Recipient Biography

Earl Philip Hanson

Earl Philip Hanson (1905-2001) received the Pugsley Medal in 1967. He had more than 40 years of park and recreation experience. For 10 years, prior to graduation from college, he worked with the city of Oakland Recreation Department as playground director, assistant camp manager and social recreation director. He was a forestry major at the University of California, Berkeley, and received his B.S. Degree in 1936. For the next 30 years he served with distinction in various capacities with the California State Division of Parks, the Division of Beaches and Parks, and the Department of Parks and Recreation.
After graduation he joined the California Division of Parks and was assigned to work in the redwood parks as a seasonal nature guide. In 1938 he accepted a year­-round, permanent position as state park warden and was assigned to La Purisima Mission State Historic Parle. Later he served as a ranger and then chief ranger at Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Subsequently, he became assistant district superintendent for the northern region.
In March 1945, the California State Park Commission instructed the chief of the Division of Beaches and Parks to hire Hanson as a state park nature guide on a month-to-month basis with responsibility for preparing maps and general information for distribution to the public. As a part of this assignment, Hanson was asked to study park pamphlet programs in other states with regard to their cost, design, etc, and make recommendations to the commission.
In June 1948, Hanson accepted an appointment as deputy chief of the Division of Beaches and Parks. In that statewide assignment, he served as chief of park operations for 17 years. On three occasions (1950-51, 1959, 1966-67), he held the position of acting director pending the appointment of a new  permanent  director by a newly elected governor. He was appointed chief of the Division in May 1967, and retired shortly thereafter in November 1967, when the Division of Beaches and Parks was replaced by the Department of Parks and Recreation. During the course of his career, Hanson saw the transformation of the California state park system from a struggling few units to a highly diversified and extensive complex of parks, beaches, scenic and scientific reserves, recreational areas, and historical units.
Hanson pioneered the idea of area operations which became the ranger districts in the field organization. He developed the first in-service training courses for field personnel and helped build the basis for the division's interpretive services unit. For many years Hanson wrote a thoughtful and well-respected column for the department's newsletter, News and Views, titled "The Better Ranger" in which he commented on aspects of the park system and conservation.
In 1952, he was honored by the National Association for Conservation Education and Publicity for outstanding service to conservation education in California and for his support and leadership in pioneering the state park naturalist program. He believed interpretation to be "one of the important functions in our state park program" because "through an interpretive program we have a better informed public, a better educated public and a public who will continue to appreciate and accept the philosophies of the California State Park System." He was an ardent conservationist observing:
We are all familiar with the ever-present pressure working against all natural park organizations, to give an inch here and there in the exploitation of the natural resources of parks. In all such organizations, including our own, if every inch requested had been granted, our park system would bear no resemblance to its present self.
In 1962, after holding various offices in the National Conference on State Parks, he was elected president, the first Californian to be accorded this honor. Along with a number of other park professionals, he worked to establish a park management curriculum in 1956 at Sacramento State College and served as lecturer for some courses. Hanson was especially proud of this contribution because park career-minded high school students, who until then had not been provided with opportunities for college training in the specifics of park management, could now find an opportunity through a college curriculum leading to a B.S. degree with a major in park management and administration.The pioneering nature of this course was noted when Hanson, writing almost  10 years later in 1965 was able to report, "At the present  time, there are only about one-half dozen courses in the United States that lead to a degree which includes the name park."
In 1973, the California State Park Ranger Association bestowed on Earl Hanson the honor of becoming an honorary ranger. Through his energy and character, Hanson became the department's "Mr. Park Ranger," mentoring generations of rangers and other park staff throughout the system. He believed that "Better rangers are not necessarily born, they are developed."
In his early years, he was a master at doing imaginative and memorable campfire programs. Throughout his long and eventful life, he loved story telling, word play, and making outrageous puns. A long-time colleague noted, "Your good sense of humor has always shown through to lighten the day's work for others." His conviction that the park profession was a high calling, and his patience, diplomacy, and reliable sense of fairness won him the respect and admiration of people throughout the California Division of Beaches and Parks and its successor agency, the California Department of Parks and Recreation.
March 20, 1973. CSPRA Reporter. Hanson, Earl Philip. Excerpts from "The Better Ranger." News and Views.
Joe Engbeck contributed to the developent of this profile.