March 5, 2021

Stevens County Times

Your spot for community news in Stevens County, Minnesota

A man of many talents turns 100

If you tried to list the accomplishments of 100 year old Harley Hanke, you would probably need at least 100 pages. He is a man who wore many hats in his life and worked hard to go from a humble beginning to a successful career.

Harley worked for 33 years teaching and doing cooperative livestock research with the University of Minnesota. He was hired as an Assistant Professor at the West Central School and Experiment Station in Morris in 1956. There he was in charge of teaching and research with dairy cattle, beef cattle, swine and sheep. 

During his time in Morris he authored or co-authored 57 articles or abstracts published in the Journal of Animal Science, 95 articles that appeared in the Minnesota Sheep and Lamb Feeders Proceedings, 59 articles in the University Swine Report, 45 Beef Feeder proceedings, 6 Beef Cow-Calf publications, 2 articles in the Journal of Animal Production and numerous University bulletins and folders dealing with sheep and swine.

He also was a member of the American Society of Animal Science and served as a director of the Minnesota Shorthorn Breeders Association and of the Dakota-Minnesota Columbia Sheep Breeders Association.

In his off time, he was a member of the Kiwanis Club, an advisor to the Key Club, member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Morris Sportsmen’s Club and past president of the Morris Federated Church. He also was a 4-H parent helping at many events.

In 1921, when Harley came into this world, things were very different. Harley was born in the same house where his father was born on a farm in Houston County, Minnesota on the edge of Brownsville. Harley’s grandfather originally homesteaded the property and ran a flour mill there, shipping products down the Mississippi. Harley and his wife, Helen, purchased the farm from family in 1980 and it is now listed among the century farms of Minnesota.

Harley’s parents were community leaders and active in community organizations. His mother helped organize the first 4-H Club in the township and was selected as a Master Farm Homemaker by the Successful Farmer Magazine. They were active and interested in the Agricultural Extension Service in the county and put many of their recommended practices to good use on the farm.

Harley went to high school in Caledonia and graduated in 1934. For one year he stayed home and helped on the farm and saved money to go on to school. He enrolled in the St. Paul School of Agriculture in 1939. In the spring he was short on money so he got a job as a 4-H Agent in Stearns County and worked until he could afford to return to school in the fall of 1940.

He enrolled in the University of Minnesota in the fall of 1941 after getting a $250 scholarship from winning a national livestock judging competition. He was able to get a job milking cows and could then pay his tuition. He was also inducted into the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity. 

In late 1942, he was again short of money so took a job as a fieldman at a creamery in Rush City. This was during the start of the war and there was a ration of gasoline and rubber. One of his jobs was to reroute milk and cream in order to have no more than one truck picking up in a specific area.

In December of 1943 Harley resigned from his deferred creamery job to intentionally make himself eligible for the WWII draft as he felt it was his duty to join his comrades in the war effort. He served three years in the army, 14 months of which were in Italy as a combat infantry squad leader, fighting the Germans through the Apennine Mountains and across the Po Valley. He was awarded the Bronze Star for heroic achievement in action. When the war was over he finished his college courses through the G.I. Bill and then got a job teaching Veterans on the Farm Training at Murdock. He returned to the University and graduated in 1953 with a B.S. degree.

After graduating from the University he applied for a Veterans on the Farm instructor position at Morris in the West Central School of Agriculture. He was hired and taught in that program for two years. He then got his Masters Degree in Animal Husbandry and was hired at the West Central School and Experiment Station in charge of teaching and research. This was his position for the next 33 years and where he made his home.

While working in Murdock he met Helen Krattenmaker and they were married in 1969. The couple had one daughter, Sarah, who attended school in Morris. Sarah married Nathan Libbon of Morris in 1992 and they have blessed him with two grandchildren, Katherine and Andrew.

Harley retired from WCSES in 1986. Lee Johnston took the position in 1988 and was able to visit with Harley often to get input and advice. Harley told Lee when he started that he left him an “empty office.” However, when stepping into the room he found file cabinets full of important paperwork documenting the great research and results done by Harley.

Lee shared a story about Harley with his herd of Columbia Sheep at the University. Once the lambs were weaned, it was necessary to cull out some of the ewes for the next round of research. Harley looked over the herd and selected some animals. He then decided he should look at the data and went back to his office to do some calculations. He worked all night and the next day announced that the ones he had selected were actually the best producing animals. 

“Harley Hanke was a legend at WCSES,” Lee stated, “ I always turned to him for advice and tried to keep him informed about changes. He stayed quiet, even if he didn’t like it, and was very supportive.”

Lee added that it is quite a milestone to reach 100 and to think about what things were like when he was born. He has a lot of respect for him and is appreciative of all his help. Lee commented that Harley is always cheery and has a great moral character. He not only has lived 100 years but has really “lived” each of those years in many ways.

Katie Erdman