Spanning Generations

“I believe for children today it is so important to get an education. It’s even more important for children with disabilities.”

These words, spoken by alumni camper Thora Hansen, are more than just sentiment. They underlie her passion for education and her desire to pass that enthusiasm on to generations of Bay Cliff campers.

Thora Hansen smiling.

Thora Hansen of Delafield, Wisconsin

Born and raised in the small Upper Peninsula village of Lathrop, Thora felt the significance of education at a young age. Her businessman father, Berthal Thorval Hansen and mother Janey, impressed upon their eleven children the importance of school and community. Polio, contracted at age of eight, would interrupt – but never deter – Thora’s pursuit of education.

After seven long months in the hospital as a result of polio, Thora continued her physical rehabilitation at Bay Cliff Health Camp in the summer of 1943. Although her left leg was paralyzed, she grew stronger and was able to resume walking. She returned to camp in 1944 and again in 1946. For Thora, camp was an education not only in learning physical skills, but also in gaining confidence and social skills. “I was timid,” said Thora. “Bay Cliff helped me to adapt. Many times I heard counselors and therapists say, ‘You can do this. Don’t say no. You just have to try.’ ” It wasn’t long before Thora began to believe in herself and found ways to walk the 103 wooden steps that led then to Lake Superior to enjoy a campfire and cookout.

Returning to school, no special accommodations were made for Thora. “In those days, we were just expected to enter back into life as before.” That included climbing stairs. The stairs at her 3-story school were hard for Thora, but no longer intimidating. She went on to graduate from the former Rock High School (now relocated and known as Mid-Peninsula Schools). She first enrolled at Northern Michigan University, until a broken leg temporarily sidelined her. She completed her secretarial education at the former Cloverland Commercial College in Escanaba. Thora began her professional career in Wisconsin for the Waukesha Police Department, and then a few years later in nearby Genesse Depot, where she served as Executive Secretary for the Founder and CEO of Generac Power Systems for 37 years.

Education and job training remained important to Thora. She continued to support higher learning in various ways in retirement. Thoughts of Bay Cliff and opportunities for the campers kept coming to mind. “I wanted to give back for what I received. I’ve lived a good and normal life because of what Bay Cliff did for me. I learned to interact with others and concentrate on things I can do, not on what I can’t do.” Out of this conviction came an idea for an educational scholarship. “Some children with physical disabilities don’t have the opportunity to go on to college or enroll in a training program tailored to their abilities. Bay Cliff helps to get them in the right direction. I want to help them go on.”

This year the Hansen Scholarship Fund will be established which will help build bridges to educational opportunities now and in the future for Bay Cliff campers with physical disabilities. “I’ve been blessed,” says Thora. “If I can pass that on – pay it forward – it’s the least I can do.”