Tennis Coach Don Hanson has three lives

Crystal Hohenthaner

Crystal Hohenthaner

SDSU tennis coach Don Hanson, a native of Clear Lake South Dakota, is not only a tennis coach.

He is also an extraordinary, kind, giving man who is blessed enough to now live three distinctly different lives.

At the age of 67 one would expect Hanson to have a few stories to tell, especially about his past teaching and coaching career, and he does.

After graduating with a BS in Education, Hanson coached and taught in Colorado for eight years. Later, after he received his master’s degree from SDSU in 1969, he went to Australia to write his dissertation, but he didn’t finish it. He began coaching and teaching in Australia instead.

“I was the coach of the Tasmanian Devils and then eventually became a sports commentator,” he says. “I was also the head of a secondary Christian school in Australia from ’89 to ’99.”

Hanson was even a professional musician in the fifties.

“I was the lead singer of DJ and the Cats,” he says. “I played guitar, bass, drums, and piano.”

All interesting facts, but most interesting is that Hanson spends part of his year working in Thailand with refugees and orphans as a manager for Project Genesis.

“A big part of my job is to arrange financing and building projects for an orphanage in Thailand,” Hanson says.

The orphanage Hanson works for supports a group of refugees and orphans known as the little boy soldiers of Burma.

“The boys were in the Shan drug-lord’s army and were left in the jungle,”Hanson says.

Hanson’s endeavors have gotten a lot of support from farmers in Deuel county and First Lutheran Church, here in Brookings, is sponsoring one of the orphans through medical school. “We’ve had statewide support,” Hanson says with a bit of an Australian accent and an energetic smile.

Hanson is now in his fourth year coaching tennis here at SDSU.

“I’m very fortunate that they let me come four months out of the year,” he says, “They like what I do.”

Hanson was diagnosed with cancer in 1999 and decided, “If I’m going to die I’m going to die doing something constructive that I really want to do.”

“I wanted to help them [the boy soldiers] before I went,” he says, “and then I didn’t die. I’ve been blessed.”

Perhaps Hanson’s brush with death explains his great attitude about life and living. In the eyes of many he is a great man, but he says, “I’m a very ordinary man who gets to do extraordinary things.”

“The great things people do have very little to do with what great people we are,” he says. “It’s all about the situations we are placed in and learning to deal with them.”

Hanson does realize the uniqueness of his lifestyle.

“I get to live three lives in one year,” he says. “Who else gets to do that?”

“Here, at SDSU, I get to meet college kids and to have input into their lives,” he says.

“The life of a college professor is great life. The kids are great and it is a wonderful, exciting atmosphere.”

In Australia Hason likes to spend time on his 38-foot cruising yacht and do work with church music.

He and spends time with the churches there as sort of musical missionary.

“My third life is living in the jungle,” Hanson says. “It’s a high-powered and adrenaline-pumping lifestyle.”

There Hanson is known as “Poppa Don” and treated like a grandfather to the orphans.

“The only down side to my life is that I have to be away from my family for long periods of time,” Hanson says.

“I’m a blessed man and I’ve been married for 42 years. I have three very talented children.”

Hanson’s wife lives in Australia while he spends his time at SDSU. He stays with Tim DeWitt while he is in Brookings.

“Tim is gracious enough to let me live in his house,” Hanson says.

DeWitt says of Hanson, “He’ll do anything for anybody- anything he can. Any problem that a student comes to him with he’ll do his best to take care of it.”

“He’s quite a guy and when you get to be with him all the time it really gets fun,” DeWitt says.

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