Hankinson family tradition continues

by Jessica Hampton

The Hankinson family helped transform the University of Minnesota from a sprawling campus to a comfortable community with two generations of involvement with University athletics.
To current Gophers, their youngest son, Casey, will be the most recognizable name. He was the captain of the men’s hockey team for the 1997 and 1998 seasons. But the tradition of family involvement in University athletics precedes him by more than 30 years.
John and Bonnie Hankinson both attended the University of Minnesota from 1961 to 1965. Bonnie Nyberg was a cheerleader and John Hankinson was the quarterback for the Gophers football team in 1964 and 1965.
Bonnie Nyberg did not meet her future husband while cheering in the cold outdoor air of Memorial Stadium or following the band down University Avenue before the game.
It was their mutual involvement with another Minnesota football team that brought the two together.
John was a ball boy for the Minnesota Vikings in 1961. Bonnie was on the first Vikings cheerleading squad, formed that same year. John, a graduate of Edina High School, and Bonnie of Willmar, Minn., eventually married and had three sons who followed in their athletic shoes.
Their sons all went on not only to attend the University, but to play hockey for the Gophers as well. Peter, Ben and Casey played hockey under Doug Woog, each serving as team captains their senior years.
Their eldest son, Peter, attended the University from 1986 to 1990. He went on to play professionally for the Winnipeg Jets.
Their second son, Ben, attended the University from 1987 to 1991. He retired this fall from the New Jersey Devils team. Their youngest son, Casey, graduated in 1998 and is currently playing for a minor league team affiliated with the Chicago Blackhawks.
The two eldest Hankinson sons also followed their parents’ marriage standard.
Ben went on the marry Gwen Schneider Hankinson and Peter married Heather McCullough Hankinson, both of whom were cheerleaders.
Bonnie and John remain active in the University community.
“We like to promote the University,” Bonnie Hankinson said.
John Hankinson sits on the University football board, and the cheerleaders of Bonnie’s squad still get together at homecoming each year. She still even fits into her uniform, she added.
“A lot has changed; everything has changed,” Hankinson said of the athletic community at the University. Memorial Stadium is gone, and the football team plays in the Metrodome. While her two oldest sons played in the old Marriucci Arena, Casey played his entire Gophers career in the new arena across Fourth Street from the old site.
But regardless of where the events took place, the family tradition of involvement remains constant.
“Maroon and gold runs in our blood,” Bonnie said.