January 2, 1961- March 25, 1963
Elmer Lee Anderson, the thirtieth governor of Minnesota, was born in Chicago, Illinois on June 17, 1909. His education was attained at Muskegon Junior College and at the University of Minnesota, where he earned a business degree in 1931. He established a successful career with the H.B. Fuller Company, first working in the marketing department and eventually becoming the owner and president of the company. Andersen entered politics in 1949, serving as a member of the Minnesota State Senate, a position he held ten years. He next secured the Republican gubernatorial nomination and was elected governor by a popular vote on November 8, 1960. During his tenure, a fair housing bill was sanctioned; a statewide sanitary law was authorized; highway safety measures were initiated; and a governmental ethics act was instituted.*
“I remind people I want to be known as a liberal Republican. If that’s a dirty word, so be it.” Elmer Lee Anderson **
Governor E.L. Andersen led a life of enthusiasms, that led into ventures, that usually led into success. Though his parents split at a young age, he discovered that he had capabilities to provide for himself and his family selling: soft drinks, candy, and newspapers. He loved birds, and wrote articles as a young teen that made it into the local newspaper.***
Already a natural salesman, he sold for Sheldon, a specialty school furniture company, and this is when he moved to Minnesota. After graduating from the U of M in 1934, he entered H.B. Fuller as a sales manager, and eventually went on to become its president. His formula of good sales seemed firmly based in his solid ethics. The following quote shows his heart-felt business acumen.
“Anything the customer wanted should be seen as an opportunity for us to provide it. Number two was that the company should exist deliberately for the benefit of the people associated in it. I never liked the word employee. It intimated a difference in class within a plant. We always used the word associate. Fuller’s third priority was to make money. To survive, you have to make money. To grow, you need money. To conduct research and develop new products, you must have money. The need for money can be desperate at times. But corporations must put the quest for money in its proper place. Our philosophy did not leave out service to the larger community. We put it in fourth place, behind service to customers, our associates, and the bottom line. Community service cannot be paramount to a business, but it ought not to be omitted, as it too often is. Business must concern itself with the larger society—for reasons of self-interest if nothing else.” ****
Maybe this heart and philosophy underscores some of Andersen’s key achievements during his governorship, and the scope of human interests they spanned? We see his love of nature and ornithology as the loon was named our state bird during his tenure. What ne plus ultra! What more fitting symbol of this place and people; our idiosyncrasies and achievements? This bird is capable aloft or underwater, but walks poorly on land and must run on the surface of the water to take off!?! Its beak is a spear for fishing, and its sharp eyes a vibrant red. Don’t be taken aback by the loon’s haunting lonely cry; it just wants to live in solitude. In this, Andersen is our Adam!
His administration officially recognized alcoholism as a health problem. Maybe the most impactful change for posterity of his term is in his sanctioning of a fair housing act. (Though the Fair Housing Act 42 U.S.C. did not see fulfillment until 1968, his was a quick response to just the problems that were brought to light in the public domain issues of the Rondo neighborhood.) *
Though succeeded by Karl Rolvaag after his one term in office, Elmer remained committed to the Republican Party, and his many pet causes and interests. Governor Andersen became a publisher, writer, and archivist while owning interests in ECM Publishing. He clearly was a bibliophile, and amassed a collection of over 12,000 rare books that went to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum Library. He was known as the father of Voyageurs Nation Park, working ceaselessly with other famous Minnesotans like aviator Charles Lindbergh, to preserve this beautiful land and interconnected waterways for generations.***
We now bow to You: Governor of Governors, Sovereign of Sovereigns, Crown of all Crowns! As Isaiah rightly prophesied, “On that day, Adonai-Tzva’ot will be a glorious crown, a brilliant diadem for the remnant of his people.” Isaiah 28:5 CJB * We owe this land grant and political state of Minnesota to You alone Lord. What wisdom do You wish to convey through the life and events of Governor Elmer Lee Andersen?
We thank You that Andersen relished the pathway of sales from childhood throughout his life. What a blessing to realize one is talented in an area, and to remain in such a strength for life! We thank You that this particular salesman clearly articulated his raison d’être in writing for posterity, and approached his business with a sense of balance between profits and people. May You be praised in this, and give our salespersons your heart of community service within provision!
As a second proviso of well-being, we acknowledge Elmer’s willingness to name the elephant in the room; “Alcoholism”! Though he aptly called it a disease of the body, we remember to You that is also a disease of the spirit. A satisfied mind doesn’t need alcohol to amplify Your wonders; but a needy heart craves the next drink. We praise You that he chose to name this issue, and create pathways of help for generations of Minnesotans!
Prolonging his memory to You, we see his desire to end discriminatory practices in housing. He began the end of discriminatory lending practices; a practice of unnecessarily stratifying of a generation of Minnesotans. Surely there is a way to honor liberties of private property without racializing Your land! May we keep asking for wisdom in this! Willing You forgive us: in our business and finance industries, as communities, and as individuals made in Your image of this offense towards You and Your land which we temporarily occupy?
In sum, there is much praise worthy in Governor Anderson’s life. His love of books became a fruitful business, which circled back to bless the branches of the University of Minnesota. A passion for the Creation led him to advocate to preserve Voyageurs. In this, he is just like You!
Precisely because of Governor Andersen’s good character and habit of fulfilling good desires, I am reticent to criticize, yet I must add these words and questions to You, Lord. We, who love progress, must define what progress looks like to move society towards it. Often, progressive movements work through the machinery of the State to fulfill their purposes. Does not this oblige others to both sanction and fund a definition of progress that they do not hold in their heart?
Forgive my weak wordplay, Messiah, but who protects our figurative loons from progress? Who stands for those who are undefiant, yet choose to fly alone? Maybe I have an inordinate fear of progressivism because of it’s inherent humanistic roots; “the progress of man”. Where is Your place in this worldview? Does it make allowances for Your Kingdom of forgiveness, humility, and innocence? What place do virtues such as patience and persuasion hold in a climate that waves a banner stating “Advancement Now!”?
Yet this is where I arrive in watching this era of Elmer’s leadership; we need You to stand between us. We ask forgiveness where our version of progress diminishes another; in this age of the early 1960’s, in the present, and into eternity. We invite Your wisdom into the ways we must yield to each other. Keep us from conceit as we make concessions to the greater good. And may our self-defined greater good be submitted to our Greatest G-d.
“It is good to grasp the one
and not let go of the other.
Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.” Ecclesiastes 7:18 NIV **
** https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elmer_L._Andersen cited in Saint Paul Pioneer Press. 2004 article
*** Andersen, Elmer L. (2000). A Man’s Reach. Edited by Lori Sturdevant. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
**** “1941: Harvey Fuller Sells Company to Elmer Andersen”. H.B. Fuller. Retrieved May 15, 2016.
***** “Publications: Princeton Union-Eagle”. ECM Publishers. Retrieved May 15, 2016.
****** Smetanka, Mary Jane. (1999). “Former Governor’s Gift Is Voluminous”. Minneapolis Star Tribune. Metro ed. April 1. p. 1A.