Note: As part of its sesquicentennial celebration, MSU erected this 7-foot bronze statue of Hannah, sculpted by California artist Bruce Wolfe.
John Alfred Hannah (October 9, 1902 – February 23, 1991) was president of Michigan State College (later Michigan State University) for 28 years (1941-1969), making him the longest serving of MSU’s presidents.
Succeeding his father-in-law, Robert Shaw, he is credited with transforming the school from a little-known, regional agricultural college into a large national research institution. He also succeeded in pushing the Spartans into the Big Ten conference.
In the 1950s and early ‘60s, he served on the International Development Advisory Board and as an assistant secretary of defense. President Dwight Eisenhower named him the first chairman of the United States Commission on Civil Rights in 1957, and he served another three presidents in that capacity over a dozen years.
At MSU, his office was so famously “open door” that he had the door removed, and he was known around campus as “Uncle John.” Only a call from President Richard Nixon in 1969 could pull him from the Spartans. He resigned that year to become administrator of the United States Agency for International Development. He also served in the United Nations.
Sources: New York Times obituary, Michigan State University, DTMB
Justin A. Hinkley, “Murray who? Meet state office buildings’ namesakes”, Lansing State Journal, October 27, 2015.