Eleanor “Ele” Hansen

22 July 2013
Eleanor Hansen
Ele Hansen

Eleanor “Ele” Hansen, age 92, passed away on Saturday, July 20 in Northfield. Hired by President Gould in 1952, Ele chaired the Women’s Physical Education Department, taught PE classes, and coached women’s softball and cross-country for 34 years, until her retirement in 1986. She remained such a strong supporter of Carleton and individual members of the college community that many didn’t feel she ever really retired. Ele had a joyful approach to life that was infectious and uplifting.

Together with Pat Lamb, her life partner of 52 years, Ele advocated for women’s physical education and other issues with a gentle but firm hand. Because of their work, Carleton was ahead of its time in providing a wide range of PE classes and resources. Ele was a role model for generations of Carleton women students who were encouraged by her to be and become themselves. “The Women’s Gym” (Cowling Recreation Center) was built in 1965 through Ele’s strong encouragement and became a center of the feminist movement on campus.

In addition to being revered by students, Ele was greatly respected by faculty and staff throughout the college. Jerry Mohrig writes that when he was hired in Chemistry by Dick Ramette, he was told that Chemistry was the second best department on campus. He asked which department was the best, and Dick replied: “Women’s Physical Education. Ele Hansen is the Chair.”

A Mass of Christian Burial was held at The Church of St Dominic in Northfield on Thursday, July 25. Learn more about Ele Hansen in her full obituary, courtesy of Bierman funeral home.

Ele was held in the highest regards by those who knew her and many people touched by her spirit wanted to share how she influenced their lives. Many letters were collected sharing stories of Ele and thanking her for the impact she had on Women’s Athletics. Please enjoy reading these “Letters to Ele.”

A Carleton memorial service was held on Friday, October 18 in Skinner Chapel. A video of the service is below.

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  • 2013-07-22 17:17:27
    Dick Ramette

    In my Carleton years I felt privileged to know and admire examples of human greatness, exemplified (but not limited to) President Larry Gould, Merrill "Casey" Jarchow, Kenneth O. May, Leith Shackel, and Ele Hansen. In the latter example I and many others find it natural to use the compound name, "Ele Hansen and Pat Lamb," a perfect combination who, together, accomplished so much for the good of others.  

    It's true - and thanks to Jerry Mohrig (another entry for my short list above) for recalling - that in a convocation speech I bragged about Chemistry as the second-best Carleton department, topped only by Women's Physical Education.  

    So very many Carletonians will reminisce fondly about the happiness and inspiration that this remarkably upbeat team added to their lives. A small memory - through them I obtained at a discount a fine pair of snowshoes, which now are enjoyed by my grandson. More recently, Pat and Ele have been wintering here in Green Valley AZ, and have never failed to boost my spirits with encouragement over my modest participation in the annual Senior Games.  

    Human Greatness is the result of a long life that has followed what I like to call the primary commandment, "Thou shalt care!" and with Ele and Pat this has been as natural as breathing.

  • 2013-07-23 14:05:14
    Joyce Davis

    I was fortunate to work in the WPE department in the early 1980's.  During the interview I became confused by the constant reference to Patinelli because this was obviously an important person and I hadn't met anyone with that very Italian name.  It was deep into my first year at the College before realizing...Pat and Ele.  Ele was revered in life and will long be remembered by Carls for her humble greatness.  RIP.

  • 2013-07-23 15:10:38
    Judy (Vandenberg) Boudreau

    Ele was a role model for the graduating class of 1970.  I learned the importance of staying active and fit and loving life from both Ele and Pat.  My heart goes out to all that have loved her.  I wish I could be there for the service. 

  • 2013-07-23 15:39:35
    Marjean Hoeft

    I came to Carleton an overwhelmed and intimidated freshman. By the luckiest of chances, I wandered into the Rec Center and met Ele, a little imp with a welcoming and knowing smile, whose encouragement kept me going, particularly through that first year.  She taught me how to keep stats for the softball team, lock up the Rec Center after my shift, and most importantly, how to be happy being the person I am.  She and Pat will always have a very special place in my heart.

