Biography of Andrew Simonson
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Lowell said, “An institution is but the lengthened shadow of a man;” it must perforce partake of his character, his purpose and his principles and becomes the expression of his effort and his ideals. It is not a matter of marvel, therefore, that The Wisconsin Agriculturist has been a most successful farmers’ journal, accomplishing far reaching results for the benefit of the agricultural community, for back of that paper were the ideals and determined energy of Andrew Simonson, a man whose rare virtues and lovable character endeared him to the entire circle of his acquaintance.
Andrew Simonson was a native of Porsgrund, Norway, where his birth occurred on the 9th of August, 1861. He was eight years of age when his parents brought their family to the new world, arriving in Racine in 1869. He here became a public school pupil but very early had to take up the task of providing for his own support and that of other members of the family, owing to the father’s death. He secured a situation in a dry goods store, where his diligence and fidelity won him rapid promotion, with increased responsibilities but also with broadening experience and a wider outlook. After several years spent in connection with the dry goods trade he became identified with S. Freeman & Sons Manufacturing Company and it was a step toward his later activity in the field of journalism. After three years he became connected with The Racine Manufacturer, a monthly magazine, which he soon merged with The Racine Agriculturist under the name of The Racine Manufacturer and Agriculturist, but his interest throughout his career as editor and publisher was always directed chiefly toward agriculture and it was for that reason that he soon succeeded in having the word “Manufacturer” dropped from the title of his publication, which thereby became The Racine Agriculturist. The next change led to the adoption of the name of The Racine Wisconsin Agriculturist, leading up to its present form of The Wisconsin Agriculturist, under which name the publication has been continued since 1892. This paper became a power of great influence and practical benefit to the farming community of the state. In January, 1890, it was changed from a monthly to a semi-monthly and seven years later became a weekly publication. That it was growing in power and popularity is indicated in the fact that it was able in 1902 to absorb another agricultural journal, the Farm, Field and Stockman of Winona, Minnesota, and in 1906 it took over the Farmers’ Sentinel of Milwaukee. In 1914 it bought out the Lake Superior Farmer of Ashland, Wisconsin. The paper was steadily developed along the most progressive lines, taking rank with the leading agricultural journals of the country, for Mr. Simonson put forth every effort to enlarge its scope, usefulness and interest. To this end he bent his administrative direction and executive power in the control of the paper and used his broad knowledge in bringing before the public those things which would prove of vital and practical value in promoting the work of the fields.
Mr. Simonson was married to Miss Annie Porter, a native of Taunton, Massachusetts, and a daughter of Lemuel C. Porter, a Racine pioneer and silversmith who established one of the first silver plating works of this city. He afterward returned to the east but eventually retired from active business life and now makes his home in Racine. Mr. Simonson gave his political allegiance to the Democratic Party and was appointed postmaster of Racine during President Cleveland’s second administration. In this connection a contemporary writer has said: “His corps of associates, during that time in office, displayed a loyalty seldom seen in public service, and at the same time his business management introduced a system and efficiency in the office which has not been surpassed under any subsequent administration.” No better illustration of the character of Mr. Simonson can be given than by quoting from H. D. Robinson, who soon after the death of Mr. Simonson wrote:
“Andrew Simonson was a man’s man. When one has said this he has perhaps said all that need be said. Could one say anything more or better? He was a man’s man because he commended himself to men through those traits of character that most men admire. He was courageous and gentle, aggressive and modest, successful and just. Combinations of this kind are rare, but they existed in Andrew Simonson.
“About a year ago the mayor of the city appointed him with two others to solicit subscriptions for Racine’s new public park. From the beginning of that quest for the city’s betterment until it ended Mr. Simonson was the leader; but his leadership was so gentle that it was not even suspected until the result showed the impress of his personality. The money that was given for Racine’s park was mostly given because Andrew Simonson asked for it. On one occasion when the members of the committee were feeling somewhat discouraged at the slender result of their work, they found themselves in the office of one of Racine’s foremost citizens. They set before him the plan of the new park and the city’s need of it, but he was not disposed to give. For a good half hour they pleaded with him, using every argument they could think of, and every influence they possessed, but he remained obdurate. It was apparently a hopeless case, and the discouraged committee passed out of the office door to the street. As they stood there a little uncertain as to where they should go next Mr. Simonson excused himself for a moment and went back into the office. In three minutes he came to the door and called the other two in to shake hands with the man who had refused them-to shake hands with him because he had just put his name down for a subscription of five hundred dollars. The members of the committee afterwards asked Mr. Simonson how he got it. He told them what he said. But the words were of little moment. Today the other members of the committee cannot even remember them. They can realize now that words had very little to do with it. He might almost have used any words with the same result. He obtained the subscription because of himself, because of his personality, because he was a man’s man. Best of all, too, he was really grateful. Many a man would be tempted to exploit his own achievement under such circumstances, but he was simply grateful. His gratitude was shown in the glow of his face and in the few quiet words spoken afterwards. It was as if someone had given him a gift for himself, and as if the gift had touched him deeply. Once, when a citizen had made an unusually small subscription and the committee had left him with merely a courteous expression of thanks, Mr. Simonson afterwards spoke of the gift with as strong words of gratitude as he did of even the largest contributions.
“One who had seen him only in his moments of quiet dignity would never suspect his keen sense of humor. No one could see the point of a joke more quickly than he. No one could take in more speedily the possibilities of humor in a situation. No one enjoyed the outcome more heartily. He laughed all over, and when he laughed everybody wanted to laugh with him. Long before a good story came to its climax he would anticipate the outcome, and the anticipation could be seen in his eyes as they lighted up and wrinkled at the corners. Some men enjoy humor, but Andrew Simonson relished it. Those who knew him and loved him enjoyed his laugh more than the wit that inspired it.
“He was a man quick also to see worthy efforts in others. His praise was gentle, but it was always ready and sincere. His commendations could not be forgotten. Compliments are winged things and frail. But whether by reason of the personality of his warm sympathy or his good fellowship, Andrew Simonson’s appreciation had a distinctive flavor. One might almost say they were dynamic. They were an incentive to greater effort. None knew this or felt it more strongly than his fellow members on the public park commission. Quiet power lay beneath his every effort. Without seeming to lead he was always leading, or perhaps one might better say directing. When one was moving in the right direction, as he saw it, he commended; if in another direction he suggested. Commendation and suggestion were the two levers which his hands never left. It took time to discover his method, but when once discovered it was a constant joy to note how skillfully he applied it.
“Andrew Simonson is no longer with us. It seems incredible that we shall not see again the familiar form on the street. To many of us the loss will be great, though our own lives shall be the richer in memory of the man. It is a trite thing to say that a man will be a loss to the community. It is said too often and of too many. We shall not say it of Andrew Simonson, because we would not decorate his memory with the commonplace. Let us say, rather, ‘He was a great citizen.’ Such a citizen as he was is not to be measured by the work that he did, but rather by the intellectual forces, by the civic ideals he set in operation. It is not for what he did that we shall revere his memory though he did much-but rather for what he thought and made others think. It is not too much to say that men loved him, and that man who never wept for man before will shed a quiet tear for him today.
“Good-bye, old friend. We shall not see you for a while. The clasp of your hand is still warm in ours. Your smile has left its sweetness with us. If the day ever comes when the city you loved is beautiful as you would have it, in its most beautiful spot there should be a memorial to you. It will need no glowing epitaph. Just this will be enough-Andrew Simonson, he was a man’s man.