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28th Annual NAELA Theresa Award

2023 NAELA Theresa Award Honoree: Laurie Hanson

In these challenging times for us individually, for our families and for our community, we are inspired by the action of others. They give us hope and the possibility of realizing our dreams.

In today’s world, this is not easy.  We are not only confronted with obstacles we are aware of, but obstacles that we do not expect or understand. Today we will celebrate life – our hopes and dreams. We will honor those who inspire us to excel and to make a difference in the lives of others.

Theresa's 37th Birthday

For me, today, I celebrate our daughter, Theresa’s 37th birthday. It was fate that brought her to us, a shining light, and we are forever grateful to have had her as our child. Even though she is not with us physically, her spirit lives on in the good work we do at The Theresa Foundation.

We are all on a journey and we never know where the road we travel will lead to.

It was sometime later that I had the opportunity to meet Mary T. Schmitt Smith, a shining light (and our 2003 NAELA Theresa Award Recipient). She inspired all of us with her love, her smile, her sensitivity toward people with disabilities, her brilliance as an advocate for children with special needs. Her light “shines on brightly” yet we will miss her dearly.

I was personally touched by Mary (whose family members called her “Terry”). I will never forget the day when she told me that she was so moved by our Theresa (and being a Theresa herself) that she renamed her law practice, “The Theresa Law Center”.

Today we celebrate life — our hopes and dreams. We just have to look around us for those shining lights.

Past Theresa Award Recipients

Over the past 27 years, there have been 28 NAELA Theresa Award recipients who have touched our lives (Frank Johns – 2nd Award Recipient in 1996 and Mary Alice Jackson in 2015). There are many shining lights to be found if you look for them in NAELA and I am thrilled to share with you one such shining light – Laurie Hanson.

About Laurie Hanson

Laurie HansonWe have to go back to when Laurie was a young teenager and she spent her weekends as a volunteer serving children with autism. She was recognized as Junior Volunteer of the Year at just 14 years of age by the city of Chicago.

In law school at the Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco, she served as a member of the Law Review and held the title of Editor-in-Chief of the Women’s Law Forum. In a widely male dominated field, she established herself as a trusted advocate for the elderly and individuals living with disabilities since 1984. Laurie practiced for fourteen years at the Senior Law Project of the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis. She was awarded the Dawn Carlson Advocate Award in 2003 for her efforts in working with families with aging adults and in drafting Minnesota’s third-party custody statute.

She is the past chair of the Elder Law Section of the Minnesota State Bar Association and emerita member of the board of Trustees of the Upper Midwest Chapter of the National Sclerosis Society. In her “spare time”, she is a frequent speaker at legal conferences and law schools, has authored several articles and book chapters on elder law and special needs and remains active in the Twin Cities community giving presentations and having served on the boards of several nonprofit organizations.

In the groundbreaking case, Pfoser v. Harpstead, her work and dedication resulted in a monumental decision by the Minnesota Supreme Court. The court ruled a transfer of assets by a Medicaid recipient to a pooled special needs trust was not subject to the imposition of a transfer penalty period. During her induction into the Minnesota State Bar Association Elder Law Section Hall of Fame, she was applauded for championing this landmark decision.

We all have our challenges, perhaps another way to say it – is “we all have our gifts.”  I love Laurie’s ending to her bio – on her website – sharing with her personal life.

Laurie and her spouse Kim Dayton live in an apartment in Uptown in Minneapolis (along with dogs Arlo “Guthrie” and Bob “Dylan” and Cleo the cat).  Her stepson Colin, who has an autism-spectrum disorder, lives in the same apartment building and works at the grocery store across the street. Her daughter is working with NWLG on web and email communication. Laurie and Kim divide their time between Uptown and the end of the Gunflint Trail.  She knits, plays harmonica, and enjoys all types of music. For us, she is never out of tune.

Laurie Hanson, Esq.

Laurie has selected Camp Knutson to be the recipient of our Theresa Foundation grant in the amount of $5,000. Camp Knutson is a camp for children and adults with identified needs, offering year-round retreats. The camp is near and dear to Laurie as has worked with LSS (Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota) for the past 15 years on pooled trust issues and feels strongly that the camp is in line with the mission of The Theresa Foundation.

The Theresa Foundation honors the memory of Theresa Alessandra Russo by touching the lives of children with special needs and their families. The Foundation fosters each child’s unique abilities by supporting programs focusing on art, music, dance, drama, and recreation. To learn more, please visit 

Russo Law Group, P.C.
100 Quentin Roosevelt Blvd., Suite 102
Garden City, NY 11530

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