Dale C. Maley
Nelse Wesley “Wes” Hanson was a born athlete who excelled in many different sports. He also owned the Fairbury Auto Chevrolet dealership for 48 years, from 1919 to 1967.
Wes Hanson was one of Fairbury’s most gifted athletes. He was a star player on the Bon Ton Limits basketball team and was one of the best golfers in central Illinois.
Wes Hanson’s family history began with the birth of his father, Frank Levin Hanson, in Sweden in 1850. When Frank L. Hanson was 16, in 1866, he emigrated from Sweden to Paxton. Frank learned the harness trade and worked in a harness shop in Paxton.
In 1875 Frank Hanson married Mary Charlotte Peterson in Paxton. Mary Peterson was born in 1856 in Katilistad, Sweden. Frank Hanson was 24 and Mary Peterson was 18 when they got married. They had five children.
In 1887 the Frank Hanson family moved to Roberts. Frank continued his trade as a harness maker in Roberts until he moved to Goodland, Indiana, in 1903. In 1908 Frank Hanson moved to Fairbury and worked as a harness maker at Mapel Brothers on Locust Street.
In 1921, when Frank was 71, his health began to decline. Frank had to retire after working 55 years as a harness maker. Frank Hanson died in 1925 at the age of 75 and was buried in Graceland Cemetery.
The youngest of Frank and Mary Hanson’s five children was Nelse Wesley Hanson. He was born in 1889 in Roberts. Wes was 10 when his family moved to Fairbury. He attended local schools until eighth grade.
Wes Hanson was a naturally gifted athlete. He enjoyed skating, baseball, basketball and swimming in his youth. From around 1910, Wes played on men’s basketball teams, including Fairbury’s Bon Ton Limits.
In 1914, Wes Hanson and Carl Goudy opened an Excelsior motorcycle dealership in Fairbury. Wes and Carl were good friends and played basketball on the Bon Ton Limits team. The Bon Ton was a pharmacy west of the Langstaff Clinic on Locust Street. This pharmacy sponsored a men’s basketball team and named it after the pharmacy. They played their games at the Locust Street Opera House. Steidinger Meats now occupies the location of this opera house.
In 1881, Jacob Hollenback and JT Clemens founded the Fairbury Bottling Works. Their bottling facility was located off First Street in the alley between Hickory and Ash streets. In 1890, CC Hollenback and his brother-in-law Frank Combes bought the bottling from the estate of JT Clemens. They operated the bottling plant from 1890 to 1910.
Frank Combes married Miss Belle Hollenback. One of their children was Esther Marie Combes, born in 1894 in Fairbury. Esther grew up in Fairbury and married Wes Hanson in 1915. Wes was 25 and Esther was 21 when they married in Fairbury. Wes and Esther Hanson had no children.
In 1916 Wes purchased a garage from Herman Lies. In 1919 Wes got a Chevrolet dealership. Wes named his business the Fairbury Auto Company.
After being named a Chevrolet dealership, Wes hired 13-year-old Spud Schlipf as a “gopher”. A gopher meant the person would pick up parts and stuff for the dealership. Spud eventually purchased the dealership in 1967. Spud is considered the “father” of Fairbury motor racing because he started midget car racing in 1946.
In 1922-23, Wes owned a race car that was used many times on the American Legion’s half-mile dirt track. The driver of this car was Doyt Atha of Lafayette, Indiana. Wes never drove the car.
Wes Hanson was an exceptionally talented golfer. He was a founding member of the Indian Creek Golf Course when it was established in 1926. Wes was the annual champion of the Fairbury Golf Course for many years. Wes Hanson won the Bloomington City Championship in 1944. He won the highest title at Pontiac Country Club every year from 1937 to 1945. Wes continued to compete in senior golf championships later in life.
Some Fairbury Auto Company employees with Wes Hanson were Lyle Winterland, Joe Schlitz, Milton Mullins, Lyle Corkhill, Harold Friedman and Kenneth Hanshew.
In 1933, the manager of the Third Street Opera House dreamed up a “mystery couple” wedding as a publicity stunt to attract more patrons to his theatre. After several weeks of publicity about the mystery couple, the wedding took place on the stage of the theater. The groom was Mr. Martin Hacker and the bride was Mrs. Nellie Hayden. Twenty-three Fairbury merchants donated wedding gifts to the newlyweds. The most important wedding gift was a brand new 1933 Chevrolet donated by Wes Hanson and the Fairbury Auto Company.
Wes Hanson was one of the founding members of Knoll Lodge. Wes eventually became the only living member of the 20 members who formed the club in April 1919.
Mr. Hanson was stricken with heart problems in the last years of his life. At that time, very little could be done with patients with heart problems.
On a sweltering day in August 1961, Wes was playing the game he loved, golf, at Indian Creek Golf Course. He suffered a heart attack during the course and died when a friend drove him to Fairbury Hospital. Wes Hanson was 71 when he died. Wes was the oldest active Chevrolet dealership in the Chicago area. This area included Chicago and extended as far south as Colfax. Wes was buried in Graceland Cemetery. Esther Hanson died at age 90 in 1985.