Minnesota man inspired by father to pursue education career
By SAMANTHA STETZER
Jan. 08, 2018
WINONA, Minn. (AP) — Scott Hannon's tenure as superintendent at Winona Area Public Schools began on a farm in Arcadia, Wisconsin long before the lifelong Winona resident and educator was born.
If his father, Elmer Hannon, had not left the Arcadia farm and committed himself to a new career path at the age of 40 — supported by his unwavering wife, Alice — no one can know for sure what Winona's public school district and Minnesota school districts might look like now.
Maybe the Area Learning Center wouldn't exist, or maybe a Spanish-immersion program at Madison Elementary would be only a pipe dream.
But one thing is for sure: decades of industrial technology students would not have learned the invaluable lessons a depression-era farmer and the son he raised with a passion for education could teach.
On that Arcadia farm, Elmer Hannon was growing up and living through the roaring '20s and the ensuing Great Depression. After graduation from Arcadia High School, he returned to the family farm and married Alice Breyer in 1941.
After World War II, the couple moved into Winona, and Elmer Hannon worked as a clerk in a furniture store for minimum wage. The couple had two sons, Scott Hannon and Roger Hannon, and were living in a small "shotgun house," with half of a basement in what is now a parking lot south of Winona State University's fitness center.
In 1955, Scott Hannon was set to start kindergarten. He wasn't the only member of this family to head off to school that fall. Elmer Hannon, about 40 years old at this point, enrolled at Winona State to become a teacher.
"I think that was kind of an eye opener for me, that the value of education, that getting an education is so important," Scott Hannon told Winona Daily News . "I know there's a lot of people all over this country that have difficulty finding a job or want to change jobs. If they just took the time to maybe redo their education, look for other opportunities to learn, they could better themselves, or they could change the job to a job that they liked or had more benefits or wages. ... So that kind of got me thinking about education."
To keep the family afloat while Elmer Hannon studied his new career passion, Alice Hannon began cleaning apartments and taking in neighbor's laundry.
Watching his mom and dad work for a better life, as a young kid, was hard for Scott Hannon to fully process.
"He was a very non-traditional student. He went three years straight, all straight through summer. It was a tough time," he said. "My mom was cleaning other people's apartments, taking in other people's wash and ironing. And they were trying to make ends meet, and when you're 6, 7 years old you don't realize that how poor you really are. ... We were poor."
Despite the financial obstacles and Elmer Hannon's age, after graduating, he fostered a 15-year career as the industrial technology teacher at the Winona Area Public Schools' junior high school.
In the midst of family and life changes, Scott Hannon and his family were also making their own Winona memories. Scott Hannon remembered his father pulling the toboggan to Springfield Dairy, where ZaZa's Pub & Pizzeria now sits, and riding his bike all across town.
After graduating from a hunter's safety class, Scott Hannon's .22-caliber rifle could be found sitting in the basket of his bike, and the avid hunter shot his first squirrel when he was 6 years old.
Scott Hannon was a lifeguard for four or five summers at a lake beach in Winona, and he was a "stuffer" for the Winona Daily News, packing advertisements into the comics section of the paper. By his senior year, he was promoted to the single wrap person at the publication.
After graduating from Winona Senior High School in 1967, Scott Hannon attended Winona State and began teaching one class to help his dad in the school district from January to June, right before he graduated. The eventual educator also held a stint as a school bus driver at the same time.
"It was a great foundation for a career in education," Scott Hannon said.
And soon, he had a spot within the district: his dad's.
"Here's the irony of the whole thing: I got his job," Scott Hannon said. "I took my dad's job, so that started my career."
Scott Hannon's father retired from his position, and that would lead to Scott Hannon spending 12 years as the industrial technology teacher at the district's junior high school.
Despite the large, familiar shoes he had to fill, he was thankful for the chance.
"In a way it was very humbling, because he had so much more knowledge, practical knowledge than I did," Scott Hannon said. "You know, he was a product of the '30s and the farm. Everything was scarce; you had to make do with what you had. He could fix anything, so it was humbling for me. But yet I felt honored to be able to take his position and uphold it as best I could."
Encouraged by his superintendent to consider a career in administration, Scott Hannon began taking classes in administrative work and was eventually hired as the district's assistant middle school principal.
The superintendent asked Scott Hannon — who was in his first year as an administrator — to help the district with high school dropouts by forming a committee. At the end of the year, the committee decided to start an evening high school.
The district brought back 30 kids who had dropped out of high school to what was then the Winona Evening High School, and the school began offering classes from 4-8 p.m. at what is now Minnesota State College Southeast.
"The rest is history," said Scott Hannon, who took a position within the district as its director of alternative education.
Now called the Winona Area Learning Center, the school is an adaptive setting to a traditional school.
"It's not perfect, and it'll never be perfect," Scott Hannon said. "With students that have difficulty learning, with difficulties with their homes, difficulties with all the things that are out there to keep them from being good learners ... graduated probably close to 1,000 kids since it started. ... The vast majority would not have graduated from high school had we not had that program available."
Scott Hannon also served the district as the junior high school principal and helped pass a $24 million referendum to build Winona Middle School.
