The song “Horsey Horsey” was crucial in helping emeritus professor Harlan Hansen know he was destined to be a teacher. He was co-teaching a demonstration class with his late wife, Ruth Mork Hansen, who frequently used the ditty to get children to settle down and return to their seats. One day, Ruth was in the back of the room and indicated to Harlan that he should start the song. “There were about 40 people there in addition to the students,” he says. “I froze.” Ruth took over, but that night at home, she reminded him that he would have to leave his comfort zone if he wanted to be a teacher. The next time he needed to sing, he sang. “That helped me realize I could become a successful teacher,” he says.
Harlan had a winding path before finding his vocation, spending two years in the military and six years in business. After realizing that sitting at a desk all day wasn’t for him, he quit his job and started taking classes through the University of Wisconsin. When he met Ruth, Harlan was in graduate school at UW-Madison, working as a housefellow on campus and hitchhiking to Janesville, Wisconsin, for his student teaching assignment. They decided to get married on their first date, launching a more than 50-year partnership.
Ruth was an accomplished teacher herself, who always looked for new ways to spark enthusiasm for learning. Ruth and Harlan collaborated on books, teacher workshops, and curriculum training. After retirement, they led classes on cruise ships in return for a free trip.
For three decades, Harlan was a professor of early childhood education at the U of M, inspiring future teachers and sharing his expertise on classroom management and discipline with schools. He established the Ruth and Harlan Hansen Scholarship for students in the Initial Licensure Program in honor of Ruth’s lifelong commitment to education. “The U of M gave me my life,” he says. “This pays back what somebody did for us.”