Cassia in the News

Benson High Gives Honorary Diploma to 91-Year-Old Who Had to Leave School After Eighth Grade

Video segment by: Fox9

A special thank you to photographer Emily Theisen at

Ninety-one-year-old Cliff Hanson grew up on a farm near Swift Falls, Minnesota in the 1930s. Although he stopped going to school so he could help keep the family farm afloat, Cliff has always felt the lack of a high school diploma. Now, in honor of his many accomplishments along with a life of generosity and kindness, Cliff received that diploma from Benson High School, which rarely awards diplomas to those who have not graduated from the school. Cliff’s diploma was presented during a special celebration Monday, January 9, 2019 in the Friendship Center at Lake Ridge Care Center, 310 Lake Blvd South in Buffalo.

Cliff’s story has been featured by local media including Fox9, WCCO, KSTP and the West Central Tribune.

Watch Cliff’s story on Facebook.

Benson High was informed about Cliff’s sacrifice through ResoLute program staff at Lake Ridge Care Center in Buffalo, which is a ministry of Cassia. The program helps people celebrate their lives and complete unfinished business.

When Cliff Hanson started kindergarten, he spoke only Norwegian. Later, after the snow fell, he’d drive a horse drawn sled and pick up fellow students on his way to school. Once at school, he’d start a fire in the stove heater to warm up the one-room school house. After eighth grade, Cliff stopped going to school because his father fell ill. Though it didn’t stop him from living a full productive life, he’s felt the sting of that missed opportunity ever since.

Cliff married in 1949 (at the age of 21) and raised a family of four—three girls and a boy. A bit of a daredevil with his own car, his wife-to-be said she needed to marry him to get him “to settle down or he’d end up killing himself in that car.” Still, he was a very skilled driver and taught his children how to be experts, especially at driving in reverse. His love of cars didn’t stop at home. He was a big NASCAR fan and would get to any racing track he could to watch the cars. His favorite driver was Dave Pearson, who won rookie of the year in 1960.

As a family man, he worked a farm near Holloway, MN for four years. At the farm, his two oldest daughters would drive their tricycles down the very long driveway to meet up with dad on the spreader to ride back home with him.

He moved his family to St. Paul in 1957 and worked at Taystee Bread while attending night classes to become a certified welder. His daughters loved to play “house” with the miniature loaves of bread he’d take home from work.

Once certified, he was a welder for 23 years. He was so accomplished, he was the “go to” guy for difficult jobs and was heavily relied upon. After being laid off, he became a school bus driver in Monticello while working maintenance at a local hotel before returning to a brief stint as a welder in Minnetonka.

Throughout his life, Cliff was honing his skills for all things having to do with machinery, though he could do so much more. He would study any problem ahead of him. Only after he understood the problem did he start in on the solution. He was so good at it, word-of-mouth praise was enough to keep him quite busy.

In addition to the usual farm tasks and his penchant for fixing anything and everything, his affinity was for automobiles. His dream was to run an auto repair shop, but farm and family took priority. It is because of his sacrifices for others that they were able to prosper. He never stopped learning, though. Decades before we had the internet, he was self-taught and became quite accomplished. He never stopped reading, learning, studying, and bettering himself.

Because of this, he has been recognized with an honorary diploma from his would-be alma mater, had life circumstances allowed him to attend.

The diploma reads as follows:

Benson High School, of Benson Minnesota, is pleased to present to Clifford H Hanson, for his selfless dedication to family and community, and his willingness to forego his formal education for the betterment of the lives of those he held dear, this honorary diploma.

Congratulations Clifford, you are now a high school graduate!


About Cassia

Cassia’s mission is to foster fullness of life for older adults in the spirit of Christ’s love. In 2018, Augustana Care and Elim Care voluntarily joined together to form Cassia, reinforcing both organizations’ missions. With more than 200 years of combined service, the affiliation strengthens our focus on meeting the needs of residents, clients and patients of all faiths. The name “Cassia” (‘KAS e– uh) was inspired by an anointing oil made from the bark of the Cassia tree and is said to symbolize the heart of a servant. Cassia provides independent and assisted living communities, memory care, skilled nursing care centers, short-term rehabilitation centers, adult day programs and a variety of community-based services for older adults across five states.