Lea College memorabilia donated to historical museum

Published 9:09 am Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Jon Romer is a native of Albert Lea, former music professor and chair of the voice department at Gustavus Adolphus College. He worked with the Ojibwe people in northern Minnesota and served as department chair at Lea College for three years. He also collects photos.

“One of our finest music students (Brad Brandt) … was a very loyal Lea College student and very active in many areas of the college, and then Brad, because of his interest and passion for the college, kept a scrapbook,” he said.

That book, which held accounts of athletic and music events, graduations and other activities, was passed on to Romer — who was Brandt’s teacher — and Lowell Barr.

Barr and his wife were supportive of the college, so after he, Romer and Al Arends examined the book, they presented it to the Freeborn County Historical Museum, Library & Village last Thursday.

“I just felt it was so important, and there were so many important people like … Lowell Barr and many others in Albert Lea who were so influential and worked so hard to make the college a special place that it was, that I felt it was really important to preserve that in the museum,” Romer said. “I’m really grateful that Freeborn County has the museum.”

Many of the photos directly related to Romer’s work at Lea College.

“The photos that we had [were] of several graduations of Lea College, of the choir,” he said. 

Romer admitted he was also instrumental in getting a pipe organ from Bradner, Ohio, which was set up in the field house.

“There’s a picture, on the front page I believe, of the scrapbook … of that pipe organ,” he said.

There were also pictures from student parties as well as the Albert House, which was on Broadway and held student activities.

“There was a room within the Albert House, which was called the Spanish Dining Room, so theater productions were held there,” he said. 

He also donated roughly 300 to 400 photos in the scrapbook. 

“It’s the history of the community, and I think being a teacher I do feel that Albert Lea has always had an important concern, positive concern for the education of people growing up here,” he said “It speaks to that 

He said those photos spoke mostly directly to activities at the college that impacted Albert Lea’s culture, their athletic and musical and theater events and performances.

“Many times … within the classroom very little of that impacts the community directly,” he said. “But one of the things that marked Lea College was its community relationship, and it was important because of what was invested in the college from the community and the people in the community, that they saw and felt and knew what was happening at the college.”

According to Romer, the book was initially started in 1967 by Brandt, but the idea of donating the book started around five years ago.

“We didn’t want that to disappear,” he said. “We wanted it to be part of the ongoing history of education in Albert Lea.”

Alrends donated two yearbooks and another scrapbook of the men’s basketball teams.

Besides the scrapbook, a CD and DVD were donated. The DVD is a documentary of the final Lea College reunion.

“There’s other material in there on this DVD of people, of graduation speakers, of … student graduates walking across campus going to, I think, the final graduation of the college,” Romer said.