Simply Irreplaceable

He was the kindest, most decent person I’ve ever known. Tom Hanneman, legendary Minneapolis sports broadcaster, recent Midwest Emmy® award inductee and father of three, died suddenly on Dec. 18 at his home in suburban Minneapolis. He was 68.

A cousin 12 years and 2 days my senior, Tommy enjoyed a storied broadcasting career that would be the envy of any journalist. Tens of thousands will remember him for his calls from the broadcast booth, but his true impact in the world came through his family and the countless one-on-one interactions he had with people in all walks of life. He took interest in them all, treating everyone with respect and kindness. When you talked with Tom Hanneman, you mattered. And he meant it.

The world needs more men like Tom Hanneman. We now must learn to live with one less.

Thomas Donn Hanneman was born in La Crosse, Wis. on June 29, 1952, the third of nine children of Donn G. Hanneman and the former Elaine Kline. He was one of three boys in the Hanneman clan who matched wits and traded lightning fast humorous barbs like they were fired from a Gatling gun. To listen to the Hanneman boys left you with sore ribs from laughing. I don’t know if they rehearsed their act, but Tom, John and Jim, had they not followed the paths they did, could have done a stand-up act worthy of Carson or Leno. Tom and John did great voice imitations, something Tom later employed with great humor as the fictitious basketball announcer Bill Beek (see the video below).

Every encounter with my cousin Tom started the same way. He looked me square in the eyes, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “How are you? Tell me what’s been going on.” He listened, asked insightful questions and gave his appraisal of the things of life . His interest and concern were genuine. That never changed, not once over five decades of our interactions. You can’t teach such things, nor can you force them. Those qualities are a gift from God. Tom made very good use of them.

When God was handing out good looks and talent, Tommy got in line twice. He had the Hanneman face that embodied the young movie-star looks of our then-19-year-old grandfather, Carl F. Hanneman (1901-1982). And that voice. My father was told in high school that he had a stentorian voice. Powerful. Indeed his singing could lift the gabled roof off of Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Catholic Church. Tom had a polished voice made for TV and radio — smooth as tiramisu or a sip of Baileys Irish Cream. His broadcast timbre was like listening to Jim Nantz call the PGA championship or Pat Summerall at the Super Bowl. It never gets old.

Carl Hanneman (left) circa 1920; Tom Hanneman in mid-1970s.

Tom started his career as a radio disc jockey at Minnesota State University. In 1973, he wrote a letter to Dave Moore (1924-1998), the legendary anchorman at WCCO-TV Channel 4, the CBS affiliate in Minneapolis. “Dave helped me get a foot in the door at ‘CCO as a dispatcher,” Tom said in his Emmy® acceptance video just a month before his death. “A lucrative job that paid $1.35 an hour. It didn’t matter. Dave Moore taught me many things certainly about the value of mentorship. It’s a lesson that I’ve never forgotten.”

Tom spent 16 years at WCCO as a sports reporter and anchor, then became a TV and radio host for the Minnesota Timberwolves NBA franchise. He eventually became the Timberwolves’ television play-by-play announcer. The Timberwolves assignment lasted for 23 years. He then became the face of Fox Sports North in 2012, anchoring pre- and post-game coverage of the Twins, Wild, Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Viewers and sports fans affectionally referred to him as “Hanny.” Over his long career, he covered the World Series, Super Bowls and even the Olympic Games. He became known for his quick, dry wit and high jinx with radio partner Kevin Harlan (you can read a beautiful summation here; h/t to Jim Hanneman and his son, Leo).

Tom wasn’t kidding about being a mentor. He played that role to many people. During my freshman year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Tom got me tickets to see the Wisconsin Badgers and Minnesota Gophers play hockey in the WCHA Tournament at the old barn, Williams Arena in Minneapolis. Wisconsin swept the series on its way to the 1983 NCAA championship. What a memory! On one of my other visits, Tom invited me to the WCCO studio to watch the 6 p.m. newscast from behind the cameras. Although I was already well along on my road to a degree, that visit helped cement my own intention to make journalism my career.

As Tom described it later, one of the dramatic bookends of his career came in May 1979 when he volunteered to cover a violent uprising of factions of the Red Lake band of Chippewa Indians in northern Minnesota. Tom and cameraman Keith Brown beat the FBI to the scene and walked right into the middle of pure chaos. They were fired upon by 20-year-old Gordon Wayne Roy, then taken hostage by the madman. The men were ordered to lay on the pavement. Roy held a gun to them and “threatened to blow our heads off,” Tom said. After Roy tried to run the pair over with their own car, Tom and Keith escaped with the help of a neighbor. The memory was still vivid in 2020:

“It certainly gave me clarity, when you come close to death, about what’s important and what isn’t. There’s gratitude every day, if you look for it, that you’re simply alive.”

