George Rohn Ehrhardt died peacefully at home August 8, 2018. He was 91.
A public visitation with the family will take place at Bayview/Freeborn Funeral Home on Tuesday August 21 from 4 pm to 7 pm. A memorial service is planned for a future date, and there will be an announcement ahead of this event.
A family reunion was held the first week of August, and George was able to visit, embrace, sing songs and celebrate with his two sisters, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, daughters and sons in law, and extended family. In his own words, "I think it’s time to kiss everybody good-bye". And so he did.
George was born in Albert Lea October 4, 1926. His parents were Lou and Elizabeth (Wedge) Ehrhardt. He graduated from Albert Lea high school in 1944 and went into the US Navy with an honorable discharge in 1946 as "an expert navigator" (according to him). He attended Carleton College where he met Anne Reed his wife of 61 years. Their first date was in a local cemetery in winter where he made her "hobo stew" on an open fire. They were married in Waterloo in 1950.
George began working for his father in the seed business in the early 50's. Anne and George raised 5 children. Peter, Anne Todd, Margaret, Tom and Mac. He took over the Albert Lea Seed House from Lou (his dad), incorporating the business in 1966. He was a long time member of Minnesota Crop Improvement Association and Minnesota Public Seed Promotion Association serving on both boards. After 60 years in the seed business people asked him why he didn't retire, and he told them "How can I retire? Lou is still working."
Participating in the community as a businessman, civic leader, entrepreneur he remained socially aware of the local, state, and national scenes his whole life. He served on many local boards including the YMCA and Norwest Bank. He was President of the Albert Lea Rotary Club in the mid 1960's (quitting because they would not admit John Campbell the first director of Albert Lea Community Theater). He was politically active in local, state and national races. He was a lifetime member of the Iowa Mountaineers taking hiking trips with his family. Later he traveled to India to hike and climb reaching the base camp of Annapurna the 5th highest mountain in the world. He voted both Republican and Democrat as he saw fit. Fought against Imperial Chemical on Hwy 13 and helped force them to clean up their hazardous waste site. Environmental issues moved him to the Democratic Party in the 1990's. He was an Eagle Scout with Bill Sturtz, Ed Wolverton, Paul Kepple, Kenny Lawson, and Earl Jacobson. He loved the outdoors. Was a terrible card player. Knew how to catch and filet fish in the rain and cook them over an open fire, taking many trips into the BWCA and Quetico with family and friends. George was an integral part of establishing Wintergreen Food Coop in the early 1970's, helped Lea College get established in 1966 and helped expand the size of Myre Big Island State Park. He loved to downhill ski taking his first lessons at Sun Valley with Anne in 1949. The entire trip with train ride,hotel and lessons cost $98. He held on to the original receipts. He skied Welch village for the last time in 2011. His biggest regret was not buying a two lot parcel at the bottom of Little Nell in Aspen in 1967. Oh well.
George was on the Albert Lea School Board two times. He wanted to have Albert Lea High School stay downtown because it was "important to have kids and adults share the same space"...He hated the idea of kids driving cars when they could walk just as well. He was friends with many many people. Never had a bad word about anyone. The worst he ever said was "Your acting like an unbroke pony"...If you were down on your luck he would slip you a $20 bill or give you a rental on credit till you got back up on your feet. He was deliberately fair and generous.
Albert Lea Seed House was the focus of his working life. He loved joshing and dealing with the local farmers and making deals and buying and selling farm and field seed. He enjoyed his employees (though he argued with them and many of his management techniques would not be politically correct today)....he was always trying to figure out (with Anne) how they could socialize with his farm customers outside of work. He loved a good party and practical jokes. Was very keen at pulling a person's leg...especially total strangers.
He often said it was hard to appreciate other people's success, but you should figure out a way. Things that he wanted to have happen often did not happen...so he worked harder. In the mid 70's he would drive his VW Van down to "the other side of the tracks" and pick up a group of boys that were described back then as "disadvantaged"...maybe 10 kids. They would go bowling or to Helmer Meyer State Park, or visit some interesting place nearby. They would get something to eat together and so he made time for them as he did for many other people.... Helping someone catch a walley pike on the north end of Kawknipi Lake was Heaven for George. When the Lakeside Cafe closed he kept buying pies from the lady that made the pie for Lakeside. He loved fruitcakes at Christmas time.
George could laugh at himself...out loud. Knew how to tie 20 different knots. Loved problems that made people grimace to solve. Poor carpenter. Not good with tools, but managed to work with his Seed House staff in the off season and fixed up more broken buildings in Albert Lea than can be counted. Made them whole again. Full of ideas especially crazy ones. Read Ezra Pound and TS Eliot out loud. Listened and loved watching birds, planting trees, watching musicals especially Pirates of Penzance. Never missed one of Anne's ACT plays and if it was a musical went every night. Enjoyed playing charades and the dictionary game. Never knew ALL the lyrics of a song but would sing anyway. Played tennis.
Could be mean and generous and kind all at the same time with different people. He hated unfairness but could be unfair himself. Collected many stories over the years and wrote them down. When computers came on he called them "a fad" Slept outside in the tree house behind his house, (even in winter) because the air was better. Cared about animals, but was very practical with them. Planted 1000's of trees over the course of his lifetime. Great admirer of Sir Ernest Shackleton the Antarctic explorer and loved the adventures found in Desert Road To Turkestan by Owen Lattimore. Thought the Whole Earth Catalog was fantastic. Read book catalogs and ordered books on many subjects.
Survivors include his children Peter Ehrhardt Kenai Alaska, Anne Todd Wilbur (Tom), Minneapolis, Margaret Ehrhardt, Albert Lea, Tom Ehrhardt (Sarah) Albert Lea, Mac Ehrhardt (Sophie) Albert Lea. plus grandchildren Britt, Kirsten, Reed, Dylan, Isabel, Sam, Andy, Clyde and Rohn. Sisters Mary Person (Santa Cruz CA) and Elizabeth Atwell (Wasau, WI) plus many nieces and nephews. George was preceded in death by his parents and his wife Anne.
The family thanks Hospice and Embrace of Albert Lea for their thoughtful care taking. A special thanks to Catalina Huerta and family. The family encourages memorials be sent to Nature Conservancy or Environmental and Energy Study Institute eesi.org. They are appreciated to recognize George's concern about climate change.
The Nature Conservancy
4245 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 100
Arlington, VA 22203
1020 19th St. NW, Suite 650
Washington DC 20036