Legacy of Elmer L. Andersen comes to life at Princeton library

By Jeffrey Hage
Princeton Union-Eagle

Thirty-five years ago Elmer L. Andersen forged a relationship with the Princeton community when the first issue of the Princeton Union-Eagle came rolling of the presses.

On Tuesday, June 21, a series of 10 hand-painted medallions featuring the Union-Eagle, ECM Publishers and nine other aspects of Elmer L. Andersen’s life were unveiled at the Princeton Area Library.

On Tuesday, June 21, that relationship was renewed with the unveiling of a series of 10 hand-painted medallions featuring the Union-Eagle, ECM Publishers and nine other aspects of Andersen’s life that showcase the legacy of Minnesota’s 30th governor—a man who was a statesman, family man, businessman and publisher who considered Princeton his adopted hometown.

The exhibit, on display at the Princeton Area Library celebrates the life and contributions of Andersen as captured through the artistic spirit of Dalbo artist Amy Sabrina. The art also recognizes the love of Andersen’s life, his wife Eleanor.

The exhibit was commissioned and wholly paid for with funds from Minnesota’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

Artist Amy Sabrina, from Dalbo, paints one of the ten 16-inch medallions of The Legacy of Elmer L. Andersen. The medallions were unveiled June 21, at the Princeton Area Library and are on display at the library. Photo by David H. Humphreys

Sabrina never met Andersen, but has captured the spirit, goals and values of  “Minnesota’s leading citizen.” As if she had known him all her life.

To say Sabrina became emotionally connected to Andersen is an understatement.

“Elmer had spiritual qualities and I felt I needed to get into the psyche of Elmer Andersen,” Sabrina said.

She began by reading Andersen’s biography, “A Man’s Reach,” a book that in his own words told the personal story of a life in service and of triumph over adversity.

But she wasn’t done.

She sought out family members, friends, and business associates who provided personal insight into Andersen’s life.

She also went to two libraries dedicated to Andersen that bear his name: the Elmer L. Andersen Library on the University of Minnesota campus and the library at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum Library. It’s at these libraries that many of the 16,000 volumes of Eleanor and Elmer’s book collection can be found.

“I felt I needed to get in touch with people who knew him as well as his contributions,” Sabrina said.

The experience put Sabrina spiritually in touch with Andersen, she said, and she developed a deep connection with the man she never knew.

“I feel pretty close to him,” Sabrina said. “I feel a deep, deep admiration for Elmer and am honored and humbled to have worked on a project about him and to have been immersed in his life,” Sabrina said.

If there’s one thing Sabrina learned while getting to know Elmer L. Andersen, that nothing stopped him from doing what he wanted to do.

“The sky was the limit,” she said.

“He pushed the limits and didn’t limit himself or his career. He went for it, and that’s a great model for us all,” Sabrina said.

So it was with great pride that Sabrina embarked on the project of bring Andersen’s life together in a series of 10 16-inch medallions.

Andersen was president and CEO of a billion dollar company, a dairy farmer, a newspaper publisher, an environmental leader, a civil rights leader, a collector of books, and a philanthropist. The exhibit celebrates the life and contributions of Elmer L. Andersen, whose participation in Princeton was instrumental in shaping public policy, establishing a sense of community service through his role in starting the Princeton Rotary Club and supporting community projects, and the creation of the library.

It’s in that library that Sabrina’s testimony to the legacy of Elmer L. Andersen will be on display for all to see.