  • 2013-07-23 15:52:41
    Megan Morrison '13

    I just graduated from Carleton and played soccer all 4 years. I owe all of that to Ele and Pat, whose legacy lives on and inspires us today when we learn about all they have done for Carleton and women's sports here. I also had the chance to have lunch with Pat and Ele which meant so much to me. I was so warmed by their open hearts and dedication to the Carleton community and athletics. Ele I know will forever be a part of the Carleton team.

  • 2013-07-23 17:51:14
    Marie Matsen '69

    Ele Hansen is one of a very small number of people who changed my life in significant ways. In addition, she was the most cheerful and optimistic person I have ever known. I am so fortunate to have known her for 48 years as a teacher, coach, mentor, colleague, and loving friend.  I will miss her terribly.

    Thank you Megan Morrison for a most fitting tribute: "Ele will forever be a part of the Carleton team."

  • 2013-07-23 19:00:52
    Judith Dian Larsen

    I was not a terrific athlete but I enjoyed athletics.     Ele Hanson made me and the rest of the women feel as if athletics were a natural activity in which to participate.  This was the beginning of my attitude about equal rights and opportunity.


  • 2013-07-23 20:04:49
    Beverlee DeCoux

    Ele was a wise, beautiful and strong woman. I admired her and loved her, too.

  • 2013-07-23 20:43:56
    Nancy Kerr, class of '70

    In the time before Title 9 Ele and Pat were strong role models for women being strong, being leaders, and being active and fit. She was inspirational and overwhelmingly positive. A great teacher and friend.

  • 2013-07-24 05:47:49
    Nikki Shenk '10

    I met Ele at the Cross Country Reunion that was held during my time as a student. I had already heard many amazing things about her, so it was especially exciting to meet her. It was inspirational to hear from her how times had changed from when she first started at Carleton. Cross county/track at Carleton was a huge part of my college experience, and I'm grateful for all the ways Ele shaped the program.

  • 2013-07-24 06:01:03
    Madelene Jorgensen, Class of 71/72

    Ele Hansen was one of those great people who accomplished wonders with humility, caring, strength of character, and doggone hard work. Together with Pat Lamb and many others in the Women's Phy Ed Dep't, she created an atmosphere in which women could participate and succeed in sports, back in the 50's and 60's before Title IX, when we were told that women did not sweat or perspire - we glowed! When we came to Carleton, in 1967, the Women's Rec Center was the most modern center for women that we had even seen - and all the guys came there, too, to swim and take courses. Both Ele and Pat have been, and will remain, role models for many Carls in the years to come.

  • 2013-07-24 23:07:56
    Audrey Fisher Helminiak, '83

    I was not one of Ele's better talents on the cross country circuit, but she touched my life with her kind, gentle, yet strong presence as she did with so many. RIP, Coach!

  • 2013-07-25 12:55:32
    Marie Del Toro, '79

    Ele Hanson was one of the most caring and inspirational people I have ever met.  I was fortunate to attend Carleton at a time when cross country running was just getting started, and I feel honored to have been a part of the team my junior and senior years.  I have wonderful memories of cross country meets and hearing Ele shout "You can do it" or something close to that.  My love of running was nurtured by Ele, and I think of her often as I coach track for 9 and 10 year old runners in Portland.  We will all miss her!!!

  • 2013-07-25 19:30:02
    Karen Ogren Yax, '84

    I just visited Carleton on July 15 with my daughter, Emily, on a college visit and I was telling her all about Ele (and Pat). Many of my fondest memories of my years at Carleton center around both of them. I will always remember Ele helping out with softball. I didn't run cross country, but I remember Ele on her moped riding along with the team and it always makes me smile. Ele was a very positive and supportive force at Cowling. I'll miss you Ele.

  • 2013-07-25 20:40:03
    Karla Menze Vandersypen, '68

    Ele was my gateway to women's sports, both at Carleton and for the rest of my life. A a pre-Title-IX female, I didn't know what I was missing. FIrst in Phys. Ed. classes, either with Ele or with Pat, and then in club sports, I found many activities that I really liked and was even moderately good at. As I got to know her, Ele became one of my favorite people at the College. Her low-key, self-deprecating humor and her very apparent interest in her students' progress and well-being were very appealing characteristics. I still force myself to do things "because they're good for my character," as Ele liked to put it. I can see her now in my mind's eye; to have known her has enriched my life.

