Sharing her knowledge about gardening and her love for art make Janice Hasselius stand out as this year’s Aitkin Independent Age’s choice of “Person of the Year.”
Janice Rush was born and raised in Aitkin, graduating from high school in 1962. She married her high school sweetheart, Donald Hasselius, a Minnesota High School state wrestling champion, who was undefeated in his senior year. They moved to Fridley where son, Dan, was born in 1966. Todd was born in 1968 and the family then moved to Blaine.
“It was a very ‘Beaver Cleaveresque‘ childhood for us,” said Todd. “We grew up in a suburb full of other kids to play with and a good school district. It was a very stable environment. Our dad was a master plumber.
“Mom was an assistant buyer for The Hallmark Corporation. Eventually, Hallmark moved its headquarters to Kansas City,” he added, “and Mom stopped working regularly. This freed up her time and was the beginning of her serious community volunteering and involvement with local arts groups.”
While living in Blaine, Jan participated in Artist del Norte’s rotating art and displayed art throughout the northern suburban area. She is a charter member of the Blaine Art Council.
It wasn’t all perfect, however, according to Todd. Right around the time the boys were graduating from high school she was run over by a car while walking down the street.
“It was touch and go daily for many months,” said Todd. “The doctors told her she wasn’t going to walk again. She did. Mom is tenacious. She had been run over by a car and broken more than 100 bones. She has fallen down stairs and cracked her back in several places. Even with chronic pain, she kept going.
“She always manages to find energy to help the world around her,” he said.
Jan has always been active with her faith. She and Don went on several mission trips together through the Peace Lutheran Church in Coon Rapids.
Don and Jan were building their retirement home in Aitkin County when Don was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. They moved to the Aitkin area so Don could enjoy his last days in the community he grew up in.
“They gave him six months at the most,” Todd said, “but Don stuck around for 18 months more.”
Don died in 2011. Jan’s friends in the community and at the Glory Baptist Church were then, and still are, very supportive, according to her sons.
Todd has three children; Ashly, Dustin and Malia. Ashly has two children, Haylee and Autumn.
“Mom has always been very active in her kids, grandkids and great grandchildren’s lives,” said Todd. “She spends a great deal of her time enjoying the fruits of life and her loving family absolutely adores her.”
A Master Gardener through the University of Minnesota Extension Service since 2000, her first 10 years were served in Anoka County.
She jumped right in to volunteering as Master Gardener in Aitkin County after she moved to the Aitkin area. She has written a column on topics from flowers to trees for readers of the Aitkin Independent Age. She has also taught classes, created a pollinator garden near the Aitkin County Fairgrounds and judged both 4-H and open entries at the Aitkin County Fair. She worked with the Age to Age Program on teaching about straw bale gardens for two years.
Fellow Master Gardeners, Jim Ravis and Dan Jaeger, said they have enjoyed their working relationship with Jan.
“She was our publicist,” said Ravis. “She helped people with articles and did all our advertising for classes. She was a great publicist.”
Jaeger said he’s been impressed with Jan’s ability to organize and bring to fruition gardening displays, sales, trips and presentations over the last few years they have known each other.
One of the presentations takes place each fall at The Green House in Aitkin and addresses cleaning up gardens and splitting perennials.
“Jan is always on her phone taking questions and answering inquiries about anything to do with gardening,” said Jaeger. “She always has an answer.”
Jaeger said Jan was instrumental in organizing the Master Gardener booth at the Aitkin County Fair.
“We painted, we organized furniture and tables,” he said, “so people could feel welcome to ask the Extension Master Gardeners any question on gardening, bees, insects, plant diseases or deer and other wildlife.”
He said Jan was involved through six seasons making 36 presentations on a variety of topics at the Aitkin Public Library.
This year, Jan retired from the Master Gardener program, clocking a whopping 2,292 volunteer hours. She has received emeritus status, which allows her to continue to serve the program in an honorary capacity.
Jan has also volunteered much of her time to the Jaques Art Center. She joined the board of the art center in 2016 (where she is currently president-elect). She is also a member of the Aitkin Friends of the Arts.
“The Jaques Art Center was a perfect fit for Jan as she had been developing her artistic talent those many years away from Aitkin,” said Pamela Andell, executive director of the Jaques Art Center. “She brought a wealth of experience and enthusiasm to our center. Jan established our Rotating Art Program which has been very successful introducing arts to the community through business partnerships. We can count on Jan’s professionalism and her exuberance for the arts in Aitkin.”
Jan’s stories have been published in Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul, Teen Talk Relationships and The Weeder’s Digest. She is currently writing a series of fantasy stories for children, teaching them how to identify trees.
In Aitkin in 2017, she received the People’s Choice award in the 2016 Jaques Art Center juried show, “It’s a Wondrous World.”
“She has volunteered for multiple other presentations, classes, lectures and does almost anything anybody has asked her to do,” Todd said.
“We congratulate Jan on this prestigious recognition of Person of the Year and feel she is the perfect person to honor,” said Andell.