Elmer L. Andersen
A lifelong commitment to serving others
As Minnesota's governor (from 1961 to 1963), and especially as a private citizen, Elmer Lee Andersen saw public service as both a privilege and a necessity. He truly believed in the importance of each life and in the idea that each of us can make a difference. His own life was an inspiring demonstration of those beliefs.
Born in Chicago in 1909, Elmer Andersen graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1931 with a degree in business administration. In 1934, he went to work for H. B. Fuller Company, a St. Paul-based manufacturer of adhesives. Six years later, Andersen bought the business for $10,000, eventually building it into a global, Fortune 500 company. Andersen believed that a company should enrich the lives of its employees--or "associates," as he preferred to call them--and its community. Under his guidance, H. B. Fuller enacted groundbreaking medical and retirement programs and parental-leave policies and contributed 5 percent of before-tax profits to local charities.
As a state senator (from 1949 to 1958), Andersen worked hard to pass the Fair Employment Practices Act, which made Minnesota the nation's fifth state to outlaw racial and religious discrimination in the workplace. As governor, he signed a companion bill banning discrimination in housing sales and rentals.
A self-described "searcher," Andersen made his greatest contributions to the people of Minnesota in the four decades after he left public office. He served on the University of Minnesota's Board of Regents, played a key role in the creation of the university's Landscape Arboretum, and in 1999 gave the university his eclectic collection of 12,500 rare books. One of his proudest achievements came in 1975, when, after considerable lobbying on his part, the U.S. Congress passed legislation establishing Voyageurs National Park. "There is no end to things that need doing by willing people," he wrote in his autobiography. "Selfless action is a great road to satisfaction."
"As Robert Browning wrote, 'a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?' I am convinced that the reaching and grasping Browning refers to . . . have to do with wisdom, generosity, and love. The heaven he speaks of is not some afterlife destination. It is the here-and-now result of a life that is spent always striving for that which is good." Elmer L. Andersen, in A Man's Reach
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