25 years ago, Chuck Hanson experienced what he calls the most extraordinary volunteering experience ever.
"In less than two months we collected, sorted, boxed and had ready for shipment over 4,000 pounds of food clothing and medicine. Every grocery store in the area was a collection site," said Hanson.
It was called Hands Across The Heartland, a massive effort to come to the aid of the people living in La Crosse’s sister city, Dubna, Russia. Chuck and the volunteers exceeded their own expectations.
"We got the federal government to fly in with a cargo plane and a waiver to send a special delegation. Then we sent someone over to Russia. We then had enough to send another 747 and then we still had stuff left over. What was remarkable that everything that was collected made it to Dubna," said Hanson.
Making the almost impossible possible is somewhat of a habit for Chuck Hanson. That’s how Hanson describes making the Freedom Honor Flight in Wisconsin a reality.
"I remember going to one anonymous donor and sharing the vision with them and they wrote a check for $25,000 but to get an airplane at that time was closer to $80,000, but you had to have a $25,000 down payment. If you didn’t make the rest of the payments you’re not going to go anywhere, but we felt confident that the community would make it happen," said Hanson.
Today, almost 1,000 Wisconsin servicemen and women have made the trip to Washington, D.C to see the memorial built in their honor.
The Friendship Gardens at Riverside Park is another major accomplishment but with a different goal.
"It’s so important that we realize we are part of a very large world that’s very interconnected and we’re much better off if we can understand each other and we can celebrate difference in the beauty and diversity," said Hanson.
Hanson helped bridge La Crosse with four of its seven sister cities.