Gophers trinkets are golden to this alum

Branden Peterson

University alumnus Jerry Johnson makes sure a part of University lore and legend is not forgotten.

Johnson, a 1984 graduate, has turned parts of his Plymouth, Minn., home into an ever-growing treasure chest of maroon and gold University souvenirs, including buttons, pennants, programs, jerseys and other artifacts.

A lifelong collector of University, Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings memorabilia, Johnson said University paraphernalia is his favorite thing to collect, and he has no intention to stop anytime soon.

“The University is so old that there’s so much stuff out there,” said Johnson, a finance director at a Minneapolis-based international business firm. “I don’t think I’ll ever run out of stuff to collect.”

Johnson said he swings by garage sales on his drive home from work, digs through antique stores and flea markets and scours online auctions to find maroon and gold goodies.

Johnson estimated he owns more than 10,000 collectibles.

He has more than 20 filing boxes filled with football programs, commencement fliers and guides. He also has several binders of multicolored tickets and media passes from football, basketball, hockey and other events dating back to the 1920s.

Johnson also picked up a 6-foot-long maroon and gold bench from either Mariucci Arena or Williams Arena – he doesn’t know which.

Buttons are his favorite items to collect, he said, and he is only missing three homecoming buttons since the early 1900s.

Word of his collection has spread to other states. Johnson said he regularly trades items with collectors of Michigan, Nebraska and Iowa memorabilia.

Much of his collection is based on athletics-related finds. He said he owns every edition of the University yearbooks except 1967, the last year the books were published. The yearbooks come in handy, Johnson said, because they help him to learn about his finds.

Nobody at the University has saved the thousands of University-produced items, so learning about the items has been difficult, he said.

“At the ‘U’, they don’t even know their own history,” he said.

Although many of the items Johnson collects were used to show support for the Gophers, he said that during his college days he often chose to study in libraries rather than attend many sporting events. His financial situation in college did not allow him to begin his hobby until after he graduated.

“When I was at the University, I was still a fan. I just didn’t have money,” he said.

When the McNamara alumni center opened in 2000, more than 1,000 of Johnson’s University buttons, pennants, books and LP records went on display in the University Alumni Association office.

“We have people stop by all the time who want to look at the display,” said Sue Diekman, an alumni association spokeswoman. “It’s a real great way for people to reconnect with the University.”