As a soldier in World War II Italy, Clifford Hansen earned a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and a coveted Purple Heart for his bravery on the battlefield. But it was Italian artwork that captured his heart and led him to a long and successful career as a graphic artist. In the end, the war hero turned his zeal toward the fight against disease.
When Hansen, 88, died in 2006, his will stipulated that his entire estate go to support medical research at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. In late September, after wrapping up Hansen’s affairs, the trustee of his estate presented OMRF with a check for $259,000—as well as Hansen’s beloved collection of toy soldiers.
“That was his long-term plan,” said Donna Hansen, whose late husband was Hansen’s cousin. “Cliff had always felt that research was important and should be supported, and he made it known that his estate would be designated in that way.”
Maribeth Ford Pate, Hansen’s niece, said that the gift reflected her uncle’s affection for his lifelong home. “He so loved and believed in Oklahoma and Oklahoma City. He wanted Oklahoma to thrive, so he gave to OMRF to keep his money here.”
Born in 1918 in Elgin, Hansen enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1941. In World War II, he fought in Italy in the 85th Infantry Division, earning numerous honors for his heroism in battle and rising to the rank of colonel. Following his return to the states, he married the former Mattie Ford in 1949. They settled in Oklahoma City, where he forged a career as a graphic artist noted for creating graphics for the city’s edition of the Southwestern Bell Yellow Pages. The couple, who had no children, remained married until Mrs. Hansen’s death in 2003.
A former soldier and student of history, Hansen amassed a collection of toy soldiers that included more than 1,200 tiny military replicas and accessories. The collection, valued at approximately $40,000, became part of the estate gift to OMRF.
“This is a wonderful, one-of-a-kind gift,” said Laura Lang, OMRF’s director of planned giving. “We’re touched not only by Mr. Hansen’s generosity but also by the way in which this gift speaks of the unique character of the person who gave it.”
Hansen’s passions extended well beyond his soldier collection. In 1957, he founded a bagpipe group, the Highlanders, that performed at numerous public and private events. Hansen played with the group until just a short time before his death at age 88, and the group continues to perform around the state. He also was an enthusiastic falconer, even constructing a house to keep a hawk and an owl in his own backyard.
In his 80s, Hansen took up ballroom dancing and began doing research on the computer. He also remained active in his church, serving as a teacher and supporter of missions projects.
“He was totally alive to the very end,” Donna Hansen said. “Whatever he did, he did wholeheartedly. Whether it was practicing his artwork, playing the bagpipes, learning more about history or designating research as his beneficiary, Cliff poured himself into it completely.”
OMRF (omrf.org) is an independent, nonprofit biomedical research institute dedicated to understanding and developing more effective treatments for human disease. Chartered in 1946, its scientists focus on such critical research areas as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, lupus and cardiovascular disease.