Vying for the open superintendent's position in the early 2000's, he would eventually move up to the position of director of academic affairs; he was brought into the role by the Paul Durand, who was chosen as the district's superintendent.
When the school board decided against renewing Durand's contact in 2010, Scott Hannon was named the interim superintendent.
In his own words, the rest is history.
Scott Hannon served as superintendent for four years. Beginning during his years as a student within the district's schools and as an aid to his father by teaching one class before graduating college, he had worked his way up to the top position in the district.
Some of his accolades as superintendent include the creation of the Spanish-immersion program at Madison Elementary and a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program at Jefferson Elementary.
And they were the best years of his career, Scott Hannon said.
"It was great. Best job I ever had," he said. "Again, I came into the (superintendent position) having come up through the ranks, so I knew the system, I knew the buildings, I knew the staff, I knew the support staff. I had hired so many of those people over the years, and I had a pretty good idea of what we needed to do."
For his wife, Carmen Hannon, watching Scott Hannon take on his role running a school district was rewarding.
"Never a dull moment. It was his most favorite job in his entire career. He just thrived," Carmen Hannon recalled. "He loved getting up and having a challenge. I was just so proud of him. I just really enjoyed watching him work; he just took every day as a chance to do it."
Furthermore, Carmen Hannon said it was the perfect fit for the man who has always wanted to showcase the good in his community.
"He has just such a love for this community. It's so near and dear to him, and I don't know if people realize that," she said. "I think he'd do anything in his power to make not just the schools, but Winona in general, see it be a success and to thrive."
After serving 41 years of his working life with the Winona Area Public School District, Scott Hannon decided to retire.
He still drives with that passion for education, consulting as a freelancer for a company in White Bear Lake, helping districts with their referendums and needs. He has also consulted with Winona State University on its Education Village plans.
With his doctorate in educational leadership, he taught at Saint Mary's University in Winona and Winona State University as an adjunct professor, teaching future and current educators.
And just like he helped build the Winona Middle School, Scott Hannon has had his hand in the upcoming building of the new Winona YMCA. As a 53-year member of the organization and current president of the board, he said he is hopeful the new YMCA can have the grandiose entrance and presence he believes it deserves.
The board is closing in on its financial goals and is on track to break ground on the new YMCA this spring, Scott Hannon said.
And while his professional life has seen many accolades and title changes, his personal life has had its fair share of accomplishments as well.
In the spring of 1973, Scott Hannon was flying out of a door in Somsen Hall on the Winona State University campus and ran into his now-wife, Carmen, who was walking with a friend who knew him.
"And boy we hit it off right away, and, yeah, she's been just wonderful," Scott Hannon said.
Carmen Hannon was an educator herself, eventually teaching for more than 30 years in St. Charles and for five years in Winona. Carmen was a health and physical education teacher, who also coached volleyball and track and field and taught driver's education at the Minnesota State College Southeast.
She and Scott Hannon were both named educators of the year for 1984-85 in their respective districts.
Coming home to a fellow educator was relieving, Carmen Hannon said, as they were often able to work with one another on any problems the other had and act as a sounding board.
"It was really nice because we could both relate to what was going on in our work day, and if you had an issue that you wanted to get some feedback on or good advice, we could talk to each other, and the other person had a great understanding of what our day was like," she said.
The spring after they met, on April 6, 1974, the couple was married and settled down in Winona, eventually living a house they built themselves with Scott Hannon's parents in 1978 on Lohse Drive, raising their son MacKenzie Hannon and continuing their love for dogs and the outdoors.
Scott Hannon — who watched his father go from store clerk to non-traditional student to 15-year teacher, who grew up on small house just outside of Winona State University, whose mother took up extra work to help the family — was now building his own home in the town he grew up in.
And his sense of humor, Carmen Hannon said, was a saving grace as they built their home.
"He makes me laugh every day. He really does. It's fun to be with him," she said. "It's great. He's always able to find a light moment no matter how you might get down or something tragic happens."
When the Hannons built their home, the trees that surround Lohse Drive were small and a vast part of the valleys could be seen. Scott Hannon remembers adding a deck to the house and seeing every tree line up with the top of it.
"When we were framing up the house, there weren't any houses down here at all," he said. "Not any. None."
Now, the trees tower over the sides of the house, and tucked away among the trees and wildlife, he said their home is cozy, especially in the winter.
Besides their shared loved of education, the Hannons have always enjoyed the outdoors. The couple walks their miniature Australian shepherd Wiley every morning, and Carmen Hannon said they hike, bike and used to cross country ski when the winters were stronger.
The Hannons also own 50 acres in Buffalo County, Wisconsin, where Scott Hannon spends his time hunting. He bagged a dream buck last year.
But it doesn't have to be an adventure every time — if they're outside within Winona or the surrounding region, they're happy.
"It doesn't have to be anything big," Carmen Hannon said. "It can just be an afternoon of walking and being outside."
It's the perfect place for a self-described homebody educator to be.
"Winona's been a great town to grow up in. Yeah, we've got our little idiosyncrasies and little quirks but it's still just a wonderful place," Scott Hannon said. "It's still home; it's still the place to be."
Information from: Winona Daily News, http://www.winonadailynews.com