— Tom Hanneman

Tom’s broadcast career reads like something deserving of an Emmy® Silver Circle Award from the Upper Midwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Watch the tribute produced by the Midwest Emmy Academy:

A beautifully produced look at Tom’s incredible career, as he won an Emmy Silver Circle Award for his five decades in broadcasting. “I wouldn’t be here tonight without help — plenty of help,” he said.

One of my favorite memories of Tom came on Oct. 23, 2013. We met for coffee at the Beyond the Daily Grind Cafe in Mauston, the sleepy little city on the Lemonweir River where our fathers grew up. We reminisced about the trips our families made over the decades to visit Grandpa Carl and Grandma Ruby Hanneman at the green-sided house at 22 Morris Street. Fishing with cane poles off the back of the Dr. Hess property along the river, then cleaning the catch for dinner — there was nothing better. Talking with Tom was like a great conversation with your best friend. I will always treasure that day.

Tommy on a visit to Mauston in October 2013. We always talked about a return trip, but that will have to wait for Heaven.

Tom was a big supporter of my work on the Hanneman Archive, the web-based project to document the family’s historic journey from Germany, Pomerania and the Czech Republic to nearly 170 years of history in north-central Wisconsin. Just about every time I talked to him or exchanged emails, he thanked me for the effort put into family history. That meant a lot. Now it means even more.

“I have thought about our visit to Mauston frequently in the years since,” Tom wrote me back in June 2020.

“That town will always be magical to me.”  

“I planned on suggesting a return this summer and then the pandemic hit,” he wrote. We talked about making a visit one day at Christmastime to the Boorman House Museum in Mauston, which proudly displays a beautiful large-format framed pastel that once hung in the office of Gov.-elect Orland Loomis of Mauston. Loomis gifted the artwork to Carl Hanneman for his work to help elect Loomis in 1942. The pastel later hung in my parents’ living room for more than 50 years.

Minneapolis hockey history: a Fox Sports North story by Tom Hanneman.

As much as his impressive career meant to him, Tom was first and foremost about family. His eyes sparkled when he talked about his children, Adam, Courtney and Kyle; and his five grandchildren. In his Emmy® speech, Tom spoke lovingly of Nancy, his wife of 44 years, and how she put up with his late nights and travel schedule, all while raising the children and managing her own career as a nurse.

I know how grieved he was in August 2017 when his younger brother, John, died after a short battle with cancer. John was just 56. “It breaks my heart,” Tom wrote me in July 2017. “We’ve been able to spend time with him at least once a week, but his cancer continues to grow and has worn him down. The three Hanneman brothers decided years ago that spending time together on Christmas Eve wasn’t good enough. We headed north for a few days every summer and got to know each other. I’m so thankful we spent that time together.”

The other dramatic bookend to Tom’s career came in July 2019. The arteries to his heart were choked off and he was rushed into surgery for six-way bypass surgery. “He said he woke up in the intensive care unit, looked around and thought, ‘Oh, so this is what it’s like when you die,'” the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported. After his recovery, Tom said he was so thankful to get another chance at life. “I’m a lucky man and I know it,” he said in his Emmy presentation just weeks ago.

Of the dozens of tributes posted to social media the afternoon after Tom’s death, one stated it quite beautifully:

“He was just a great pro. He made every day better. When you’d see him, you’d say, ‘OK, everything is good today.'”

— Jeff Munneke, VP, Minnesota Timberwolves

Tom is survived by his wife, Nancy; his son Adam Hanneman (Rachel); daughter Courtney Tapper; son Kyle Hanneman (Ashley); his mother, Elaine; sisters Diane Hanneman, Caroline Balch, Jane Olson (Charlie); Mary Cochrane (Mick); and Nancy Sullivan (Mike); and brother, Jim Hanneman (Margaret). He is further survived by his grandchildren, Shae, Ryn and Laine Tapper; and Jack and Mia Hanneman. Tom was preceded in death by his father, Donn; his brother, John C. Hanneman; his son-in-law, Joseph W. Tapper; and his brother, Thomas Patrick Hanneman. •

Tom’s colleagues at Fox Sports North put together this tribute for a Timberwolves game.

©2020 The Hanneman Archive

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