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Bronze statue of Col. Ray "Rock" Hanson.
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From l-r, College of Education & Human Services Dean Emeritus, former WIU President and Marine Corps Veteran David Taylor, Vice President for Advancement & Public Services Brad Bainter, President Jack Thomas, Vice President Emeritus for Administrative Services Jackie Thompson, Lt. Col. (Ret) Dave Thompson and WIU Associate Professor of Art Duke Oursler.
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Hanson Statue Unveiled at WIU

September 29, 2017

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MACOMB, IL – It's a great day to be a Leatherneck.

Famed Western Illinois University coach, athletic director and WWI and WWII Marine Corps veteran Ray "Rock" Hanson was remembered today on the WIU campus with the unveiling of a bronze statue of his likeness, created by WIU Associate Professor of Art Duke Oursler. The statue overlooks Hanson Field on the Macomb campus.

The project was made possible due to a substantial donation from WIU alumni Vice President Emeritus of Administrative Services Jackie Thompson, and her husband Lt. Col. (Ret) Dave Thompson.

"In the 118 years since this University was founded, no one individual has impacted Western more than Rock Hanson. His pride in his service with the Marine Corps led to his request to use the Leathernecks as our nickname. It's also the reason why the English Bulldog is our mascot. Our reputation as a military friendly school can no doubt be traced back to the nearly 40 years of service Rock Hanson gave to Western," said Brad Bainter, vice president for advancement and public services.

Hanson, a legendary World War I and World War II hero and decorated Marine Corps colonel, began his long tenure at Western in 1926. Hanson, who coached football, baseball and basketball, served as director of the physical education department and is distinguished as the longest-serving athletic director at Western. It was because of Hanson's determination and persistence, along with his Marine Corps legacy, that helped secure The Fighting Leathernecks as WIU's team name in 1927. Today, Western remains the only public school in the U.S. to use the Leathernecks as its nickname.

After working for one year as a railway secretary following high school graduation, Hanson joined the Marine Corps during World War I. He was assigned to a unit—later called the Devil Dogs—that would forever be a legend through Marine Corps history, the 96th Company, 1st Replacement Battalion, Sixth Regiment. Hanson survived the Battle of Belleau Wood, and he was awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism in saving the life of a fellow soldier who had been seriously wounded.

Hanson had moved through the ranks of private, corporal, sergeant, gunnery sergeant, and second lieutenant, and he won numerous medals and honors: the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, the Purple Heart, the Good Conduct Medal, the Victory Medal and the Army of Occupation of Germany Medal. Other than burns and gassing, for which he earned the Purple Heart, Hanson had not been wounded. After the war, Hanson enrolled at Springfield College in Massachusetts, and it was there that he became friends with world-renown Notre Dame Football Coach Knute Rockne.

Following Hanson's graduation, he worked as a coach at a Connecticut high school for one year before Rockne helped him secure a coaching position at Western Illinois State Teachers College.

During his tenure at Western, war broke out again, and with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Hanson found himself back at Marine headquarters in Quantico, VA. Because of his distinguished performance in World War I and his unfailing energy, Hanson's responsibility during WWII included building morale among the troops.

Following the end of the war, Hanson was back on campus by February 1946. President Frank Beu appointed Hanson as athletic director and physical education department chair. He retired in 1964 after a 38-year career at Western. Even after his retirement, Coach Hanson remained active at WIU and in the Macomb community. On Nov. 16, 1974, when the Western Sports Hall of Fame formally opened, Rock was named a charter member of the first induction class. He passed away Jan. 4, 1982, at the age of 86.

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