  • 2013-07-25 21:21:19
    Katie Freeman '05

    In 2005, I was one of the lucky recipients of the end of the year awards in honor of Ele and Pat. But the real award was getting to share a lunch with the two of them. Despite 4 years of athletics, and multiple cards wishing luck to our Knight's squads from the two of them, this was my first meeting. You could see Ele's sweet, supportive, yet spunky personality right away. She shared with us the original story of "banana sweats" and wanting something bright and vibrant that would stand out and allow women to identify each other from across campus as athletes. She wanted woman to be proud of their teams and their athleticism. Every time I wear my bananas, I think of Ele and her vision, and I love sharing the story each year with the current team at our alumni game. I'm so thankful that I had the chance to meet Ele and even more thankful for the ways she shaped Carleton woman's athletics. It is truly a Carleton Athletic family, and she has created that environment for all of us.

  • 2013-07-26 11:45:27
    Patricia Blomquist

    Ele lived a full life--and thousands of women are now living a healthy, strong life because of Ele's wisdom and spunk. May her spirit live in joy and peace, always present in Carleton.

  • 2013-07-28 19:08:06
    Hilary Fuller Renner

    As one of the cross-country runners behind Ele in the photo above, I was fortunate to be on her team at Carleton and run at nationals the last year she coached. She gave me great support when I managed the Alpine ski team while I was at Carleton not only competing, but also doing all the logistics for the team, hiring our coach, and managing our budget.  As difficult as this was, I realized that being on a team was not just about individual athletic accomplishment but leading others.  Thank you Ele.  

  • 2013-08-02 12:08:50
    Denise Stahura

    Ele's was a welcoming presence.  I wasn't one of her great athletic stars, but I felt accepted.  She gave me an idea of what a strong AND kind woman could be.

  • 2013-08-07 22:44:20
    Heather LaChapelle '08

    In 2008, I was lucky enough to receive one of the awards given in honor of Ele and Pat.  The best part of the award was getting time to spend with Ele and Pat.  Sitting down with these two allowed a glimpse into how the world has changed for women, and how their concrete contributions shaped my experience at Carleton (as well as that of many others).  Over a lunch of discussion and laughter, Ele's sense of purpose and her joy in how she lived her life made an impression on me.  Her stories of the past and her hopes for the future were imbued with optimism.  I feel lucky to have had her paving the way for me in athletics and leadership, as well as getting to spend time with someone so caring and strong.  Her life was truly one to be admired.  Her example and spirit will to live on, not only in her legacy, but through the countless lives she has touched.

  • 2013-08-08 19:52:06
    Kim Gillen '86

    When I came to Carleton in the early '80s, I hadn't even heard of Title IX. It wasn't until much later as a teacher and swim coach that I realized it was because of committed, tenacious and passionate women like Ele (and Pat) that I was able to compete at a high level during my years at Carleton. Ele's warmth, positive energy and support helped make me feel like I belonged at Carleton; memories of those same qualities helped me be a better teacher and coach.

  • 2013-08-09 11:10:41
    Martha H. Verbrugge '71

    I arrived at Carleton shortly after Cowling was built and graduated just before Title IX was enacted. The women’s Rec Center and Bell Field became a second home for many Carls in the late 1960s, and campus seemed to come alive each morning when Pat and Ele arrived in their “big white bathtub.” Without the benefit of Title IX, women’s teams lacked official uniforms, travel was limited, and the softball and basketball schedules were rather ad hoc (ranging from our cross-town rivals to powerhouse schools from the Twin Cities and beyond). Despite these limitations, we had a great time! Ele, Pat, and other staff members organized a full array of intercollegiate, intramural, and recreational activities—giving every female student an opportunity to learn, play, compete, and participate in the Women’s Rec Association. Most of all, Ele wanted us to be active, to grow in skill and confidence, to have fun and find friends, and to always feel welcome and valued. Our enthusiasm for sports sometimes exceeded our talent—but Ele taught and encouraged us, smiled and kept upbeat, and stayed true to her vision and philosophy of physical education. She was a “coach” in every sense of the word.

