Ron Hahn’s handshake was the equivalent of gold. On one occasion, a little more.
The life of the incomparable Hahn, one of the most familiar and trusted names in San Diego business and sports, is being celebrated this weekend.
Hahn, 80, a longtime Rancho Santa Fe resident, passed away this month.
Hopefully, the Immaculata Church at the University of San Diego is big enough to accommodate his army of admirers for Saturday’s memorial service.
Hahn’s lengthy list of accomplishments included saving hockey in San Diego in the mid-1990s after obtaining the then-San Diego Sports Arena in 1992.
Among his tenants were the Gulls.
Hahn made his dough by being a steely developer and managing properties. But around sports, especially hockey, he would get that pie-in-the-sky look.
“My dad loved sports in general,” said Ernie Hahn, his only son. “But he really loved hockey.”
The game was different then, with speed and precision replacing brute strength and fisticuffs. Before a big crowd one night, Ron Hahn wanted some inside fireworks without lighting a match.
He approached Chad Wagner, a Gulls’ fan favorite because of his fighting skills, just before he took the ice.
“When they were talking, he reached over to shake Chad’s hand, and there might have been something exchanged,” Ernie Hahn said with a smile.
“I heard Chad say, ‘Don’t worry, Ron, we’re going to have a great game and put on a great show.”’
Before the puck dropped, Wagner was trading haymakers with a rival. He spent some 32 minutes in the penalty box because of his aggressive play, with the crowd going bonkers.
“And we won,” said the Del Mar resident, who worked closely with his father operating what is now Pechanga Arena.
But the Gulls, like a certain NFL team, decided Los Angeles was a better market after the 1994 season. A determined Ron Hahn wished them well and went to work.
Within 5½ months, his guile and financial lift gave birth to the West Coast Hockey League. It had six teams, including two in Alaska, and the new Gulls were back in town.
“He saved hockey in San Diego,” Ernie Hahn said. “We won five championships in eight years, and those were some of the best years of his life.”
From 1995 to 2003, it was seventh heaven for the elder Hahn, who owned the Gulls. While there were plenty of trophies hoisted, there was also the epic Fanny Pack Game.
Those attending that night received a Gulls fanny pack. But instead of placing them around their waists, they couldn’t wait to heave them on the ice.
Bruce Shoebottom of the Peoria Rivermen had a beer poured over him by a customer while in the penalty box. More suds and a large number of flying fanny packs met him as he charged into the stands after the offender.
Suddenly, some 4,000 fanny packs were on the ice. They were collected and, of course, that led to another Fanny Pack Night.
Ron Hahn seldom sat on his backside. His business numbers were incredible; at one point, he managed 40 malls, 20,000 leases and 40 million square feet of retail space.
Getting Fashion Valley Mall upright led the Hahns here from Santa Barbara in 1969. Later, Hahn coached Ernie in the Del Mar Little League, with Fashion Valley inscribed on the uniforms’ backs.
“He not only would coach but he would keep score and have statistics available and updated before every game,” Ernie said. “It was incredible.”
The same could be said for Ron Hahn’s energy.
He was an accomplished skier, golfer and surfer. He tackled massive jigsaw puzzles, did Sunday’s challenging New York Times crossword puzzle in ink, read 6,000 books in his lifetime and had a record collection north of 8,000.
The music of The Eagles, Jackson Browne, and/or the Doobie Brothers often filled the Hahn household, with Hahn throwing back yet another Pepsi and possibly enjoying a cigar.
If his favorite peppercorn steak, rare please, was on the grill, all the better.
But what sparked Ron Hahn was sports and connecting with people.
He was on the Padres advisory board and a season-ticket holder from their first game in 1969 — section 19, row 18 — and he circled the globe playing golf, often more than 320 rounds a year.
In the mid-1980s, the right-handed Hahn, with a 3 handicap, wrenched his back. So he switched to being a left-hander off the tees and then hit his wedges and putted right-handed. He got down to a 5 handicap deploying that unconventional manner.
Ron Hahn saw solutions instead of problems. He spotted the good in people when others didn’t take the time to listen. And if he shook your hand, there was no gray area on its significance.
“We would be negotiating all these contracts and leases and I would say, ‘Dad, we really don’t have to do all of this,”’ Ernie Hahn said. “Then he would say he shook someone’s hand about it, and that was that.”
That was as true with Chad Wagner as it was with anyone else.
“My dad was old-school,” Ernie Hahn said. “He was a man of extreme character and integrity. He didn’t need any contracts. If my dad told you something or shook your hand on it, it was a done deal. He always lived up to that.”
All of which led to Ron Hahn completing a life well lived.