While vacationing recently at a Joni and Friends Family Retreat, which serves families affected by disability, I had a rather interesting experience. For the first time in my eight-year history of writing this column, I interviewed face-to-face a person who couldn’t speak. Tim Hanson of Fargo, North Dakota, communicated using hand motions, facial expressions, nods, and a mini-computer. Besides being unable to speak, 46-year-old Hanson had difficulty walking, i.e., he shuffled, and he had short-term memory challenges.
What I discovered about Hanson and his past surprised me. In the process, I was reminded never to prejudge anyone with a disability.
“First stroke 1996 Jingle All The Way,” typed Hanson on his mini-computer in our interview. I later learned he had been referring to his job as a set dresser on the Twentieth Century Fox movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger called Jingle All The Way. Other movies Hanson worked on as set dresser include Grumpier Old Men, The Mighty Ducks, The Mighty Ducks II & III, The Vampire’s Embrace, In the Line of Duty, To Dream of Roses, and Trauma. A set dresser arranges objects before and during a film set shooting.
Besides film, Hanson had a resume of working as a lighting designer, stage manager, and sound technician for local and regional productions, including doing live stage lighting for the 1990 Special Olympics Opening Gala.
Hanson graduated from Concordia College in 1986 majoring in communications. While in choir there, he sang “first tenor, second chair,” he typed, and while performing at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., had the thrill of singing solo.
What caused his first stroke in 1998? “63 days working 18-hour days,” he typed, referring to working on Jingle All The Way. He claimed not many side effects from that stroke, but did from the second, which happened in 2003. Prior to it, he had been smoking heavily and not sleeping well. Also, he earned his nickname then of “Little Timmy” from being 6’2″ and weighing 380 pounds. He has since lost more than 100 pounds.
After his second stroke, he married an occupational therapist. The two have been married six years.
Hanson had accomplished a lot in life, and was obviously talented, and yet, at first, I’d had a great deal of trouble seeing past his disability. I’m glad I took time to know him as a person.