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Friends remember educator, author, 'one smart guy'

Lee Andresen

No single word can describe Superior native Lee Andresen — educator, author, music and history buff, political activist, and a man with extraordinary ability to grasp and relay details in a way that made history interesting.

Andresen, who taught history and political science at the University of Minnesota Duluth, University of Wisconsin-Superior before finishing out his career at Lake Superior College, died July 23 after a stroke.

"Lee really loved teaching community college — history and political science, especially his Vietnam class," his wife, Mary Lou Andresen, said.

"He was one smart guy; he was extremely intelligent," said Tom Unterberger, owner of the Vinyl Cave. Unterberger said he met Andresen when he owned a bar and Andresen would come in for a beer and to talk about music.

"We compared notes a lot," Unterberger said. "He was very, very knowledgeable ... He was into history and politics, and we had some pretty good discussions over the years."

Growing up with Andresen, Sandy Berg said they played together on Pattison School basketball, baseball and softball teams. Andresen and Berg were born five days apart in April 1945 and graduated from Central High School in 1963.

They two shared a passion for records.

"He used to play guitar a little bit ... and he and I used to collect records, you know the 45s," Berg said, remembering they would talk about the musicians of the 1950s and 1960s as they listened to the tunes spinning from vinyl disks. "We had a ton of records."

Andresen's love of music and history came together in a book, "Battle Notes: Music of the Vietnam War," two editions published by Savage Press.

"He was saying he wanted to do a book, and I said I was a publisher, and it happened," said Mike Savage, owner of the Superior-based publishing company. Savage said Andresen's work filled a unique niche, the only complete discography of the Vietnam War. "There was no other book out there like it and I decided it was a good opportunity ... Working with him was like working with a super enthusiastic cheerleader. And he was cheerleading for America's rock 'n' roll war."

Savage said he and Andresen both were surprised by the book's success.

"His books were used as a textbook for colleges and universities, and he was contacted by high school and even junior high teachers on insights to the music and the war," Mary Lou Andresen said. It was also used to treat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder who couldn't talk about their experiences, she said. Andresen said while her husband never served in the military, he was very knowledgeable about the battles and locations during the Vietnam War because he loved to talk to the veterans for whom he dedicated the book.

"He was a real character. He just had a way about him," Savage said. "He was charming and knowledgeable to the Nth degree. Sometimes his trivia knowledge would come flowing out and off we'd go down some rabbit hole."

Andresen said her husband had been working on a third edition of the book at the time of his death.

In addition to music and history, friends recall a man who served a few terms on the Douglas County Board in the 1980s and was active in the Douglas County Democratic Party.

"Lee and I met politically in Democratic Party politics and did a lot of things together," said longtime County Board supervisor, Doug Finn. "One of the things we did in 1976, we were about the first two people in Douglas County that supported Jimmy Carter (for president). So we were involved in his election."

Finn said he and Andresen traveled to a couple state political conventions over the years.

"He had a great mind. One thing too, he taught at Lake Superior College. I met quite a few of his students. They all said that he was a great teacher," Finn said.

"He had a unique way of coming up with ... obscure incidents to help students relate to history," Andresen said of her husband.

County Board Supervisor Sam Pomush said Andresen was willing to help preserve history as well.

Andresen helped when Pomush was thinking about putting the now razed synagogue on North Sixth Street and Hammond Avenue, believed to be the oldest in Wisconsin, on the National Registry of Historic Places.

"Lee and his dad got me all the information ... you got to go through so many rig-a-ma-rolls." He said while they decided not to proceed with process because of the amount of fixing up that would be needed, it was a very nice thing for Lee and his dad did for them. "Lee and his father got me all the paperwork, and if we'd have gone through it, they were going to be there for me," Pomush said.

"I always said he was a treasure," Mary Lou Andresen said.

She is in the process of planning a memorial service with the help of Downs Funeral Home for Aug. 20 at Concordia Lutheran Church.

"He will be sadly missed; he was a constant delight, that guy," Savage said.