Wilbur Hale (Bill) Hanson, a teacher who spent more than three decades educating San Fernando Valley children and a founder of the West Valley YMCA, has died at his Tarzana home. He was 76.
A Tarzana resident for more than 40 years, Hanson died Saturday in his sleep after several months of declining health, said his son, film director Curtis Hanson.
Born in Chicago, Hanson traveled with his family to California as a child to escape a flu epidemic. He attended Hollywood High School and Chapman College, graduating with a degree in fine arts in 1939.
In 1941, he joined the faculty of Harvard School for Boys in Studio City as the school's basketball coach. He later returned to college for his teaching credential and began his career as an educator at Harvard.
Hanson transferred to the Los Angeles City School System in 1948, teaching at Reseda and Wilbur Avenue elementary schools during the 1950s and early 1960s.
In 1949, he co-founded the West Valley branch of the YMCA, after hosting what became the West Valley's first Y clubs in his back yard for two years.
He moved to Portola Junior High School in Tarzana when it opened in 1967 and remained there for the rest of his teaching career. He was described as an "extraordinary teacher" by his son, who was a pupil in Hanson's 1957 sixth-grade class at Reseda Elementary.
"The question was always, what do you call him? You don't raise your hand and say 'Dad.' "
During his tenure at Portola, Hanson and his wife organized summer trips with his students to such far-flung locales as Greece, India and the former Soviet Union, travels his son described as a "living civics lesson."
Upon his retirement in 1977, Hanson was asked by a reporter how teachers could improve relations with their students.
"Listen to 'em!" he said. "Expect them to learn something. Expect them to study and to work hard, but also listen to them."
In addition to his son, Curtis, Hanson is survived by his wife of 53 years, Beverly June Hanson, and son John Hanson of Ventura.
A funeral will be held at 1 p.m. today at Pierce Brothers Mortuary, 5959 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. A graveside service will follow at Hollywood Park Memorial Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to a summer camp fund for underprivileged children in Hanson's name at the West Valley YMCA, 18810 Vanowen St., Reseda 91335.