Senator Bill Hansell, BS '67
Each September, tens of thousands of people from around the country descend upon the quiet Eastern Oregon town of Pendleton (pop. 17,000). Established 150 years ago and primarily known for being the home of the Pendleton Woolen Mills—whose flannel shirts gave the Beach Boys their original name, the Pendletones—during the second full week in September the town becomes home to steer wrestlers, bull riders, calf ropers, and the like during the Pendleton Round-Up.
An Eastern Oregon institution dating back to 1910, the Round-Up is known for its Happy Canyon Night Show, parades, and the US Bank PBR Classic, but also features each year the Let’er Duck Breakfast, the UOAA’s annual gathering of alumni in Eastern Oregon. The breakfast is also where the Eastern Oregon Ducks award their scholarships to incoming UO students, and was founded by an alumnus of the College of Arts and Sciences, State Senator Bill Hansell, BS ’67 (R-Athena).
The lone Duck in a family of Washington State University alumni and supporters, Senator Hansell arrived at the UO in 1963, straight from the family’s cattle ranch in Athena, ready to study pre-law.
“When I enrolled, JFK was in the White House,” Hansell said. “I could not find Vietnam on a world map, the only drug on campus was alcohol, and we all had crew cuts—the Emerald even ran a story about how unusual it was that two professors had beards.”
By the time he earned his degree, JFK had been assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald, the US was mired in a war in Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement was in full force, and the Daily Emerald had published its infamous story about drug use on campus that eventually saw editor Annette Buchanan go to the Oregon Supreme Court to protect her sources.
“We entered a particular university setting,” said Hansell, “and when we graduated it had all changed.”
Hansell underwent his own changes while at the UO, as well: he changed majors from prelaw to political science, was elected president of the senior class, married his college sweetheart Margaret Eversaul, BS ’67, joined the nondenominational Campus Crusade for Christ, and applied for—and received—a position with them in Sydney, Australia.
The lure of home proved strong though, and after five years in Australia, the Hansells returned to Eastern Oregon to work on a farm and raise their six children. After some encouragement to run, and with Margaret’s support, Bill Hansell ran for, and was elected, Umatilla County Commissioner, and served in that capacity for the next thirty years.
“That was a good fit for service, and it met a core value of mine: to serve other people and help communities,” he said.
During his time as Umatilla County Commissioner, Hansell also served as president of the Oregon Association of Counties, before being elected to head the National Association of Counties. In 2012, four-term State Senator David Nelson, BS ’64 decided not to run for reelection and asked Hansell to run in his stead. Hansell ran, was elected, and now serves on the Joint Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Natural Resources, Joint Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Transportation and Economic Development, Joint Committee on Ways and Means, Joint Committee on Legislative Administration, Senate Special Committee on Conduct, and the Joint Committee on Oregon China Sister State.
But despite being a vice president of the family farming corporation, raising six children, and serving on six committees as a state senator, Senator Hansell still finds plenty of time to cheer for his beloved UO, and even found the time to start a chapter, based in neighboring Pendleton.
“When Dave Frohnmayer was president, early in his term, he started coming up to the Pendleton Round-Up and we started holding the Let’er Duck Breakfast,” Hansell said. “It was just a gathering of alumni during the Round-Up. They’d have a speaker or presenter to talk about the university, and somewhere along the line I was asked to emcee the breakfast, and have done so ever since.”
Senator Hansell knew a member of the DC Ducks chapter from his work with the National Association of Counties, and an idea began to take shape: how could the success of the Let’er Duck Breakfast be leveraged into a fully-fledged UOAA chapter in Eastern Oregon?
“You had to have a certain sized alumni base, and it took one or two years to figure out how to do that,” Hansell said. “There was already one in the Bend area in Central Oregon, and they had their own territory as well. We found counties that the Pendleton area could serve, and lo and behold we had enough alumni to justify forming a chapter. We filled out the application, the UOAA agreed to do it, and we were accepted.”
The Let’er Duck Breakfast doubled as the chapter’s annual meeting, and an early focus was to establish a scholarship for Ducks and future Ducks in Eastern Oregon. Let’er Duck Breakfast attendees contributed to a scholarship fund, but to really get off the ground, a larger contribution was needed. Enter the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
“I was on the Wildhorse Foundation Board, as one of two non-Indian members,” Hansell said. “I put in an application for seed money and they gave us $20,000, which was the first major contribution.
From there the scholarship program went from strength to strength, and in just four years has grown to where, now, not one but two students receive a $1,000 scholarship each year, while the scholarship recipients are invited to the Let’er Duck Breakfast to be introduced to the Ducks before they leave for the University of Oregon campus.
Forming a new UOAA chapter and establishing a new scholarship are just two of the many ways Senator Hansell has supported the UO since graduating in 1967, shortly after the former Pendletones released their first gold single, “Good Vibrations.” Known in the Oregon State Senate as “Senator Duck,” Hansell—whose office is decorated with UO pennants—supported the establishment of an independent governing board for the UO, and co-sponsored bills designating March 10 as “Mighty Oregon Day” to commemorate the first-ever performance of the song in 1916, and commemorating Marcus Mariota’s Heisman Trophy win.
“Giving back is extra special when it’s your alma mater,” Senator Hansell said, “and you can make it stronger for future generations to take advantage of the quality education.”