Governor Elmer Lee Andersen (1909-2004)
"What nobler purpose can there be for a University than to gather up the prizes of a culture--preserve them, propagate them, make them available--so that the best of what has gone before can be preserved and built on?" -- Elmer L. Andersen
On May 14, 1999, the University of Minnesota Board of Regents unanimously voted to name the newest library facility in honor of former Governor Elmer L. Andersen. It was indeed a fitting tribute to a man who has been the most stalwart of friends to both the University and its Libraries for many years.
It is especially significant that a building housing the archives and special collections of the University Libraries be named for a man who has expressed his deep personal belief in the University's "Fourth Mission" in this way:
I've felt that the University has been a little lax in recognizing only three central missions: teaching, research and community service. They overlook a fourth mission -- an archival one. It falls to the universities in our culture -- and specifically to university libraries -- to preserve the sources of information, knowledge and culture, so they can be found and passed on.
Early Life and Career
Born in Chicago, on June 17, 1909, Elmer L. Andersen demonstrated courage and determination at an early age. He contracted polio at the age of nine, but recovered, despite the predictions of his doctors, with the care of his mother and a skilled osteopath. In 1925, both of his parents died, forcing Andersen and his three siblings to make their own living. Elmer held jobs first as a factory worker, then in real estate, and finally as a travelling salesman -- work which ultimately led him to Minnesota. He graduated from the University with a degree in business administration in 1931, and married his college sweetheart, Eleanor Johnson, in 1932.
Andersen joined the H.B. Fuller Company in 1934, eventually purchasing a controlling interest and taking over as president in 1941. Under his leadership, the firm became an early model of corporate responsibility, recognized for offering generous benefits to employees, their spouses, and retirees. His interests were not confined to the business world. In 1953, he purchased a Wisconsin dairy farm from his wife Eleanor's parents, and years later, he won the National Holstein Association's Progressive Breeders Award for his herd. Books, which had been a childhood love, became a passion as Elmer began to acquire rare and beautiful examples of the printer's art.
He served in the Minnesota Legislature from 1949 until 1958. In 1960, he ran for governor of Minnesota, winning by more than 20,000 votes. His reelection bid two years later resulted in the closest election in Minnesota history and a loss to his opponent by ninety-one votes. After the election, Andersen again took the helm of the H.B. Fuller Company from 1963 until 1974, when he "retired" to begin a new career as a newspaper publisher and writer. For twenty-two years, he was an award-winning editorial writer. In 1976, he acquired two newspapers to form the Princeton, MN Union-Eagle, part of ECM Publishers, Inc., which currently encompasses twenty-five publications and continues to grow.
Service to the University
Few, if any, Minnesotans have held the University closer to their hearts than Elmer L. Andersen. Upon completion of his term as governor, he served on the Board of Regents from 1967-75, and as Chair from 1972-75. Andersen also served from 1968-88 as a Trustee of the University of Minnesota Foundation, presiding over it from 1978 through 1981. During the Minnesota Campaign, the University's major fundraising effort from 1985-88, Governor Andersen played a major leadership role in what was, at the time, the most successful fundraising effort by any public university in the United States.
Both Governor Andersen and his wife, Eleanor, are major benefactors of the University and its Libraries. The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, along with its Horticultural Library, is a direct result of their generosity. The full extent of their gifts of rare books and other scholarly documents are valued in the millions of dollars. In March, 1999, the Governor's personal library of 12,500 rare volumes was given to the Libraries, a donation described by the StarTribune as "a gift of the heart." Since then, an estimated two thousand additional volumes have been presented by Governor Andersen to the Libraries, benefiting the Givens, Tretter, and Rare Books Collections.
In November of 2004, a few short months after celebrating his birthday in a gala event held in the library that bears his name, Governor Andersen passed away. He was 95.