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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published June 01 2013

Eriksmoen: Father of modern Chautauqua considered ND best place to live

The father of the modern Chautauqua in America considered North Dakota as the greatest place on earth to live.

Everett Albers represented the fourth generation of his family to live in Hannover Township, N.D., and despite his rural, almost isolationist upbringing, he was able to call some of the country’s most notable writers and movie producers his friends.

Albers was proud of his home state and its residents. He was obsessed with preserving and promoting the history, and cultures and traditions of the people who lived in North Dakota. As executive director of the North Dakota Humanities Council, he did more than anyone else in that pursuit during the latter half of the 20th century.

Albers was born March 28, 1942, in rural Oliver County to Albert and Hulda (Henke) Albers in the home where Hulda was raised. After a fire destroyed the Albers’ barn in 1943, killing the livestock, the family was forced to relocate to another farm site adjacent to Hannover. Hannover was small, with about 30 people, the same population as when Everett’s great-grandfather, Henry Albers, became the town’s first postmaster in 1884.

In 1948, Ev started first grade at St. Peter’s Lutheran School in Hannover, which was about a half-mile from his house. After classes were over, he would run home to catch the latest episodes of “The Lone Ranger” and “Sergeant Preston” on the radio.

By the time Albers was 9 years old, he was a voracious reader. This accelerated in the winter of 1954-55 when he came down with rheumatic fever and was bed-ridden for a couple of months. He later wrote, “I read and read, sometimes until sunrise. … As a result, I have rather bad reading habits – I’m nearly totally indiscriminate.”

He was the same with music. During his early years, most of the music Albers heard on the radio was country, but he soon learned to appreciate all types of music. He especially paid attention to the words and was often impressed with the meaningful poetry that many of them contained.

Albers was close to his mother and most of the characteristics he attributed to her were ones that he possessed. He wrote that she had an “unquenchable thirst for new knowledge and read a lot, thinking about new ideas.” Hulda loved all music, “enjoyed meeting and talking with all kinds of people,” was tolerant, had “good humor, and never took herself too seriously.” He added, “Accepting people as they are was her greatest gift.”

I first met Ev in late August 1960. We both made the journey to the University of North Dakota for “orientation week” when we were freshman. We stayed in the same dormitory, East Hall, located on the southeast corner of the UND campus. It was built as part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal during the Great Depression. As Ev described it, “one could hear every conversation in that three-story warehouse of freshmen male bodies [who were] assigned small areas behind cardboard thin walls and doors.”

Ev was lucky to have a roommate who was also a serious student – Gary Gonser. Gary was a music major and the mutual love of music created a bond between the two. My highlights were when Ev and Gary would stop by my room to have late-night chats. Ev’s good humor, optimism and enthusiasm always left me in high spirits.

It was at the dorm that I first saw Ev’s deep desire to learn about other American cultures. Another person who stayed at East Hall was Kossuth Thomas, from Mississippi. Kossuth was the first African-American that Ev got to know, and he described Kossuth as possessing one of “the greatest senses of humor and good will to all I have ever encountered in a fellow human being.”

The two became good friends, and Ev wrote that Kossuth “opened more windows on the rest of the world and into the rich heritage of folks I have ever met.”

Albers left UND after his first year and completed his undergraduate studies at Dickinson (N.D.) State College (now a university) in 1966. He obtained a master’s degree at Colorado State University in Fort Collins and accepted a teaching position at the Lake Region Community College in Devils Lake in 1968. The following year, Albers accepted an offer from his alma mater in Dickinson and settled into what he believed would be a career as an English professor and instructor of humanities.

One of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society initiatives, the passage of the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities Act of 1965, established the National Endowment for the Humanities. This independent federal agency created the opportunity for individual states to establish councils that could apply for funding to “support research, education,” preservation, and public programs in the humanities.”

These state councils would have state directors responsible for implementing, coordinating and supporting the initiatives and programs approved by the state councils. Albers saw this as an opportunity and challenge. No one anticipated the impact he would have on the state once he was selected as the director.

We will conclude the story about Ev Albers next week.

“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments or corrections to the Eriksmoens at cjeriksmoen@cableone.net.