Hansen retiring July 1 after 44 years as “parts man”

by marlys good

Today the business on North Sixth Street is known as O’Reilly Auto Parts. Back in the early 1940s it was Keefe Auto Supply until purchased by Ben and Willie Minter to become Minter Auto Supply in 1953.

Through the ensuing years it has been Sparks Auto Service (owned by Don Sparks), Hines Motor Supply, Midwest Auto Parts (carrying the Bumper to Bumper name), and since 2005, O’Reilly’s.

A lot of changes in 62 years but for the past 44 years one thing has remained constant – Gary Hansen. Parts man extraordinaire. Whatever the problem, whatever was needed for car, truck or farm implement, “We could find parts for all of them,” Hansen said on the eve of his retirement.

Hansen, who grew up in southwestern Minnesota, was working in a lumberyard, but said, “I had thought about being a parts man for several years.” A car buff, Gary said, “I had always worked on cars, ever since I was a kid.”

This area was familiar to Hansen; he had a brother here whom he visited several times. “We liked the area and we liked the people,” he said. On one of his visits Blackburn offered Hansen a job.

In 1972, Hansen said, “The time was right.” He, wife Wanda and toddler son, Dana, moved west; Hansen went to work for Blackburn; one of his co-workers was the late LaRena Collingwood. When Collingwood resigned to go to work for Sparks Auto, Hansen laughed, “I followed her up there,” and he’s been there ever since

The most enjoyable part of his job has been “working with all different people, helping customers, especially with the uncommon things they’re looking for. Technology has made a real big difference in everything, from the way vehicles operate to the way we do inventory. It’s all computers now.” But computers can’t do everything, and Hansen said, “We still have to refer to our catalogs a lot. We find a lot of oddball things.” He added, “We’re not only in the automotive business, but in customer service business; we find whatever our customer needs from wherever we need to get it.

“We had customers who kept coming back, and we’ll try to keep them coming back.”

Looking back on the past 44 years, Hansen reflected, “I wouldn’t change anything; it has been a good life.”

Wanda retired from Big Horn Federal several years ago; Dana and daughter Darci, who was born in Greybull, are grown and gone, living in Billings and Huntley, Mont.; they have five grandchildren who “live close enough, yet far enough,” Hansen laughed.

He and Wanda have no immediate plans for the future. “I think we’ll kick back a while, maybe head to the mountains after the Fourth and figure it out from there.”

Camping, a little fishing, wood projects, interest in cars, kids and grandkids … there’s a lot to enjoy in retirement.