by Don Heinzman
Elaine Anderson loved to sing Broadway show tunes, and she sang them up until the day she died April 16.
While Alzheimer’s took away her power to converse with her family the last two years, it did not take away her ability to sing. The night before she died, she started to sing as Eileen, her daughter, turned out the light in her bedroom at the Guardian Angels Care Center and said goodbye.
Doug Johnson, a close friend, recalls how he once went to a piano bar in Minneapolis where she sang requested show tunes. “She knew all of the songs,” he said. “No one could stump her.”
Her daughter said Anderson sang all of her life around the house. She’d stand by the stereo and sing.
Her love of singing, her enthusiasm for the theater and her desire to get involved socially in Elk River led her to help start the community theater. Johnson and Rich Dreissig were trying to revive the Riverside Players when they heard about a go-getter, Anderson, who was a reporter for the Sherburne County Star News.
They contacted Anderson, and she invited them to her home, where the first meeting to organize a community theater was held in September 1974. Interest grew and in 1976, the theater performed its first show, “Oklahoma,” in Parker Elementary School.
Although Anderson never sang in any of the shows, Johnson recalled she was unstoppable as she marketed the show, sold advertising for the programs, banged on business doors and talked up the theater.
“She was an amazing person, eccentric, outrageous and she threw herself into one project after another,” Johnson said. “There was no stopping her.”
The theater took off in Elk River as the group staged “Plaza Suite,” “Arsenic and Old Lace” and “Guys and Dolls.” Their performance of “South Pacific” at Handke school drew more people than the population of the community, Johnson recalled.
Anderson was on the theater board of directors for most years from 1974 until her health failed in 2005. Even then she wrote and produced variety shows to raise money to help revive the theater.
Johnson said, “Without a doubt, she and Les (her husband) were the patriarchs of the Elk River Community Theatre. They did everything to hold it together. You could not say ‘no’ to them.”
Denny Chuba, who was on the theater board with Anderson for many years, said, “They supported us as long as they lived. She was so dedicated, a true believer, and was always recruiting people.”
Another of her passions was politics. While she and Les lived in Minneapolis, they both were active in DFL politics. One highlight came when she was at the headquarters of Sen. Hubert Humphrey. She was filling in for a receptionist when she answered the phone and Lyndon Johnson was on the line inviting Humphrey to be his vice presidential running mate, recalled Eileen.
Anderson went to the 1964 National Democratic convention and personally met John and Jackie Kennedy and Robert and Ted Kennedy.
Elaine Anderson was born Dec. 13, 1922, to Ruth Ellen and Joseph Klotz. She married Les Anderson June 12, 1953. The Andersons lived in Minneapolis for many years before coming to Elk River.
Later Les Anderson became manager of the Elk River Star News after it was purchased by Elmer L. Andersen.
Before that, Elaine Anderson was a reporter for the Sherburne County Star News covering the city council and the Sherburne County Board of Commissioners. Being a reporter was a perfect fit to promote and write stories about the Elk River Community Theatre.
Elaine Anderson lived at the Guardian Angels Care Center for five years. Les Anderson died March 28, 2009.
She is survived by her daughter Eileen Anderson of Elk River and sons Glen (Barbara) of St. Paul and Wayne of Elk River and grandchildren: Susan (Jeff) Simmons of Brooklyn Park, David Anderson of St. Paul, Sonya Anderson of Colorado Springs, Aaron (Heather) Anderson of Coon Rapids, Kristina Anderson of Otsego, Sarah Anderson (Steve) Shabliksky of Minneapolis, Brian (Heidi) Anderson of Rochester, Kimberly (Mark) Petrosky of Edina, Victoria (Paul) Isherwood of Colorado Springs, Caitlin Bowersox of St. Paul, Greta Anderson, Bjorn Anderson, Theo Anderson and Emily Bowersox of Elk River and 13 great grandchildren.
A memorial service will be Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Guardian Angels Senior Dining room at 360 Evans.
Memorials are preferred for Guardian Angels of Elk River and the Elk River Community Theatre.