August 27, 2007

Hubert H. Humphrey: Waverly's Legend

By Jenni Sebora

“A Rich Past and a Bright Tomorrow,” is the city of Waverly’s motto. And it seems this motto is very fitting.

Part of this rich history is the late Hubert H. Humphrey and his wife Muriel. Although Humphrey was a native of South Dakota, he spent his adult life in Minnesota. Former Vice President Walter Mondale described him as “the single most influential and successful political leader in Minnesota history and one of the most loved men of his time.”

Humphrey, Muriel and their children found a home in Waverly. They purchased the “Triple H” on Waverly Lake in 1956. They found Waverly a true home. They regularly returned to Waverly during Humphrey’s terms as senator and vice president. This was also where Humphrey spent his last days. He died of cancer in his home in Waverly in 1978 at the age of 66.

Humphrey coined Waverly “the peace of my world.”

“There is nothing quite so warming as the knowledge that your hometown friends love and approve of you not just as a public figure – but even more as a good neighbor,” Humphrey once said of Waverly.

Waverly resident Irene Woitalla knew very well how the Humphreys felt about the City of Waverly and its people. She worked for the family during Hubert’s vice presidency and up until his death.

“They considered Waverly their home,” Woitalla said.

Just as Humphrey loved Waverly, the state of Minnesota, and people in general, they too loved him. This admiration is demonstrated through the various dedications, monuments, exhibits, buildings, and institutions in Minnesota and across the nation named after or in honor of the late vice president, senator, mayor and Waverly resident.

A display of Humphrey’s life was part of Waverly’s 125th anniversary celebration in 1994.

A stroll in or a drive past Railroad Park in Waverly will take you to a monument to Humphrey. On Sept., 10, 2005, approximately 200 people gathered for the dedication of the H.H.H memorial at Railroad Park, the site where the vice president made his last public address in 1978, the year of his death.

A memorial to Humphrey and Ralph G. Arends can be found at Humphrey-Arends County Park, just north of Waverly. As a Waverly resident, Humphrey voted at this spot as a member of Middleville Township.

A walk into the Wright County Historical Museum will take you to a special exhibit on Hubert H. Humphrey, his beloved family, his political life and his life in Waverly. (Many of these artifacts come from what was to be the Humphrey Museum in Waverly. Because the museum board was unable to complete its funding targets in the allotted time frame, the project did not proceed.)

One can see Humphrey’s 1926 Model T and his snowmobile, “The Happy Warrior.”

Various pictures adorn the Humphrey exhibit – Humphrey and Lyndon B. Johnson with a note, “To Waverly Public Schools with Best Wishes,” Hubert H. Humphrey; Humphrey and Daniel Graham at Ogle’s Café in Waverly; another of Humphrey, Muriel and Bob Hope; and yet another of Humphrey, Muriel and their children and grandchildren at their home in Waverly – are among those pictures.

Other buildings and institutions named for Humphrey include the Hubert H. Humphrey Terminal at Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome stadium in Minneapolis., the Hubert H. Humphrey Job Corps Center in St. Paul, and the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota and its building, the Hubert H. Humphrey Center, the Hubert H. Humphrey Building of the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, the Hubert H. Humphrey Bridge carrying Fla. S.R. 520 over the Indian River Lagoon between Cocoa and Meritt Island in Brevard County, Fla.

In 1965, Humphrey was made an Honorary Life Member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate Greek-letter fraternity established for African American males.

He was also awarded posthumously the Congressional Gold Medal on June 13, 1979 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1980.

Humphrey’s life

Humphrey was born on May 27, 1911 in Wallace, South Dakota the son of Hubert Humphrey, Sr. and Ragnild Kristine Sannes.

He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota in 1939 and a master’s degree from Louisiana State University in 1940, serving as an assistant instructor of political science there.

He then became an instructor of graduate students at the University of Minnesota from 1940 to 1941 and worked for the Works Progress Administration. He served as a professor of political science at Macalester College in St. Paul, 1943-1944. His political career and achievements were vast.

Humphrey was the thirty-eighth Vice President of the United States, serving under President Lyndon Johnson. He twice served as a United States senator for Minnesota and served as Democratic party whip.

He was a founder of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer Labor Party and Americans for Democratic Action. He also served as mayor of Minneapolis from 1945-1949.

In 1968, Humphrey was the nominee of the Democratic Party in the United States presidential election but narrowly lost to the Republican nominee, Richard M. Nixon.

Until his death in Waverly, January 13, 1978, he served in the U.S. Senate. Then Governor Rudy Perpich appointed his wife Muriel to the Senate seat vacated by Humphrey’s death. She was the only woman in the Senate at the time. She did not seek reelection that fall.

Humphrey was married to wife Muriel for over 41 years at the time of his death. They had three children. His widow remarried to Republican Max Brown in 1979. She then took the name of Muriel Humphrey Brown. Mrs. Brown passed away in 1998 at the age of 86.

According to www.northern.edu, former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, who was Humphrey’s protégé, Humphrey and Muriel were a fantastic public and private team.

“Together they helped change this country to a better, fairer, more decent society,” Mondale said.

In Waverly, Humphrey and Muriel’s house still overlooks the lake, and is now a chemical dependency facility, which also seems very fitting.

Evident by his political stands, Humphrey was an activist and a true public servant. Woitalla agreed. “He was a good person. He was like a dad to me,” Woitalla said.

In fact, right before he died he asked Woitalla if there was anyone she could think of that he may have offended. “He wanted to make amends before he died,” Woitalla said.

Right before his death, on Christmas Day, Woitalla recalled, Humphrey put a call in to his former foe in the 1968 presidential election, Richard Nixon, only to learn of the depressed state of the Nixons. He then invited Nixon to his upcoming funeral, which Nixon accepted.

An often quoted statement of Humphrey’s: “ It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.”

In the Senate, Humphrey became known for his advocacy of liberal causes, such as civil rights, arms control, a nuclear test ban, federal housing programs, food stamps, and humanitarian foreign aid. As Democratic whip in the Senate in 1964, Humphrey was instrumental in the passage of the Civil Rights Act that year.

Mondale said of Humphrey in a speech in 2001, “Hubert’s greatness was rooted in the way he looked at government. He believed that government should and could do wonderful things to make life better for everyone. He was our nation’s most effective apostle of the active use of government as an instrument of social justice since Franklin Roosevelt.”

Sources: http://bioguide.congress.gov; www.northern.edu; http://en.wikipedia.org; www.herald-journal.com; Wright County Historical Museum; Hubert H. Humphrey by Rose Saunders, Heritage Herald, winter 2006 – quotations from a lecture by Walter Mondale, June 7, 2001.

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