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Before Cheryl Hanson joined the faculty at Santa Rosa Junior College, she taught in a village near Afghanistan’s famed but doomed carved stone Buddhas of Bamiyan, and soon after that in Oxford, England.

Hanson and her late husband, physician Peter Baginski, traveled and hiked, and studied life. They reared two children and raised a succession of golden retrievers at their country home in Forestville.

“We had a nice life,” Hanson said four years ago, as she accompanied and assisted her husband on his quest to remain as active and independent as possible following the onset of brain cancer.

“She was devoted to caring for him,” said the couple’s daughter, Marina Lowe of Salt Lake City. Her father died in November 2014. Earlier this year, Cheryl Hanson was diagnosed with leukemia. She died March 19 from complications of the disease. She was 68.

Hanson started teaching at SRJC in 1984 as an adjunct instructor in the English department. She switched to teaching basic and remedial skills, working her way up to chairwoman of the College Skills/Tutorial department.

Under her leadership, the department greatly expanded its classes and services to students preparing for a high-school equivalency test, assigned to the JC’s beginning math and/or English classes, or in need of tutoring.

“She really had a place in her heart for basic-skills students,” said Wanda Burzycki, a longtime colleague who succeeded Hanson as chairwoman of College Skills/Tutorial in 2008 and recently retired.

Burzycki said Hanson was a supremely caring instructor and a dream of a department chair.

“Everybody really respected and loved her,” Burzycki said. “She was really a great communicator. She was open to ideas and making things happen in the department.”

Hanson stepped down as chairwoman in 2008 and, until her leukemia diagnosis in January, continued supervising the tutorial center at the Santa Rosa campus. She also taught classes and worked with students in pursuit of graduation equivalency certificates.

She was born and raised in Denver. Following high school graduation, she studied education at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

One memorable day in Boston in 1974, she met future physician Peter Baginsky. Their daughter said they fell quickly in love, married and together joined the Peace Corps.

“Their newlywed years were spent in a mud hut in central Afghanistan,” Lowe said. They gazed often up at the great, stone Buddhas that would be destroyed in 2001 by the Taliban, and they taught English in a village school.

Hanson told The Press Democrat in 2014, “We were lucky with the Peace Corps. We basically had a two-year honeymoon.”

She acknowledged that it was far from luxurious: They lived without running water or electricity.

“We thought if we could manage that, we could manage anything,” she told a reporter.

With the close of their Peace Corps service, the couple moved to England, where Baginsky resumed his formal education and Hanson taught English as a second language to Oxford University students and members of their families.

Next, the couple returned to Cambridge, where Baginsky entered Harvard Medical School. The family had grown to four when Baginsky was accepted into the family-doctor residency program at Sonoma County’s former Community Hospital. He, Hanson and their two children settled in Forestville. Baginsky became a renowned diabetes specialist.

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His wife was hired on at SRJC in 1984 — and five years later was honored by the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce as its Teacher of the Year.

In her own time, she treasured travel, hiking and cooking.

“My mother was an incredible cook,” Lowe said, “one of those people who doesn’t need a cookbook.”

Hanson also was active at various times with the Santa Rosa Children’s Chorus, Beyond War and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

From about 2009 through 2014, her primary focus was aiding her husband’s response to an aggressive brain cancer. She traveled with him to Switzerland, where he became the first person to undergo successful focused-ultrasound treatment for a brain tumor.

Though the procedure reduced the tumor, Baginski died later in 2014 at the age of 64. He’d continued seeing his patients until a fall broke his hip and forced his retirement from medicine.

“I don’t know how he did it,” his wife said shortly after his death. “In addition to being generous, kind, brilliant, sweet and funny, he had tremendous strength of character.”

She possessed many of those qualities as well. Her daughter said she also had a remarkable ability to engage with strangers and forge meaningful, lasting relationships.

“I can’t tell you the number of lifelong friends my family has that my mom met on an airplane,” Lowe said.

Hanson also is survived by her son, Rowan Baginsky of San Francisco, and two grandchildren. A celebration of her life will be at 1:30 p.m. April 22 at Shone Farm near Forestville.

Her family suggests memorial contributions to organizations involved in leukemia research and treatment.

You can reach Staff Writer Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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