By Christina Whiting
After long careers with the Department of Defense, Denise and Jim Hansen longed for a slower pace of life and found it by moving to Homer.
Denise worked for the DoD for 30 years, beginning her career in 1981 at Maryland’s Chemical-Biological Defense Research Center. She was one of just a few women in a field of engineers and scientists.
“I held my own through scientific laboratory bench work and technical program management,” she said.
Later, she worked at the Pentagon as the Chemical-Biological Defense Science and Technology analyst for the army. She then worked at the Office of the Secretary of Defense, where she oversaw the entire DoD’s Chemical-Biological Defense Program, from research to fielding and sustaining equipment. She maintained support for the Chemical-Biological Defense Programs for close to 20 years.
“It was an honor working for the best senior leaders ever, in a building that represents the best military in the world,” she said. “We were working for the warfighters on issues to keep our country strong and safe.”
Hansen credits her upbringing for instilling her belief that she can accomplish anything she sets out to do.
“My father gave me a sense of adventure, a sense of humor, a strong sense of family and set an internal compass that I follow even today,” she said.
In 1992, while working at the Chemical-Biological Defense Research Center, Denise was invited to attend a comptroller’s luncheon. The guest speaker was LTC Jim Hansen from the Pentagon.
Jim was born into an army family in Munich, Germany.
“I was raised like a gypsy, having lived in 14 houses in six different states by the time I was 17,” he said. “Many of my childhood memories are centered in the backseat of a car with my brother and sister, without air conditioning, driving to the next place we’d live.”
During college, Hansen focused on biology, and in 1973, he was selected to travel to Alaska’s Wood River System and work as a field biologist. There, he studied salmon runs of the Wood River lake system. Later, he worked on various fisheries projects that focused on fresh water species and marine species in the San Juan Islands of Washington at the University of Washington’s Marine Lab.
In 1976, he joined the army, a career that lasted for more than 20 years.
“My time in the army was one of love and hate,” he said. “I loved that fact that they allowed me to pick most of my jobs.”
The army funded Hansen’s masters in organic chemistry, and allowed him to teach at the U.S. Army Military Academy at West Point and spend a year on Johnston Atoll in the Pacific, rehabbing aging chemical weapons.
Hansen worked in the Pentagon twice, once for the Chief of Staff of the army’s Office of Program, Analysis and Evaluation. He was responsible for developing and executing the fiscal plan to make the army smaller, following the fall of the Soviet Union. His favorite job was his last job, where he was given the opportunity to create a joint office for the development of defenses against biological warfare weapons.
In 1992, while both were working at the Pentagon, Denise and Jim attended a meeting to establish a joint service office for biological defense. Here they were reintroduced.
“The next few years were filled with late-night calls and heated discussions, arguing over work,” she said.
They continued working on the same mission area and became friends.
“One day, Jim said, ‘Hey, you could have commissary privileges if we get married,’” Denise said. “How could a girl turn that down?”
In 1996, Jim retired from the army and then went to work for a defense contractor in Washington, DC. Within a few months, the couple moved to Hawaii, when Jim and his company were selected to develop solutions for protection of Air Force bases against weapons of mass destruction.
After two and a half years, they moved back to the DC area, where Jim worked as a vice president and operation manager, overseeing staff working on defense issues and then as a sector vice president. Denise returned to the Pentagon to work in the Department of the Navy and then for the Under Secretary of Defense.
Mutually tiring of the long and demanding work hours, the couple began to formulate their retirement strategy, and focused on moving to Alaska, a place Jim had fallen in love with while in college.
In September 2001, they traveled to Alaska, where Denise fell in love with the beauty and wildlife as quickly as Jim had. While they were in Alaska, 9/11 happened.
“I will forever associate Alaska with 9/11,” Denise explained. “However, I will also hold dear the patriotism I saw spontaneously pour out from everyone.”
For the next seven years, the couple journeyed back to Alaska each fall. In 2008, they visited Homer and found a community to call home. In the summer of 2011, they left their jobs, shipped their household goods, loaded their three wheaten terriers into an RV and headed north to begin their retired lives.
In Homer, they’ve adapted to a slower pace of life. Denise is on the Homer Animal Friends Board, enjoys photography and baking dog cookies. Jim volunteers for Homer Animal Friends, is on the Board of the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, builds furniture and fly rods, facets gemstones and fishes as often as he can.
Denise just completed her first Relay for Life with her team, “Paws 4 The Cure.” The team of eight individuals raised just over $5,000 for the American Cancer Society. Denise walked in memory of her father and their dog Pushinka, who both died of cancer.
“We lost our dog Pushinka to liver cancer upon our arrival in Homer,” she said. “I signed up for the Relay for Life to give a voice to the animals.”
She said she hopes that one day, the research contributing to the cure in humans will translate into a cure in animals as well.
Whatever they are involved in now, the Hansen’s are committed to enjoying their retirement.
“After spending 30 years in a rat race, we promised ourselves that when we retired we would cherish every second with each other,” they said. “Even if all we do is lie in bed, drink coffee, sip mimosas, read the paper and watch TV. As long as we’re together as a family, we are joyful and grateful.”
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