by Bob Grawey
Roger Rosenquist discovered a love for books quite by accident. His grade school teacher offered various prizes for students who read the most books in one year.
A young boy at the time, Rosenquist had his eye on a leather wallet, which he ended up with after reading the most books in his class.
Decades later, and his hair white as snow, Rosenquist still loves books. In fact, he had been collecting them so long, his house was full of them.
His wife, Doris, finally put her foot down and told her husband he needed to do something with all the books that had accumulated on shelves and in various boxes.
So, in the fall of 2009, Rosenquist and his son built a 24-by-36-foot library in the Hassan resident’s backyard.
Forty bookcases contain many of his estimated 3,000 to 4,000 books.
To step into this backyard library, one gets a vivid glimpse of Rosenquist’s personality. If a certain topic is found on one of his bookshelves, there is likely to be a collection of books on that subject.
It represents a slice of Rosenquist much like biology books show the human body by adding layers of pages that represent tissue or veins or skin; each layer adding to what makes up the human body. It is the same with every subject or topic on Rosenquist’s shelves.
One will find children’s books — religious and secular — sports, Christmas -related books, farm life and Native American histories.
Add to that world history and American literature, philosophy and books concerning various religions.
Health and self-help, aviation, politics, crafts, business, humor and Minnesota-related books fill the shelves, too.
His favorite collections, though, are his old Bibles and his Noah Webster dictionaries.
Of Rosenquist’s estimated 150 Bibles (Doris says there are many more), he says some of his Bibles pre-date the 1800s.
Many have beautifully preserved color pictures, which he claims still look so good because of the leaded paint used in making them.
Whereas Rosenquist does not recall how he got started collecting Bibles, he says his grandfather’s dictionary started that collection. It was a Noah Webster edition dated Feb. 1, 1896.
He adds that at least the first 100 years Webster’s dictionaries were printed, they used Bible verses to define words.
The word “home” for instance, has five definitions in Webster’s first dictionary in 1828, three of which use Bible passages to explain a particular use of the word “home.”
A keen interest in the Bible and its history is natural for Rosenquist. He comes from a long line of Lutheran ministers. He says five of his relatives were pastors at the same time at one point.
But the Hassan man also loves books and memorabilia relating to American history, the military and anything patriotic.
Even stuffed animals on top of book shelves are adorned in red, white and blue, hold the American flag and even sing patriotic-themed songs.
In one corner of the library hangs Rosenquist’s old U S Army Special Forces, 10th Airborne (also known as the Green Berets) uniform and Green Beret hat. Its 28/30 waist is no longer home to Rosenquist’s aging body, but his pride in serving his country is still evident.
Sometimes the man’s interests seem to merge in an unlikely way, as with Rosenquist’s patriotic Bible.
It has color photos of all the U.S. presidents (before President Obama), and it includes a snapshot of their histories. Also included is any religious type of information on each commander-in-chief.
Rosenquist’s backyard library is truly eclectic.
Along with his many books, he has collections of antiques, like his miniature caste brass pencil sharpeners. Old train sets are displayed on the floor in another corner of the library and old Catholic or Lutheran framed artwork hangs on two walls.
Tops of shelves and corners are full of old car and tractor models, as well as hand-held wooden farm tools, like his hay fork and pitch fork.
The library, like Rosenquist, is still a work in progress.
Many books are still waiting, packed in boxes. Old artwork such as the framed paintings of the old family farmstead near Alexandria, Minn. is carefully packed away yet.
That does not seem to slow Rosenquist down much, though, in his pursuit of old books and antiques as he goes to garage sales, library book sales, antique stores and does Internet searches.
But at least he now has a place for all his treasures, to which Doris merely smiles.
Those who may want to visit Rosenquist’s library can contact him at 763-300-5639.