A tour of the Lillehei Heart Institute at the University of Minnesota in 2014 left Tom Anderson impressed.
“That day when I got home, I thought, ‘I need to get involved.’ ” said Anderson, who just finished serving a six-year term on the University’s Board of Regents. “There are times when the Lord puts you in the right place and that was the right place.”
Anderson, who lives in Alexandria with his wife Angie, is a University of Minnesota alumni. From the Class of 1980, Anderson said he was the first graduate of the mortuary science program to serve on the Board of Regents, as well as the first Alexandrian since Knute Nelson in 1881.
But that is not his only tie to the University or Dr. C. Walton Lillehei, who the heart institute is named after.
In 1963, when Anderson was just 5-years-old, he had a risky open-heart surgery at the U of M to repair his congenital atrial septal defect, which causes reduced oxygen in the body’s blood supply and progressively gets worse. During the six-hour surgery, he was placed on the heart/lung machine for about 30 minutes.
“In less time than it takes to watch a sitcom, I got the chance to live 60 more years and more,” he said. “The grace of God has been so good to me.”
Anderson said the doctor who performed the surgery was Lillehei, who also happens to be the man who invented open-heart surgery. In 1952, Lillehei assisted in performing the first open-heart surgery in the world at the University of Minnesota.
After Anderson took that tour of the heart facility in 2014, he said, “We have to continue to make sure kids get the same care I received.”
Anderson started on the Board of Regents in the spring of 2015. And at the time he put in his application, he didn’t know it was a legislative decision. After 29 personal interviews with legislators and three hearings involving both the House and the Senate, Anderson was chosen for the position.
And during those interviews, Anderson said he shared his success story, which is one thing he thought may have helped him win his seat on the board.
“I thought I had a good perspective as a child who the university saved ,” he said, noting that he calls himself the accidental regent, as he never thought he’d actually get elected. “I was so grateful, though, for what was done for me.”
Looking back now, Anderson said he realizes how big of a role the University of Minnesota has played in his life – from being saved as a child, to being a student and graduating to lastly, having the opportunity to serve on the Board of Regents.
“It was an incredible experience,” he said of his six years on the board. “The university administration are an incredibly bright and wonderful group of people who do so much for the state of Minnesota.”
During his time as a regent, Anderson made sure to become involved. For two years, he chaired the Finance and Operations Committee, which is where all financial planning for the University comes from. He also chaired for two years the Mission Fulfillment Committee, which is where the academic planning for the university comes from.
"The U of M is a great place to be. And what it does for Minnesota is big. The 'U' transforms lives every day."
— Tom Anderson
For four years, he served as the chair of the Debt Management Committee, which is where the decisions on the use of the university backed credit come from and for all six years, he served on the Litigation Committee, which deals with all legal issues of the university.
Anderson noted that chairmanships are all assigned by the Board of Regents chairman and to his knowledge only six of the last 12 Regents he served with ever held a Board of Committee chairmanship.
“I was entrusted with three of them,” he said. “I truly enjoyed the work of chairing the major committees as it gave me leadership opportunities and allowed me to help in planning the agendas of what the board would be considering.”
A goal of Anderson’s during his six-year term was to get more scholarships for rural students. He said whenever possible, he would invite people from the university to Alexandria so they could get a good sense of who Greater Minnesota people are.
Today, he said more than $500,000 annually in additional scholarships are available for rural (non-metro) students through his advocacy for the Land Grand Legacy Scholarship program, which is something he is really proud of.
He also said the University of Minnesota serves more Minnesota students than ever before – about 67% are Minnesota students.
“The U of M is a great place to be,” he said. “And what it does for Minnesota is big. The U transforms lives every day.”
When contacted by the newspaper, University President Joan Gabel had this to say about Anderson’s time on the Board of Regents:
“A grateful University is indebted to, and far better for, Tom’s servant leadership and countless contributions. Two of the most meaningful moments of my presidency include highlighting Tom’s personal story during my inaugural address – a powerful example of his impact on the University’s legacy of discovery; and the recent gift of joining Tom and his wife Angie at the Douglas County Fair to experience the passion and advocacy he extends for Alexandria, Greater Minnesota, and the University of Minnesota.”
Dave McMillan, who served with Anderson all six years, said Anderson’s honesty, integrity and genuineness rippled through all of his governance decisions and those traits were central to how he approached the issues that came before the board.
As a rural Minnesota business owner and entrepreneur, McMillan said Anderson brought business and financial acumen along with deep experience to the issues they faced. And he said that his perspectives were always infused with a sense of “What would my friends and colleagues in Alexandria expect from their land grant university?”
“Tom always thought about the impacts of our decisions on our students,” said McMillan. “He is a special person. His voice and his presence will be missed on the Board and at the University. I wish him and Angie the very best.”
Doug Huebsch from Perham will be taking Anderson’s seat on the Board of Regents.
“I know Doug from seeing him at university events,” said Anderson. “He is a rural person and I feel confident he’ll represent us well.”