Andy Boss: A catalyst for community in St. Anthony Park

By Helen Warren

News commentary  

Exactly 50 years ago, in July of 1974, the first issue of the Park Bugle was published.

The gestation of our community newspaper hasn’t been fully documented. But you can piece together the story.

Community leaders wanted to share news, announce events, record the actions of civic, educational and religious organizations and profile neighborhood residents. Local businesses also wanted to advertise goods and services to customers.

That’s where Andy Boss came in.

As he told the Bugle’s former editor, Kristal Leebrick, in 2012:  “I wanted to know more about putting a newspaper together.”

So Andy conferred with Roger Swardson, the publisher of the Grand Gazette. A short time later, Boss joined others to establish Park Press Inc., the nonprofit board that still publishes the Park Bugle.

         While Andy Boss didn’t grow up in St. Anthony Park, it was the home of his grandfather, for whom he was named.

Andrew Boss (1867 – 1947) arrived in St. Anthony Park in 1889 to attend agriculture school at the University of Minnesota. Eventually he became director of the agricultural program and was known as “the grand old man of agriculture” because he convinced farmers that science could help them improve crop yields and meat quality. The meat science laboratory on the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus was named the Andrew Boss Laboratory of Meat Science in 1977.

Andrew Boss also founded the St. Anthony Park Bank (now Sunrise Bank). His grandson, Andy, eventually became its president and owner.

         Andy Boss’s great uncle, William Boss, followed his brother to St. Anthony Park. His interest was in agricultural engineering, – using mechanics, mathematics and physics to improve farming. He founded the department of agricultural engineering at the U and designed the first building to house it.

In 1943, William Boss was awarded the John Deere Medal for Distinguished Achievement in the Application of Science and Art to the Soil. William Boss also founded the Specialty Manufacturing Company, a very successful business, as well as Boss Engineering, a consulting company.

The achievements of his forefathers suggest that Andy Boss inherited the ingenuity and determination he used to champion a variety of civic and artistic enterprises. The younger Andy Boss once remarked that “. . . the way to succeed is to select one’s grandparents with care.”

Like his grandfather and his great uncle, Andy Boss was curious about how things worked and how they could be made to work better. But his interests ran toward civic and artistic pursuits rather than scientific ones. Andy told the MSP magazine in 2003 that, “Solving community problems is my avocation.”

In 2012, the Park Theatre held an event at Sunrise Bank to celebrate the conclusion of a fundraising campaign Andy Boss had helped lead. It was also a celebration of Andy.

As Kristal Leebrick wrote at the time: “During the party, a scroll was unrolled from the bank’s second floor that contained the names of nearly 60 nonprofits where Boss (had) served as a founder, director, officer or funder, and sometimes, all four.

“That two-story resume spanned education—Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, Voyageur Outward Bound School, Friends of the St. Paul Public Library—government—St. Paul Public Housing Agency, St. Paul Port Authority, St. Paul Riverfront Corp.—and St. Anthony Park institutions—Children’s Home Society of Minnesota, St. Anthony Park Home, Music in the Park Series, to name a few.”

Andy also founded the St. Anthony Park Community Foundation.

The range of Andy’s interests is impressive. His service on behalf of the St. Paul Public Housing Agency over 26 years was so effective that its headquarters, built in 2007, bears his name.

In 1990, Andy partnered with Joan Mondale to launch the Northern Clay Center. Andy cared as much about the poor as much as he cared about the arts.

Perhaps the best way to understand these accomplishments is to consider how a catalyst works. A catalyst reacts with other chemicals to induce or accelerate chemical reactions without undergoing any permanent chemical change itself.

When Andy entered a conversation about a problem or challenge, he could activate or advise others until a chain reaction sustained itself. The effort didn’t deplete his own energy. So he could enter other conversations and give them a catalytic boost.  

In 2012, Andy described the process in terms we can all understand: “You get to know people. You ask about each others’ kids. You become friends and work together, talk together about what you can do to improve whatever is on the table.”

The catalyst of community change is seeing each other as we are, sharing what’s important to us and finding a way forward we can travel together. That’s what Andy Boss brought to the conversations where the Park Bugle was born.

Helen Warren lives in St. Anthony Park and is presiding officer of the Park Bugle board of directors.

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