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J.Paul Hanson - June 19, 1925 - April 7, 2000


The family of John Paul Hanson wishes to honor his passing through this short tribute.

Born in Seattle Washington, Paul Hanson found his formative years plying the waters of Puget Sound, and spending summers (in his teen years, working for an outfitter in Cooke City Montana.

He entered military service near the end of WWII as a Navy seabee (Construction Battalion) in the Pacific theater, serving on a number of islands, including New Guinea, where he made extra money processing his comrades' film (no mean feat in a tropical climate!) and creating sand cast jewelry, using the native coral sand for molds.

After the war, he explored North America, settling with his wife, Mary Jane, in 1953 in Jackson Hole, where he started a small giftshop in the Huff building (where Skinny Skis is currently located). At the time, Jackson was a sleepy little town, known mostly for its dude ranches, and big game hunting. The road through to Yellowstone was then nothing but a wagon track, left over from the construction on the Jackson Lake Dam, connecting to the old Marysville road (Ashton to Flagg Ranch). With the dedication of the newly enlarged Grand Teton National Park, the road was improved, and paved, all the way to Yellowstone, making Jackson an instant candidate to be a "gateway" town, in time to surpass West Yellowstone, as the main access point to the park.

In anticipation of this, Paul and Mary Jane made Jackson their home, and began the task of creating a family. Founding Paul Hanson Gifts Incorporated, Paul increased his foray into retail, by renting the old Ford Garage on Cache and Broadway, and converting it into a giftshop, catering to the growing number of tourists, that were discovering the Tetons, on this new route into Yellowstone. In the meantime, since in the Winter, the community had little to no economy, He made his wholesale manufacturing jewelry business, into one of the largest year-round employers in the valley, going a little way towards mitigating the seasonal nature of life in Jackson Hole.

At this time - also in the late fifties, along with some of his fellow downtown merchants, he was a participant in the shoot out, a performance made up entirely of volunteers, who wanted to provide a distraction to visitors so that they would remain downtown through the long summer evenings after their dinner. He told many humorous stories of the misadventures of this coterie of retail vigilantes, during those early years of the tourist trade in Jackson Hole.

Around the same time. he established the Colter House, as a general merchandise establishment, providing to the locals as well as visitors a place where could be procured everything from boots and jeans to camping equipment.

As the economy began to take off here in the sixties, his businesses expanded and he began aquiring property, that, once developed in the seventies, ended up comprising the core of West Jackson. from the Virginian west to what is now Buffalo Way. He also became active in the politics of the community, running for the office of county commissioner.


He traveled much, making many friends, in many lands, including Taiwan, and Sri Lanka.

As no life's successes come unmimixed, Paul's was no different. His Father died in 1965 - preceded in death, by Paul's sister Gerry; and his first marriage ended in 1966. The seventies also found a mixed life, with the end also of his second marriage, followed by other personal and finincial troubles that carried into the eighties. In 1983, his youngest son was killed at 24, in an automobile accident, and was mourned in this very same church (Our Lady of the Mountains). In 1984, the effect, of the poor national econmy took its toll, as new ways of doing business took over in this valley, and though a successful legal settlement allowed him to recoup some, he was tired, and things went quickly. In the fall of 1991, after a last vacation to a tropical clime, he contracted herpatic encepalitis, which disease's sequel, led to his total loss of short term memory, including what seemed like the last thirty years of his life. This brought him to the St. John's Living center, where he was under the exceptional care of the staff, until his death.

Even in this environment his kindness could not be shaken. A staff member told me a story, about how, while Parthenia Stinnett was dwelling there, she took a little twirl, as in a dance, and that turning into a fall, he caught her, and gently lowered her to the floor, afterwards going to the desk, to get assistance. He spent those years restfully, a tribute to the love of this community. He will be sorely missed - Father, Friend, and, in his way, Pioneer. He is survived by his Daughter, Paula Henry, with her children Kristian and Sarah - of Park City Utah; his son Michael, of Jackson; and his sister. Margaret, of Washington state.

- Michael Hanson

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