MARCUS, Iowa | Harlan Hansen won the mayoral election in Marcus last week, despite a couple of pronounced disadvantages.
No. 1: Hansen was a newcomer to the Cherokee County town, having moved here 2 1/2 years ago.
No. 2: Hansen wasn’t on the ballot. He waged a write-in campaign just two weeks prior to the election.
It must not have mattered, because he won, garnering 180 votes to upset candidates Gary Husman, the incumbent mayor, and Carl Nelson, who earned 152 and 113 votes, respectively.
I drove through Marcus during the last week of October and just missed an informal meet-and-greet hosted by Hansen at the Pizza Ranch one evening. I made a mental note while examining the sign placed in the middle of the downtown square, seeing that a write-in candidate was waging battle against two men already listed on the ballot.
I came back on Thursday to meet Hansen and learn how his election fell into place.
“It’s a unique story,” he said, while enjoying lunch with his wife, Virginia Hansen, at Pizza Ranch.
Seems Mayor Hansen is no political newbie. The 77-year-old was a member of the Humboldt County Supervisors for more than 20 years. He also served as president of the Iowa State Association of Counties.
In fact, Hansen had just been re-elected to the Humboldt County Supervisors in November 2013 when he and Virginia decided to relocate to Marcus.
Why Marcus? Well, their three grown daughters (Rozanne Gross, Renee Jackson and Becky Leavitt) all live in Marcus, residents here for a combined 67 years. Those women are mothers to the Hansens’ 10 grandchildren, all who’ve largely been raised here.
So, although the Hansens have only resided in town since April 2014, they enjoy lots of connections.
“I was running for re-election in Humboldt County when daughter Renee called and said she had a couple of houses for us to look at and consider,” Harlan said. “We came and looked and decided the second home had real potential for us.”
Still, Harlan stayed in the race in Humboldt County, running a race from their farmstead near Rutland, Iowa, where he and Virginia, sweethearts from the Kanawha (Iowa) High School Class of 1958, had lived and farmed since 1976. Harlan won the election and assumed office again in January 2014.
At about that time, a young man who was getting out of the military inquired about their acreage. He offered the appraisal price and the Hansens struck a deal. “We moved out on Easter Sunday in 2014,” Harlan said.
He commuted 90 miles back to Humboldt a couple of times per week until the end of that fiscal year, June 30, 2014. And that’s when he resigned from his seat on the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors.
He and Virginia then got to work in earnest, remodeling and updating their new residence one block north of MMC-RU High School. They also got involved in worship with their extended family at Grace United Methodist Church. Harlan substituted in golf league before becoming a full-fledged participant in a couple of golf leagues in town.
And, he and Virginia stayed busy attending dozens of school activities in which their grandchildren participated.
City government wasn’t on Harlan’s radar until this fall when Dan Erickson, of Marcus, asked Becky Leavitt if her dad might be interested in running for mayor. Erickson had done a little background reading on Harlan and came to realize he had amassed a lengthy political resume.
“I had never even met Dan Erickson,” Harlan said.
Erickson contacted city councilman Bruce Dreckman, the Marcus resident who works as an umpire on the Major League Baseball circuit.
“Bruce called me and really gave me a good arm-twisting,” Harlan said. “I told Bruce that I was 77 years old and had come to Marcus to retire.”
Dreckman must have been convincing, because Harlan, in late October, agreed to become a write-in candidate for mayor.
The retiree offered a summary of his career to Dreckman, who had the information printed on a flier distributed by friends and family members. The Hansens placed an ad in the Marcus News and on Facebook. Grandchildren helped Grandpa make some wooden signs to be placed around town. Those signs have since become the inside of a shed in Harlan’s backyard.
“On election night we looked at the Cherokee County website and all the towns had reported except Marcus,” Virginia said.
“I’m told that it takes longer to count write-in votes as the machines don’t scan them,” Harlan added.
He learned he may have won the election via phone call from Dreckman, who was vacationing in Hawaii. Harlan laughed and said he has no idea how Dreckman found out.
“Nothing was normal in this election,” Virginia said with a giggle.
So, on Monday, Harlan Hansen, the Marcus newbie attended his first city council meeting in his new community. He’ll attend a couple of others in his attempt to “get the lay of the land” before he assumes office in January.
“This is what I’d call a typical, friendly Iowa town,” the new mayor said. “We’re thankful we’re here in the same community as our children and grandchildren.”
Little did he know he’d be leading that community shortly after becoming a resident.