Former Brainerd School District Superintendent Elliot Whoolery was the district’s top administrator for nearly 20 years and has no doubts where he’d rank Francis “Babe” Anderson among school board members.
“He stands at the top,” Whoolery said. “We had a lot of good school board members but he and (former school board member) Birney Wilkins really took the reins and pursued a certain project. These were leaders.”
A memorial for Anderson, who died Nov 30 at the age of 88, will be 11 a.m. Monday at First Lutheran Church in Brainerd with visitiation beginning at 10:30 a.m.
Anderson served on the school board from 1967-1979 and is credited by many for being the driving force behind the establishment of the high school’s lower athletic site. The development was opposed by a segment of the community who felt that it was a swampy area that would not be suitable.
“It’s gorgeous,” he said of the site that today includes venues for football, baseball, softball, track, soccer, tennis, an outdoor recreation class as well as a five-hole golf course used for practice. “If it wasn’t for Babe I don’t think it ever would have been developed. If heard criticism he would go right to that person (to provide information).”
The lower site is also used for the community’s Fourth of July celebration.
Anderson’s tenure saw the consolidation of the Nisswa, Baxter, Garrison and Pine Center school districts into the larger Brainerd district.
Longtime Brainerd Warriors football coach Ron Stolski said when he arrived in Brainerd in 1975 the team had to practice at the old state hospital grounds. He credited Anderson’s vision with the eventual establishment of the current lower athletic site.
“Babe was adamant...and as a young AD (athletic director), boy did I find an ally in Babe and a great mentor.”
Stolski said the first football game played at the site, which is behind the high school and adjacent to the Mississippi River, was against Hill Murray in 1976.
“Babe was a very quiet man, but a very commanding presence,” Stolski said.
As a high school athlete, Anderson was named to the All-District basketball team in 1940-41 and 1941-42. From 1942-46 he served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
He returned home from the war and was a partner in Anderson Cleaners until 1971, when he began a real estate career, establishing Babe Anderson Realty in Brainerd.
Before his 12 years on the Brainerd School Board he served seven years on the East Gull Lake School Board.
He and his wife, Ada, moved to Green Valley, Ariz., in 1979, where they both continued to work in real estate.
Gene Goedker of Goedker Realty said he crossed paths with Anderson in the Brainerd real estate market.
“He was really a nice guy to work with,” Goedker said. “A gentleman and good competitor.”