  • 2013-08-09 17:23:19
    Beth Reed '87

    The Cross Country Running team was my introduction to Carleton as a Freshman. My roommate, Susan Hankins-Fritzell was also on the team and it was the best start I could have had. I'll never forget Ele on her moped chasing us around as we did intervals across the sports fields by Cowling and Evans and up by the Hill of Three Oaks. Carleton athletics reinforced the values of teamwork, excellence in performance and character and service. Ele Hansen was the role model. Thanks Ele. A life well lived.

  • 2013-08-18 11:01:54
    Carolyn Hunt '87

    I was deeply saddened to learn of Ele's passing and moved by the depth and richness of her life and her enormous contributions to women's athletics. My participation in Carleton's cross-country program was a highlight of my time at college. We were a strong, cohesive team that worked hard and had fun...and Ele was a big part of both. A favorite memory is our annual run to the apple orchard each fall, and of course, Ele on her moped urging us on. I was fortunate to see Ele and Pat at a recent reunion--both full of life and energy. My condolences to Pat and those close. She was a remarkable woman.

  • 2013-08-21 20:54:55
    Helen McDonald '62

    I was and am deeply saddened by Ele Hansen's death.  Ele was the kind of person who had a special ability to touch and encourage those she came in contact with to do the best that they could in whatever they tried to do.  In the late 50's and early 60's, when the women's gym at Carleton consisted of the basement of Gridley Hall, Ele was able to make women's athletics fun and challenging and an important place to be.  Ele was my Freshman Advisor, my Mentor and my role model for life.  Although she is no longer with us physically, her wonderful spirit will be with us always.

  • 2013-08-27 13:36:53
    Susan Cohen '76

    While on my first visit to Carleton as I was trying to decide where I wanted to attend college, Ele Hansen was a very gracious tour guide and advocate for Carleton.  After touring the campus with our offical admissions tour guide, my parents and I found the Women's Gym, walked in and there was Ele Hansen. She was so enthusiastic about Carleton.  She was so welcoming to us that it was then and there that I was convinced to go to Carleton! She, of course, continued to be such an advicate for women's sports and the college throughout my 4 years at Carleton.  I remember her being present at most if not all of our field hockey games - cheering us on.  Such a great lady!  She will be missed but always remembered.

  • 2013-09-09 09:30:41
    Tani Maruyama '78

    As a science major and not the most athletic person, the thought of PE requirements was a little daunting. However my PE tennis classes with Pat Lamb and interactions with the positive forces of Ele Hanson and Pat Lamb are some of my most cherished memories of Carleton! Thanks to Ele and Pat for their positive leadership role models for women of Carleton. I learned much about motivation and management from them. My thoughts are with you Pat. Take care.

  • 2013-09-09 15:23:28
    Dick Shelton '71

    I took all but one of my Phys Ed classes on the East Side:  it was a much more welcoming place than the Other Side.  From volleyball to fencing and especially International Folk Dance, it was a welcome respite from the books, and I always felt at home there.  Ele was willing to work around the norms:  she hired me as a student instructor in Women's Phys Ed to teach International Folk Dance, and the model she set for the entire department helped me become effective at what teaching involves beyond actual instruction.  When I visit Carleton today, Cowling is where I feel I've come home.

  • 2013-09-10 22:02:38
    Britt Weber '94

    I first met Ele and Pat as a freshman during the fall season of women's tennis. While not formally coached by either of them, I definitely viewed them as part of the extended coaching staff. It was pretty much a given that if we had a home match, they would be there cheering us on. Getting to know Pat and Ele has given me a better appreciation for all the work that went into advancing women's athletics. I certainly have benefitted from their work - both on and off the tennis court. I am saddened by Ele's death as she was such a warm and generous person. I am grateful to have known her. Pat - my thoughts are with you.

  • 2013-09-13 14:47:58
    Gail Stratton

    I was so sorry to get this news!! But so proud of all that Ele did with her life. How many people did she mentor and inspire?!! She surely did me, and if I passed that on at all, it is to her credit as well. I was always glad to see her. She was such a model of working hard, having fun, and building great things that last. She knew how to pick the rec leaders and she gave us responsiblity, and then helped us to do the job she knew we could. Gosh I am sorry she is gone. Blessings on your now free spirit and may you continue to inspire!!!!

