Hansen was staple of Culver service, business for 5 decades

When Clara Hansen died last Tuesday, Culver lost one of its most beloved and dedicated citizens in a variety of areas.

Born and raised in Plymouth, the former Clara White and her husband Winfred came to town to stay in April, 1957, though she was a stranger neither to Culver nor its people by then, Clara having worked in several Plymouth businesses, including JC Penny’s, and become familiar with a number of Culverites there. The late Winfred was an avid fisherman, so Culver visits were nothing new to the couple.

Thus, when the couple opened Hansen's bait and sportsman's shop at 614 Lake Shore Drive in 1957, “it was just like coming home,” Clara told the Citizen in 2009.

“I don’t think there was anybody in Culver I didn’t know. We spent about every weekend in the summer on the lake anyway.”

Clara’s regular cooking at the shop for her family led to customers suggesting she make enough they all could have some, so, she said, “we expanded” to include serving food.

Over the years the sporting goods and hardware side of the store’s business was slowly phased out, the restaurant end of things taking over after the death of her husband in 1998.

Hansen’s, or “Clara’s,” as it was known to many Culverites in recent years, was open for breakfast and lunch here for five decades until 2008, its familiar west wall lined with coffee mugs, images of various facets of Culver’s past, and awards and articles about the business and Clara herself.

Among them: a watercolor painting of the place by well-known local artist Barbara Meeker, which was given to Hansen for Christmas in 1992. A framed photo on the wall showed Clara among those signing the part of the lands making up today’s town park over to the town of Culver in the early 1980s, the result of hard-fought community efforts to purchase the tract of land still owned by the railroad to add to the surrounding park lands. Hansen, very active for years with Culver’s Lions Club, was especially helpful in fund raising.

In fact, for many years, requests to rent the Lions-owned Culver depot across the street were directed to Hansen’s.

Other photos and awards on the wall reflected Hansen's life of service: honored in 1991 as Culver Lake Fest parade marshal (she helped found the festival, in fact, in 1983), a 1977 award from the Lions Club, awards from the Maxinkuckee Internation Order of Odd Fellows (the “Good Citizenship” award) and the now-defunct Culver Eagle’s lodge, and one of the highest awards Lions Club International bestows, the WP Woods Fellow, in September, 2005.

She also catered everything from east shore cottage parties to Lions Club meetings for years, to the VFW senior citizens’ and wild game dinners. She was active in the Culver Lions for over four decades, spearheading its regular flea markets and ‘jail-athons,’ among other efforts.

“I guess I don’t know the word ‘no,’” she said.
Clara Hansen said she enjoyed the restaurant not for the money, but the people, from Culver to South Bend, Chicago, and “all over,” she said.
Hansen had been in the restaurant business since the 6th grade; she recalled being let out of school early in the afternoons in high school to work in a Plymouth restaurant.

“I always said I wouldn’t get in the restaurant business, but I did. I thought I had all of it that I wanted. But I loved it (at Hansen’s). I outlasted a lot of the businesses around here.

“We’ve got some great people in Culver,” she added reflectively. “One thing that draws people to Culver is the small town atmosphere here. People are friendlier. In big cities they don’t even know their neighbor. You get in trouble (in Culver), they’re there to help you.”

For many Culverites, Clara Hansen embodied that spirit of service and community. If Culver was "there to help" Hansen, its apparent she was there to help it as well.