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Article updated: 12/23/2013 6:02 PM

Ex-Batavia alderman Hanson is chamber's citizen of the year

Jim Hanson, the 2013 Batavia Citizen of the Year.

Jim Hanson, the 2013 Batavia Citizen of the Year.

 
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A former alderman who helped reshape downtown Batavia in the 1960s was named the 2013 Batavia Citizen of the Year Monday.

Jim Hanson is "a caregiver of Batavia on so many fronts, and a phenomenally positive force," Batavia Mayor Jeffery Schielke said in a prepared statement.

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The honor is bestowed by the Batavia Chamber of Commerce. Hanson will receive it Jan. 31 at the chamber's "Inspire 2014: A Celebration of Those Who Inspire Us!" annual awards party.

Hanson, 88, served as alderman from 1961 to 1977.

He was chairman of the planning, zoning and annexation committee, which oversaw the major transformation of the west side of downtown Batavia, from industrial to commercial use. During his tenure the Batavia Plaza shopping center, anchored by a Jewel Food Store, was built, and land was acquired for development north of Wilson Street where the Fifth Third Bank and other businesses are today. The city also annexed land for a northeast side industrial park, and several residential subdivisions on the east and west sides of town.

But Hanson is proudest of work done on another issue.

"Jim worked diligently to not only develop Batavia, but also was the conscience of the council," Schielke said.

The federal Fair Housing Act had been passed in the spring of 1968, but it didn't apply to single-family houses until 1970.

Batavia, however, passed a law in 1968 that forbade discrimination in the sale of all properties. It was one of 11 suburbs that had done so by October 1968. Batavia in particular did so under pressure from the federal government, which was developing Fermilab on its eastern border, Hanson said.

The first version proposed, however, didn't have enough enforcement power to satisfy Hanson. "I kind of got some others to split (the vote)," he said, "and put some teeth into the thing." The version that passed contained fines for violations.

Hanson was born in Batavia, and except for a couple of years spent teaching in southern Illinois and Florida, has lived there ever since. He was a teacher for the West Aurora school district, mostly in its junior highs, and then was the Kane County regional superintendent of schools until he retired.

Hanson has volunteered for the Batavia Historical Society, Calvary Episcopal Church, the Batavia Interfaith Food Pantry, Retired Seniors Volunteer Project and the Golden Diners meal delivery program.

The town has grown tremendously from his youth, when about 5,000 people lived here.

"But there is still a feeling of a small town. People are friendly," Hanson said.

" ... You know that you are in a safe town and a welcoming town."

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