Former Gov. Elmer L. Andersen dies at age 95

Originally Posted November 16, 2004

One of Minnesota’s most popular institutions, citizens, personalities and politicians has died.

Former Minnesota Gov. and well-known businessman, Elmer L. Andersen, 95, died at about 9 p.m. Monday while hospitalized at Fairview University Hospital, Minneapolis.

Andersen is survived by Eleanor, by sons Julian, Seattle, WA and Anthony, St. Paul, a daughter Emily, Duluth and by many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The state’s 30th governor was hospitalized on Thursday, Oct. 28 due to a lethargy complication. Surgery was performed to remove a blockage to his liver. He has continued to be hospitalized since surgery.

Andersen is a former chairman and chief executive officer of ECM Publishers and of H.B. Fuller Company. He started his newspaper career in 1976 when he purchased the Princeton Union and Princeton Eagle newspapers. He merged the papers and soon formed ECM Publishers.

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty issued a statement in response to news of former Gov. Elmer L. Andersen’s death:

“Elmer Andersen epitomized the Minnesota spirit. His civic involvement touched every important aspect of Minnesota life. He never stopped reaching for higher ideals or encouraging us all to give more of ourselves. And he tried to teach us that we should be able to disagree without being disagreeable.

“While he was only governor for a short period of time, Elmer Andersen’s public service didn’t begin or end with his time in office. He was a pioneer in government, business, civic activities and philanthropy. His good works will long be remembered.

“Mary and I extend our condolences to the Andersen family. They will remain in our thoughts and prayers throughout this time of mourning.”

Gov. Pawlenty signed a proclamation ordering all state flags lowered to half-staff for a period of mourning beginning at sunrise Tuesday and lasting until sunset the day of Gov. Andersen’s burial.

Family and friends estimated at more than 300 attended a special 95th birthday celebration at the Elmer L. Andersen Library, University of Minnesota, this past June 18, the day following Andersen’s actual birthday.

The celebration featured the former Gov. Andersen and his wife Eleanor graciously greeting the many guests prior to and following an organized program.

During the program University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks announced creation of a new leadership position in University Libraries in Andersen’s name to provide strategic direction for the libraries’ archives and special collections.

Andersen talked at length about his love for books which began at a young age. He donated a large collection to the University of Minnesota and had the Elmer L. Andersen Library on the West Bank dedicated in 2000. He said those in attendance “made an old man very happy” by coming to his birthday party.

On March 16 of this year, current Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty Minnesota proposed naming the new building for the Minnesota Department of Human Services for former Governor Andersen. He made the announcement at the State Capitol with former Gov. Andersen and his wife Eleanor in attendance.

The Elmer L. Andersen Human Services Building will continue the tradition of naming new state facilities after Minnesota’s former governors. At the announcement, Gov. Pawlenty said he will seek legislative support for the measure. The building will be located at 540 Cedar Street, in downtown St. Paul between 10th and 11th and Cedar and Minnesota streets at the site of the old Capitol Square Building. Work on the site began in January. The building is scheduled for occupancy in December, 2005.

“This building will stand as a lasting tribute to his exceptional personal example to all Minnesotans, his public service and private sector career include many significant contributions to our state and its citizens,” said Gov. Pawlenty.

“Gov. Andersen’s life is truly a remarkable story of triumph over adversity,” Gov. Pawlenty said. “Raised in poverty, stricken with polio and spinal meningitis and orphaned at age 15, he used education, hard work and tenacity to build a successful career in both politics and business,” Pawlenty added.

Andersen was elected governor in 1960 and served until 1963. He also served in the state Senate from 1949 to 1958. In 1934 Andersen began work in the sales promotion department for H.B. Fuller Co., a St. Paul manufacturer of industrial and home use adhesives and, by 1941, he was its president and held that position until 1960. He remained as CEO of the company until 1976. Under his leadership and that of his son Tony Andersen, the company grew from a small business into a Fortune 500 company that was noted one of the 100 best companies in the country to work for.

In 1976, Andersen formed a private corporation, ECM Publishers, Inc., taking two newspapers, the Princeton Union and Princeton Eagle and merging them together. ECM has 17 community weekly newspapers and seven shopper publications. Son, Julian is CEO of ECM Publishers.

In addition to his business and political accomplishments, Andersen’s other contributions include serving as a member and chairman of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents, president and chairman of the Bush Foundation, chairman of the University of Minnesota Foundation and board chairman of the Minnesota Institute of arts. He is a benefactor of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum Library, the University of Minnesota Andersen Library and the Elmer L. And Eleanor J. Andersen Foundation.

Gov. Andersen was named one of the 100 most influential Minnesotans of the 20th century by the Star Tribune in 2000 and Minnesotan of the Year by Minneapolis/St. Paul Magazine in 1989.

Andersen is the author of Views from the Publisher’s Desk, 1997 and an autobiography, A Man’s Reach, 2000. He is also author of a book published early this past summer. The book is a selection of speeches and current comments, titled I Trust to be Believed.

Andersen married Eleanor Johnson on Sept. 1, 1932.