Tracy Frank, Published November 12 2013
Her Voice: Multiple tragedies lead 74-year-old to live life to fullest
MOORHEAD – At age 74, Karyn Hanson has traveled to 48 countries. Along the way she’s gone canoeing, horseback riding in the mountains, snorkeling, hot air ballooning over the Nile River, and zip-lining in Costa Rica.
The ovarian cancer survivor has learned to live life to its fullest despite facing several major challenges. Her husband died of lung cancer 15 years ago, and her son died of spinal meningitis when he was 4.
“When I was given a 15 to 20 percent chance to live, I felt that every day was a day I didn’t deserve, and I still feel that way,” she said. “Every day I do something really fun because it is a celebration.”
She worked as an English and literature teacher for most of her life at Moorhead High School and Concordia College. She said reading gave her a zest for travel.
“Every wonderful place I read about I wanted to see,” said Hanson, who spends summers on Big Cormorant Lake near Detroit Lakes and winters in Mesa, Ariz.
She traveled to Norway and Germany before her husband died. She did rosemaling (a style of Norwegian decorative painting) and taught German, so she had good excuses to visit those countries, she said.
After her husband died, she started traveling more often.
“Both he and an aunt who had traveled a lot said, ‘When you’re alone, go until you get the travel out of your system,’ and I never did,” Hanson said.
Travel seems to be in her blood. She had a grandfather who served as a missionary in Madagascar and rebuilt churches in Poland after World War I. She had an aunt who worked at a university in China because there were no jobs in the United States when she graduated in 1929. She also has a granddaughter who’s done mission work in Africa.
“If you have people around you who have done exciting things, just sitting home and playing bridge and golf and those things that I enjoy a lot didn’t seem as exciting as they might be otherwise,” Hanson said.
It also helps that her daughter supports her adventurous spirit, Hanson said.
A quote over her desk from the novel “Cat’s Cradle” by Kurt Vonnegut states: “Peculiar travel plans are dancing lessons from God.”
Hanson said she believes that wholeheartedly.
Instead of letting the tragedies she’s been through destroy her, Hanson found blessings even in those experiences.
“When you’re really hurting, people surround you, and I had so many wonderful friends who just came in and gave me a zest for life,” she said. “What were some of the worst times were some of the best.”
She deals with loneliness by traveling and finds joy in planning her trips. Sometimes she travels with friends, but she’s also traveled alone.
“The thing I found hardest to do was when I went zip-lining,” she said. “But I thought, if they have to write my obituary and say that I died zip-lining through the jungles of Costa Rica, there are worse things I could be doing. I think you have to step outside your comfort zone sometimes to know that you’re alive.”
When she’s not traveling, Hanson fills her days playing card games, tennis, golf, doing crossword puzzles, picture puzzles and reading.
She also loves to entertain.
“I can’t think of a nicer occasion than to have friends around a table, a nice dinner and a lovely evening,” she said. “It’s my favorite thing.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526