Leora M. “Lee” Hansen grew up when women’s roles were more narrowly defined, but that didn’t stop her from pursuing her interests in art, music, cooking and gardening.
Hansen and her husband, Roy, played from the mid-1970s to the mid-’90s with “picnic bands” — a roving group of University of Minnesota marching band alumni who entertained tailgating football fans. They also played for three decades in the larger alumni band at homecomings, concerts and other games.
Hansen, of Wayzata, died Dec. 30. She was 97.
Al Hansen of Bloomington said that his mother was a spirited person, not overtly fighting for women’s rights but undeterred by some of the obstacles she faced both before and after World War II. She was one of the first girls to join the high school and city bands in Little Falls, where she grew up, and played tenor saxophone as one of the first women in the University of Minnesota marching band.
She was also one of an early group of women to enroll in the University of Minnesota architecture school, Hansen said, despite warnings that it would be difficult for a woman to develop a career in the field.
“The thing she instilled in my brother and me was a constant interest in life,” Hansen said. “We grew up with books and music and art in the house and a constant quest to learn new things, and that’s probably the best gift that parents can give their kids.”
After graduation, Lee Hansen worked in interior design, and created window displays for Schuneman’s department store in downtown St. Paul. She marched and played in the St. Paul winter carnival parade in 1947 and met her future husband Roy — a professional musician — at the Gopher Grill in the St. Paul Hotel.
The couple settled in Wayzata, where Hansen worked in personnel for the Wayzata School District while her husband taught band at the high school. The couple stayed in touch with band students and hosted reunions for them as much as 30 years later.
Hansen’s other son, Gary of Inver Grove Heights, said his mother retained her love of art and design. She took classes at the Minnetonka Center for the Arts, then studied Japanese painting for years, and volunteered at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in its Japanese gardens. In her 80s Hansen was so interested in computers that she helped to found the Minnetonka Seniors Computer Interest Group.
“She wasn’t a person who was accepting of limitations,” Gary Hansen said. “She called herself a little bit crazy and she loved that way of thinking about herself. She loved that she was the one to start things.”
One of her enduring passions was the University of Minnesota bands, Hansen said. She became a charter member of the Band Alumni Association in 1950 and continued to play at Gophers events into her 80s.
“The spectacle and the fun of being over at the U just really revved her up,” he said. “She lived for that environment.”
Caroline Rosdahl of Plymouth began playing with Hansen at tailgating events in 1974. “We occasionally played for hockey games and we used to play for many of the women’s athletic events,” Rosdahl said, which didn’t draw as much support in those years.
In addition to her two sons and extended family, Hansen is survived by two brothers, Wayne and Keith. She will be buried at Fort Snelling National Cemetery with her husband, who died in 2009. Visitation will occur on Wednesday from 1:30 to 3 p.m., with a brief remembrance at 2 p.m., at David Lee Funeral Home in Wayzata, 1220 E. Wayzata Blvd.