Don Hansen, who founded whale watching in Orange County and lobbied for sustainable fishing nationwide, was honored with a dedication in place of Dana Point Harbor.
The plaque unveiling ceremony on Wednesday August 3 was held next to Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching. Beginning in 1971, Hansen’s was the first company to operate in Dana Point Harbor.
The square was renamed in Hansen’s honor during the ceremony.
Among those celebrating the legend of the late Dana Point were his daughter, Donna Kalez, who now runs the business, and other relatives, friends, and state and local officials. Former County Supervisor Tom Wilson, who started the Port Revitalization Project 21 years ago, and former County Supervisor Sen. Pat Bates were also in attendance.
“My dad would love that,” Kalez said. “He wanted his mark on the port. It was important to him from the first day he met the partners.
For 50 years, Hansen operated a fleet of 17 ships that took hundreds of thousands of people to the ocean for unique opportunities.
From spotting playful dolphins to spotting blue, gray, minke, fin and humpback whales—and even the occasional killer whale—Hansen loved educating the public about the ocean environment.
It also brought a strong sport fishing opportunity to the harbor, providing a deeper look at ocean life and inspiring memories for generations of Orange County residents.
Hansen died in February at the age of 87, but the family business continues to be a staple in the community.
Hansen’s reach, however, was far beyond port. He was Chairman of the Pacific Fisheries Management Council and Commissioner of Pacific States Marine Fisheries. Most recently, he was vice president of the Sportfishing Association of California.
In October, the Coastal Conservation Association of California presented him with its highest honor, the 2021 Anthony Hsieh Conservation Award, in recognition of his decades of work to improve California’s sport fishing industry and make angling accessible. to all.
Yet Hansen never forgot the aging port and its need for renovation.
One of his biggest concerns was adding more parking spaces at the port, an already extremely popular destination for the community and residents of nearby towns. The harbor is home to over 2,000 boaters and is popular for paddleboarding, kayaking and other beach activities. It is a meeting place for locals and a place to burn calories after eating at the various restaurants.
The plaque and plaza were dedicated by Dana Point Harbor Partners, a Newport Beach development group that reached an agreement with the county in 2018 for a 66-year lease to redevelop the aging and popular Orange County harbor from South. The redevelopment effort has been underway for more than two decades.
“It’s an exciting day,” Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said. “Don looks down on us and smiles. The port was his passion. The project is moving forward and Don Hansen has been a real driving force behind it.
Bryon Ward, one of the three partners in the redevelopment, called Hansen a “visionary” and said the plaque was important “so that future generations visiting the port will know the story of Don Hansen”.
The inauguration is part of the first touches of renovation underway at the 51-year-old port. In October, Ward hopes to innovate on the parking structure. Meanwhile, he is talking to restaurants in the port as he decides on the overall retail footprint – which is expected to be much larger.
“Local color is important,” Ward said. “We worked hard to keep that in the design and to embrace the DNA of Dana Point, not Newport Beach.”
Jim Miller, who operates Coffee Importers — a longtime and hugely popular restaurant that also includes an ice cream and coffee shop — was among those who came together to remember Hansen. Its two waterfront spaces are doing record business this summer, he said. Locals already line up at 7am and are there long after the sun goes down.
“Don is a mentor to me,” Miller said. “What he has done for the harbor is more than whale watching and sport fishing. He is a wonderful man and he has always given good advice. He would like that.
Hansen also initiated the Whale Festival – the oldest whale festival in the world – as well as the annual Holiday Harbor Boat Parade. And he was instrumental in naming Dana Point the “Dolphin and Whale Watching Capital of the World.”
“You know how important a family is when its tradition becomes a community tradition,” said Dana Point Mayor Joe Muller. “He really taught me how important the ocean is and how we should protect those resources. This family is a legacy in the community.
For Kalez, Wednesday’s tributes, along with a memorial sign granted by the city earlier this year along Dana Point Harbor Drive, mean his father’s legacy will live on forever.
Kalez said his father might never have imagined his impact when he started his business in the port at the very spot 51 years ago.
“Dad, I know you’re up there,” she said. “Congratulations on your Hansen Plaza.”