Celebration honors former Gov., U donor

Lacey Crisp

In a room in the University library that bears his name, former Minnesota Gov. Elmer L. Andersen celebrated his 95th birthday amid admirers, former colleagues, friends and family Friday.

“Governor Andersen wanted a huge party to celebrate his 95th, and two things he loves the most – the University and the library,” University librarian Wendy Lougee said.

During the celebration, Andersen spoke about his love of books, kept the partygoers laughing and distributed copies of his latest book, which was recently published.

“Governor Andersen has been one of the best businessmen, politicians and servicemen in Minnesota,” said University President Bob Bruininks, who spoke at the event. “His contributions to the University are extraordinary.”

Andersen served as governor from 1961 to 1963. He lost his second bid for office by 91 votes to DFLer Karl Rolvaag. A former member of the University’s Board of Regents, Andersen has also donated millions of dollars to the University.

“He is an outstanding man who believes in public service and the major role of the University as a good of the state,” said retired University history professor Hy Berman.

Berman called Andersen one of the great Minnesotans of the century, saying his biggest contribution to the state came through his work at the University.

“His impact cannot be measured at this point,” Berman said. “It certainly has been gigantic so far.”

Gov. Tim Pawlenty declared June 17, 2004 Elmer L. Andersen Day in honor of Andersen’s birthday.

“I feel so honored to have a day in my name. Gov. Pawlenty must have had to swallow real hard for that to happen,” Andersen said. “He means well, but he still is missing the point.”

At the event, Andersen criticized politicians for the lack of funding the University has received from the Legislature. Higher education should be a priority in Minnesota, he said.

Andersen gave his personal collection of rare books to the University, worth an estimated $750,000. His collection is housed in Andersen Library, which is named after him. He remains one of the library’s leading donors.

Bruininks also announced Friday that a new leadership position in the University libraries will be named after Andersen.

Andersen talked about the importance of the different collections in his library, particularly the Givens Collection, which features African American literature.

“Books are the mirror of the culture and society,” Andersen said. “They are the ultimate treasure.”

The crowd gave him a standing ovation as he left the room.

“You’ve made an old man very happy today,” Andersen said.