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Humphrey still remembered in downtown Worthington

Two encased flags flank the plaque that is dedicated to the service of Hubert H Humphrey at the Nobles County Government Center in Worthington. (BRIAN KORTHALS/DAILY GLOBE)1 / 2
A close up of the plaque that is dedicated to the service of Hubert H Humphrey at the Nobles County Government Center in Worthington. (BRIAN KORTHALS/DAILY GLOBE)2 / 2

WORTHINGTON -- There is a blog that expresses disbelief. People outside Minnesota, the blogger says, are bewildered. The commission for Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is spending more than $2 million to erase the names of the airport's Lindbergh Terminal and Humphrey Terminal because these names confuse Minnesotans.

(Ma'm, your flight will arrive at the Lindbergh Terminal."

("What do you mean -- Lindbergh Terminal? Which terminal is that? Is Lindbergh the same as Humphrey? Does Lindbergh start with an 'R'? How do I find Lindbergh Terminal?)

The airport commission is going for Terminal 1 and Terminal 2. It is thought this will end confusion for Minnesotans.

(Maybe not. Perhaps people still will wonder, "What is Terminal One? How do you spell this? Is Terminal One the same as Terminal Two?" Change is not easy.)

Meanwhile, there are many saying it is only a matter of time -- weeks perhaps -- before the Minnesota Vikings get a go-ahead for their new, open-air stadium. This will bring an end to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.

Hubert H. Humphrey -- HHH -- remains one of the most illustrious of Minnesotans, but by 2010 -- 32 years after Humphrey's death -- his name is largely disappearing from Minnesota sites.

With an exception.

Nobles County, alone among counties outside the metropolitan area, has a Hubert Humphrey Memorial. It is located in what was meant to be the foyer of what was meant to be the Nobles County courthouse. It is located where very many people came and went every day.

With Nobles County's courts and Nobles County's law enforcement agencies relocated to the Prairie Justice Center, Nobles County is left with no courthouse. Pedestrian traffic past the Humphrey Memorial is light. But the memorial gives no evidence of deterioration. It remains prominent and bright for any who wonder of it.

It was perhaps curious but never surprising that Nobles County alone among the state's 87 counties would create an HHH tribute. Never surprising: from the time Hubert Humphrey was mayor of Minneapolis and made a somewhat perilous flight to Worthington dodging thunderstorms, he seemed to claim the Turkey Capital as his own. He attended no fewer than a dozen Turkey Day celebrations, always mingling prominently with the crowds. He made his final appearance at Worthington's 1976 Turkey Day celebration, standing in a car and waving the entire length of the parade route. The next day it was announced HHH had a serious cancer and he began treatment of the illness that took his life.

After Humphrey's death, there was a sentiment expressed in the Daily Globe, in editorials and in letters to the editor, that it would be fitting to erect a statue to Hubert Humphrey on the courthouse square. Vincent Hollaren, longtime county probate and juvenile judge, became volunteer chair for a fund-raising effort. The response was positive, but statues are costly. When all of the ones and tens and twenties were counted, it was concluded to memorialize Humphrey with a right-view portrait on a bronze plaque.

Contact was made with Rochester sculptor Charles Eugene Gagnon, who recently had completed a statue for Mayo Clinic. Gagnon agreed to do the Humphrey plaque at what (some said) was a "very fair price."

Dedication of the Humphrey memorial was made on Sept. 15, 1979 -- Turkey Day, 1979. Gagnon was present. The plaque was unveiled by HHH III, Skip Humphrey. Minnesota Gov. Al Quie presided.

In addition to the plaque, a special glass case was commissioned to contain a United States flag and a second, identical case was commissioned to contain the official flag of the Vice President of the United States of America. This flag was sent to Nobles County by Walter Mondale, who then was incumbent vice president -- just as his mentor/friend HHH had been.

The words inscribed on the bronze plaque were written by longtime Worthington resident Harold Weeks:

"Hubert H. Humphrey. 1911-1978. The Happy Warrior. He Dedicated His Life to Public Service, Mayor of Minneapolis, United States Senator, Vice President of the United States.

"He Championed the Cause of the Less Fortunate and Led the Fight for Civil Rights Legislation.

"His Public Life Will Always Exemplify the Premise that Politics Can Be an Honorable Profession."

Bob Cashel reported on the unveiling of the plaque and the public dedication for Daily Globe readers. He reported on the sizable crowd that gathered "in the sunshine and 80-degree-temperatures of the afternoon."

Cashel noted Attorney General Warren Spannaus declared, "He [Humphrey] was fed by streams of love. He had a long love affair with the people of Minnesota. Worthington was his second hometown..."

Gov. Quie declared, "HHH had a heart at big as the South Dakota prairies," from which he had come.

Cashel looked about. "For many in the audience," he wrote, "...handkerchiefs were evidence that there remains a private Humphrey locked in the memories of veteran Turkey Day goers. The orator, handshaker, son of the South Dakota prairie and, most of all, friend."

Nobles County's Humphrey memorial ultimately may be the last of Minnesota's public memorials to HHH.

Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.