives. Tuesday nights were reserved for his bowling league at Texa-Tonka Lanes.

“I bowled with Jim every Tuesday. I loved his upbeat attitude and constant encouragement,” Paul Carr wrote on an online tribute page. “I will miss those talks about the Minnesota sports teams and our struggles of picking that nasty 10-pin.”

Hance also liked to eat, and more than 200 people attended a luncheon at Tuttle’s in Hopkins on Monday following Hance’s burial. The meal featured some of his favorite things: fried chicken, beef, mashed potatoes and salad and an open bar.

“Clients, customers, Rotarians, they were all there,” Miller said. “It was a nice departure.”

Hance is survived by his wife, Mary; sons Jeff, Pete, Robert and Arnie; daughters Julie, Angie and Angela; siblings Dee, Lee, Joan, Robyn, Craig, Nancy, Scott, Nancy, Samra and Ricky, and his ex-wife, Pat.

Visitation and interment have been held.