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Sign lady signs off

Karen Hanson announced her retirement in an appropriate way last month.

For the better part of two decades, Karen Hanson used plastic letters and a light-up sign as her own personal ministry to the world. Or at least the part of it that drove on Akin Road.

For 17 years, it was Hanson’s job to manage the sign in front of Bible Baptist Church. It’s a job she viewed as her own personal form of outreach to the community. A chance to make people laugh, make them smile or make them think as they rolled past at 45 miles per hour.

“The signs that were put up there could be humorous, they could be thought provoking,” Hanson said. “For many years, nobody knew who was doing it.”

It was never Hanson’s plan to manage the signs. She got involved because her son, who was 7 or 8 at the time, got it in his head he wanted to be in charge of the church’s message board. He couldn’t handle the job himself, though, so the family took it on as a project.

Then, as often happens with 8-year-olds, Hanson’s son lost interest. Hanson kept going, though. She updated the messages every week when she could, every two weeks when her schedule or other circumstances made it tougher to get a new message in place.

In the beginning, the messages were dictated by pastor Thomas Yauch. Gradually, though, Hanson got more leeway in the exact wording of the message. Within about six months she was in total control.

The messages she posted came from a variety of sources. She had a couple of books with photos of church signs, and she’d find inspiration when she was driving around. Some of the messages came from friends or other church members.

There were a lot of messages, too — an estimated 875 in all. There were a few times Hanson repeated messages, particularly around the holidays. But for the most part each message was posted only once.

The signs got attention. More than one inspired passing drivers to stop and take a picture.

Many of the signs mentioned religion or the Bible directly — one of Hanson’s favorites: “Don’t give up. Remember, Moses was a basket case.” — but sometimes the message was meant to inspire in other ways.

“The signs weren’t always religious in nature,” Hanson said. “One I put up just recently was, ‘It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.’”

Hanson has enjoyed her sign duty, but her schedule changed recently, and she no longer has time to give the job the attention it deserves. Much of Hanson’s work has been done anonymously. Few people knew the person behind Bible Baptist’s message. But she announced her retirement recently in the most fitting way she could: With a sign.

“I did it as a ministry,” she said. “I don’t want the glory for myself. I want people to think more about how God can change them as opposed to me getting the glory.”

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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