WORTHINGTON — Though Fern Anderson hasn’t been to a Major League Baseball game for the past couple of years, her love of the game is as fervent as always.
Walk into the apartment that Fern and her husband, Lee, share at Worthington’s Ecumen Meadows, and it’s impossible to miss the voluminous amounts of baseball memorabilia. She admits to the place being a mess, yet she’s eager to show as many of her collectibles to which she has easy access. And, she’ll talk baseball — and the Minnesota Twins — with the knowledge of someone who takes mere occasional glances at standings and box scores.
The early innings
Fern is 87 now, and her passion for baseball goes way back to her youth, when she grew up on a farm approximately 25 miles south of Madison, S.D.
“My dad played baseball — he wasn't a professional at all, but he loved to play,” Fern recalled. “He took us to watch the Madison Broncos (an amateur baseball team) in the summertime — he’d take my four brothers and myself.”
There were no varsity high school sports for girls during Fern’s teens, but she still loved taking to the diamond and the basketball court.
“I was always encouraged to be in sports,” Fern said. “Girls couldn’t do this and couldn’t do that, but we’d always do sports as a family. You could play intramurals … and even did that when I went to college. It wasn’t too long after college that I came to Worthington, and I could listen to the Iowa girls play basketball on the radio — even though it was that screwy three-on-three.
“We could never afford go to a (professional) game when we were younger — it was the Depression — but my brother Tom, who was a year and a half older than me, and I loved to go out and play ball and play catch until it was time to come in and do the dishes and milk the cows,” she added.
Fern attended a country school that she remembered usually having about 15 students, then ended up graduating from Arland Consolidated High School south of Madison. She went on to study at a teacher’s college in Madison before moving on to Bethel College in St. Paul for one year. After that, she arrived in Worthington as a sixth-grade teacher. It was 1955.
Midway through the game
While Fern is unable to remember the precise year she retired from teaching, she’s quick to note how long she has been married to Lee — 45 years. Lee and Fern were wed some time after Lee’s first wife passed away; Lee already had four children, with the last one a senior in high school at the time.
It’s safe to say that baseball has been a huge component of their marriage.
“We were both interested in baseball, so we went to almost all the ballparks (while we could),” Fern said. “We missed two or three of them. We were able to go to the World Series when the Twins won both times (1987 and 1991).”
So, considering all the big-league stadiums she has visited, does she have a favorite?
“We thought the Twins’ new park (Target Field) was a nice park,” Fern stated. “We went to all the old parks, but not some of the new ones.
“I retired early so we could travel,” continued Fern, adding that she had worked as a teacher while Lee farmed their property south of Rushmore. “We went to a lot of games on weekends; we took one bus tour out east and went to eight ball games in the time out there. And we went to spring training for many years in Florida.”
Fern also remembers going to the old Metropolitan Stadium, the Twins’ old Bloomington home, back in the day. She said she went to a game by herself “while waiting for a friend to get off a plane from Europe,” and liked the fact that the stadium was easy to get to.
“I went to that ballpark more times than the Mall of America,” she asserted, referencing what currently sits on the former Met property.
Considering Fern’s love of baseball and the hundreds of games she has attended, it shouldn’t be surprising that a good-sized array of memorabilia has been amassed. Plus, Fern admits not to not being very good at throwing things out; she’s a saver.
The habit dates way back to growing up on the farm during the Depression, when Fern began an unusual collection that’s now on display outside the door to her Ecumen Meadows apartment.
“When I was in fifth grade in country school, we’d go to town in Madison ... and that year and probably the next year I collected gum wrappers you can't find anywhere now,” she said. “I suppose it was because it was cheap — I couldn't afford to buy anything else, really. I liked to buy books, but I couldn't buy a book very often because it was the Depression. We lived on the farm, and things were pretty rough for a few years.”
Fern said she found her collection of wrappers not long ago and thought it would be fun to share it with others. That spirit of sharing dates back to her teaching days, too.
“If they did something good, they got a Twins plastic cup that I’d give them,” she remembered. “The youth thought it was a really nice reward.”
While Fern also has an array of items pertaining to penguins, baseball dominates her collecting. There are autographed baseballs, books, photos, ticket stubs, old game programs and scorecards, saved newspapers, T-shirts and Twins Homer Hankies signed by the members of the 1987 and 1991 World Series championship teams.
In the ninth
Fern and Lee may not get to baseball games much anymore, but their love of the game remains intact.
“We’ve been here for about three years, since my husband had a fall and hurt his head,” Fern said. “We do keep busy — we’re not involved in too many activities but we keep out of mischief, I guess. We do watch games, though none of our teams have been winners this year for the World Series.”
The Andersons do get visitors once in a while. Lee’s children, and their children, are part of their lives, and Fern said she has several nieces and nephews, most of whom live in South Dakota. She’s also happy to welcome others who remember her from a time long ago.
“Worthington had a lot of good students,” she said of her teaching days. “I wouldn't say there’s a favorite, because I had so many good students.There here have been so many who have come by and visited since we've been here, both girls and boys. To think — they were 12 years old at the time I was their teacher.”