Column: The banker who donated a park and a college campus

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 29, 2003

During a recent interview with Joe Narverud Jr., president of the State Bank of Clarks Grove and its new Albert Lea branch, the name of Alfred Christopherson became a part of the conversation. Now here’s a man from the past who really made several significant contributions to area life.

Alfred, the son of Norwegian immigrants, was born in Albert Lea on Jan. 27, 1873. He had a 66-year banking career, starting in 1891, with Albert Lea’s First National Bank which included 22 years as the president. In fact, the building at the corner of South Broadway Avenue and East William Street still has this name etched in stone over the front entry. (The First National Bank later moved to the corner of East Main Street and South Newton Avenue and is now known as Wells Fargo.)

Alfred became the president of the local First National Bank in 1917. Yet, he had already held this title at another bank. During his career this pioneer banker was the president of several financial institutions at the same time.

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He and Charles E. Paulson and John C. Johnson organized the State Bank of Clarks Grove in August 1903, with Alfred serving as the first president. Also, in 1903, he became one of the original stockholders of the First National Bank in Emmons.

In 1911, he started the State Bank of Oakland. Alfred sold this bank in 1945 and it ceased operations a few years later.

Alfred assumed control of the Farmers State Bank of Hartland in 1922 and was the president for many years. He also became president of the State Savings Bank of Rake, Iowa, about this same time.

His last major involvement with other banks came in August 1926 when he became president of the Produce State Bank in the then very new community of Hollandale.

He was also a man who donated money to support various activities and left the city with several still very tangible legacies. One is a city park, and the other was a college campus.

Right after World War II, Albert Lea had an extensive expansion of its residential areas. Alfred evidently owned quite a bit of property in the Edina subdivision on the city’s south side. As an added inducement to help develop this area into residential units, he decided to donate land for what became Memorial Park in March 1952.

This particular park is 730 feet by 270 feet in size and is located on East Eighth Street between Margaretha and Manor Avenues. Thorne Crest South is on the south end of the park and occupies the rest of the long block.

Alfred had very interesting connections with three local educational institutions during his 100-plus years of life.

One of these educational institutions was Albert Lea College, a Presbyterian school for women, which was located on what’s now Abbott Street from 1883 to 1916. Lakewood Elementary School and the Abbott Apartments now occupy the former campus area. He served as one of its trustees and its treasurer.

Another school where Alfred served as a trustee for may years was Luther Academy. This particular school operated from 1888 to 1928 and was located for most of those years at the east end of Third Street.

In his retirement years Alfred became really involved with still another institution of higher learning.

He made several significant financial gifts and

donated a 230-acre farm located on the south shore of Lake Chapeau. This tract of land became the Lea College campus.

As a result of this generosity, the new dormitory at Lea College was named Christopherson Hall in November 1967. This building is now the Lake Chapeau Condominiums.

Alfred Christopherson, who never married, spent most of the last decade of his life as a resident of St. John’s Lutheran Home. And that’s where he died on Nov. l0, 1973, at the age of 100. The pioneer banker and benefactor of many local institutions, such as the Freeborn County Museum at the fairgrounds, is buried in Lakewood Cemetery.

(Tribune feature writer Ed Shannon’s column appears Fridays in the Tribune.)