  • 2013-09-28 20:11:40
    Sanna Randall '78

    As I was unloading the car and moving into Nourse almost 40 years ago, three women walked by and commented; "Oh we have another athlete" as they saw my field hockey and lacrosse sticks....I hadn't intended on playing sports in college because I was going to "get serious" about my academics but my mom had insisted that I take my sticks with me. Thank God Ele, Pat and Mylla passed me that day and invited me in to play...I've never really stopped. They literally saved my life and so many other lives with their encouragement and enthusiasm for all things sports. Pat and Ele also offered their love and support as I searched and questioned my own identity at a time when being open and honest was very difficult. They led by grace and beauty and I always admired them for that. I remember a very funny story, visiting their house for a meeting of some sort we were all given a tour before we sat down to business. Being rather naive, I just assumed that there was another bedroom on the other side of the house we hadn't seen. This is hard to believe in 2013 but in 1974 these were brave women to open their home and lives for anyone to see. When I did open my eyes they were gracious and supportive mentors. Life Partner wasn't a term we could use back then but thank god we can celebrate 52 years of a wonderful relationship!! Congratulations to Ele for a life well lived, she will be missed....and sympathies to Pat for the loss of a fabulous life partner. Sanna Randall

  • 2013-10-03 13:51:00
    Cathy (Brown) Kemper, '62

    In 1962 the women's facilities were pretty primitive, altho' we did have a stable(!) and riding lessons. We were all required to take PE but with no academic credit (I imagine that's not changed?). Ele and Pat met this challenge with the best classes imaginable - I remember Pat teaching us to ski on the hills beside Myers and Evans, and I did take riding. The enrichment, challeges and life lessons they provided were a new world, another world, apart from chemistry and physics and calculus. But my favorite memory of them both is the glow of excitement when they returned from a national conference on an old but renewing sport called "gymnastics". They ordered up a gym-full of the best equipment available, just for us, and started teaching us how to balance, walk, roll, flip, and fly. They put the Education in PE in a way we could keep with us the rest of our lives. They taught us how to learn every bit as much as, and sometimes more than our other classes. There's something else I learned from them, and that's their commitment to each other. In the early 60's, to a 16-yr-old, that was a revelation. Their lessons have stayed with me always, as will their memory. My thoughts are with you, Pat Lamb. Know you both will live forever with all of us you've reached.

  • 2013-10-03 14:53:55
    Michele Jiménez '80

    Ele once told my PE class that when we feel tired or sleepy, the best thing we can do for ourselves is take a walk (not sleep). Those were words I lived by then and now. Her positive energy was infectious.

  • 2013-10-07 10:16:21
    Lorie Tuma

    I met Ele Hansen in the late 80's, for a college PE credit I needed. She was my bowling coach and helped encourage me on how to approach the bowling lane, how to let go of the ball, and always knew I would throw a perfect game sometime in my life (which hasn't happened). I instantly felt her kindness and excitement over the chance to encourage students in a variety of sports. Through the years I would always be so pleased to see Ele and Pat, whether on campus, grocery shopping, or selling popcorn on Bridge Square. Ele always had a warm hug and a big smile for friends and was interested in what was happening in your life. I know she is smiling down on all of us right now, as well as watching over Pat.

  • 2018-04-22 17:44:58
    Bernie Troje

    Ele was my mother's first cousin. Their mothers were sisters. I'm Muriel Troje's (Farrell) oldest son, so Ele's my second cousin. Unfortunately, these five years later, I just found out about Ele's death. I hadn't heard from her side of the family for quite some time so I went on line to see if I could locate her. My memories of her are connected with the times our family gathered for picnics at Pat and Ele's home, first near the Carleton campus and later out of town a few miles on a beautiful, secluded wooded lot. Going back many decades, the family had annual picnics in the Mounds Park area, and the picnics at Ele's were a continuation of these I suppose. I attended Carleton one summer in 1978 and spent several evenings out at their country home. When they found out I was taking my family camping up at Lake of the Woods, they went to their garage and found an old tent they said I could use for a cooking tent. It's still in the rafters of my garage in northern Itasca Co. I knew Ele and Pat were respected and loved at Carleton, but I am glad I've been able to read the adulation of their colleagues and students. I'm very proud to be able to call myself a relative of this wonderful person. As girls growing up on the east side of St. Paul, I think my mother and Ele were often together at family gatherings. My mother always spoke very glowingly about Ele's accomplishments.

  • 2019-10-02 10:39:21