Honoring a trailblazing politician

group planning Allan Spear memorial

THE WEDGE — In commemoration of a former state Senate president who was one one of the first openly gay male legislators in the U.S., a local activist group wants his name and political legacy to live on in a Southwest park.

Join the Impact–Twin Cities, the local chapter of a national organization promoting full equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people, is proposing to dedicate the colonnade in Mueller Park to Allan Spear, who passed away in 2008. Spear lived just a short walk away from the park, located between Bryant and Colfax Avenues on West 25th Street.

“We wanted to commemorate Allan and remember his legacy,” Kent Searl, a member of JTI, said.

Spear served 28 years in the Minnesota Senate and was its president from 1992–2000. In 2008, the Minnesota Historical Society named Spear as one of the most influential 150 people in the state as part of Minnesota’s Sesquicentennial celebration.

The plaque on the colonnade will have the inscribed words, “Allan Spear LGBT Equality Colonnade.”

JTI also plans to celebrate his memory annually so that his memory is “continually alive” and the memorial is cared for, Searl said.

City Council Member Meg Tuthill (10th Ward), a longtime acquaintance and neighbor of Spear, said he had a “good sense of humor” and that he and his partner, Junjiro Tsuji, were “great neighbors.”

“Allan could be very funny,” Tuthill said. “… He was a sterling neighbor,”

Spear was also an advocate of education, she added. He was an associate professor of history at the University of Minnesota from 1964 to 2000 after acquiring his master’s degree and doctorate from Yale University.

“He understood that education didn’t start at university doors,” she said. “He knew that education started long before that.”

The colonnade stands against the backdrop of a basketball area, wading pool, playground and picnic area. Opened in 1976, the park is named after two brothers, Robert and Herbert Mueller, who fought to prevent the spread of Dutch elm disease and helped to establish the Thomas Sadler Roberts Bird Sanctuary in Lyndale Park.

“It’s one more way to honor the people in our immediate neighborhood for the contributions they’ve not only made to the community, but to the city and to the state as well,” Tuthill said.

Tsuji, who lives in the same residence as when Spear was alive, said he was “very happy” about the proposal.

The couple lived together for 26 years. Tsuji described Spear as “kind, thoughtful and smart.”

Aside from his passion for politics, he was a “very good cook,” Tsuji added.

“He would spend two, three or four hours per day cooking and he tried everything new,” he said. “Hundreds and hundreds of people came here for dinner parties.”

Concerning Spear’s activism in human and gay rights, he was “very proud of himself because he passed everything off,” Tsuji said.

Spear resigned from his political career in 2000.

Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-60) succeeded Spear and said he had a “strong commitment to social justice, fairness and equality for all people.”

“Whenever there was a dispute, he always ruled with fairness, with no political partisanship.” Dibble said. “He is the standard of which we aspire in the senate.”

Spear is also renowned for his monumental efforts in the passage of the Human Rights Act in 1993, which protected LGBT Minnesotans from discrimination. He gave “one of the most powerful and moving speeches that has ever been given on the floor of the senate” that swayed the voters in Spear’s favor, Dibble said.

“He probably was my most important mentor — without exception,” added Dibble, currently the only openly gay state senator in Minnesota.

Searl, who brought the memorial proposal to the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association board in May, said they  “were very enthusiastic” when they heard the idea. The LHENA Board of Directors voted to support the plan.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board will determine whether the idea will pass. Join the Impact is hoping to have the memorial finished by the end of June.

They are looking to People for Parks, a nonprofit dedicated to improving Minneapolis and its parks, and the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, which bridges green spaces, communities and cultures, for ideas to find funding.

“It’s important for us to start building that legacy that allows his name and contributions to live on a little bit, particularly for gay kids so they have some sense of connectedness of those who went before us,” Dibble said.

Tsuji recalled that shortly before Spear died, Spear said, “Maybe no one will remember me, but at least I did a beautiful job.”

“Now with the memorial, people won’t forget his name,” Tsuji said.