Family Memories of First Lake Panorama Promoter

Louie O. Hansen, known as the visionary behind Lake Panorama, is the man in the middle, standing in front of a sign that was erected on the hillside along Highway 44 west of Panora, where the first entrance to the lake is located. Courtesy of Louie O. Hansen family. This is a photograph of the map Louie O. Hansen drew to show the planned size and location of what would become Lake Panorama. The original map was framed and hung in Hansen’s home office for many years. Courtesy of Louie O. Hansen family. This description of the framed map in Hansen’s home office was written and signed by him on the back of the frame. He explained the map shows a higher level than was eventually used, because this would have backed up into Springbrook State Park, and the extra shoreline wasn’t worth the extra cost. Courtesy of Louie O. Hansen family.
This cross-section of a log remains in the Hansen family. Across the top in Louie Hansen’s handwriting are these words—From lake bed of Lake Panorama. Courtesy of Louie O. Hansen family.

By Susan Thompson 

Long before I started researching and writing the book titled Lake Panorama – The First 50 Years, I had heard stories about Lake Panorama getting its start because of a Guthrie County Extension Director. 

I was active in 4-H as a child, so was familiar with the role of ISU Extension and its county offices. During my 15 years working for the Iowa State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, I learned much more about ISU Extension. When we moved to Lake Panorama in 1998, I decided to track down some information on Louie O. Hansen. 

Hansen was that Guthrie County Extension Director who in 1961 started holding meetings to talk about the county’s loss of farmers and jobs, and the related decline in tax base. He thought a lake between Panora and Guthrie Center would be the catalyst needed to bring an economic boost to the county. 

While writing the book, I wanted to see if I could track down some information about Hansen beyond what was in old newspaper clippings. I eventually found one daughter who lives in the Pacific Northwest and she put me in touch with her four sisters. None of them live in Iowa, but as one said, “It was a great place to grow up!” 

Hansen was raised on a farm near Stuart. Before graduating from high school, he joined the Army. He served in World War II as a tail gunner on a B-24, based in southern Italy as part of the 455th Bombardment Group. He graduated from Stuart high school when he came home from basic training.

Hansen went to Iowa State College in Ames, where he met a fellow student, Frances Bailey, who was from Atlantic. They were married in Atlantic. He earned a bachelor’s degree in agronomy in March 1950. After graduation, the couple moved to Fort Dodge where he worked for ISU Extension. Two years later, they and their growing family moved to Guthrie Center. 

In 1961, Hansen and two others formed the Guthrie County Lake Development Corporation. The three incorporators started meeting with land owners who would need to sell their land to make way for the planned lake. The first land option was signed January 8, 1962, and work continued over the next three years to secure all necessary land. 

Two of the Hansen daughters shared memories of riding along with their father as he worked to secure land for the lake development. “I can remember us all piling into the car and then waiting there a long time after we pulled into a farmer’s driveway for our father to talk to the farmer about selling his land,” one said. 

“I remember going with him to the abandoned farm homes after the land had been purchased but before it was flooded, and roaming through the rooms,” another said. “There were inconsequential items left there that were fun to discover.” 

The daughters also remember discussing what to name the lake. “We thought it should be called Louie’s Lake,” one said. “Then a contest was held and it was named Lake Panorama, which we agreed was probably best.” 

The Hansen family moved to Ames in 1964, so Louie could pursue a master’s degree in ag journalism. Yet he continued to be part of the lake development planning. In 1965, the original incorporators transferred their assets to a new corporation, Mid-Iowa Lakes, and Hansen served on the Mid-Iowa board. 

On October 28, 1967, when the project was far enough along lots became available, the first lot was sold to Hansen. He was described in a Mid-Iowa Lakes newsletter as “the man who dreamed up the whole lake idea in the first place.” 

When Hansen finished his master’s degree, the family moved to Spencer, where he worked for ISU Extension as a community development specialist in 10 northwest Iowa counties. After retirement in 1985, he and Frances enjoyed many years of travelling.

As for that Lake Panorama waterfront lot, it was eventually sold. Hansen’s daughters report the family never built on it. He did keep a travel trailer there, where he and sometimes family members would stay while working on the lot, clearing and cleaning it up in the summers.

One daughter said she remembered visiting the lot. “I thought it was very steep, and there was no water,” she said. 

Hansen died December 19, 2003. His obituary stated during the 12 years he was County Extension Director of Guthrie County, “he also originated Lake Panorama.” Following a funeral service in Spencer, he was buried in Atlantic. 

The first daughter I connected with in my Louie Hansen search said this: “He would be so pleased you are writing a history. And so pleased to know people care about the history of the lake, and that it is thriving.”