Ed Tanner's snowsuit.
Ed Tanner’s snowsuit.

Strange things happen at museums. Maybe its the wealth of information that permeates the very walls or the mass of stories oozing out of every pore. The breadth and depth of the collections at the Morrison County Historical Society has just got to wreak happy havoc on the minds of anyone who enters the building, challenging new thoughts and creative ways to approach the world. As I write this, the weather outside is frigid with wind chills well below zero and I am looking longingly at an addition to the collection we received last year from intrepid museum friend and supporter, Lucy Tanner – her husband’s snowsuit. Lucy’s husband, Ed, had died suddenly on December 15, 2015, in Chandler, Arizona. Complete with heavy jacket, thick snow pants, bearpaw-like mittens and two brightly-colored Polaris face masks, Ed Tanner’s snowmobile ensemble looks like all I need to stay toasty and warm.

Lucy Tanner is perhaps one of the most perceptive donors I know. A former teacher and MCHS board member, she understands the need to save and share the everyday things of life as important foundational pieces of history. Ed was an avid snowmobiler. A member of The Little Falls Sno-Dogs, he snowmobiled throughout central Minnesota. Ed’s snowsuit speaks not only of outdoor winter sports and Minnesota’s often harsh winter climate, it tells us something about Ed himself.

Ed loved vehicles. That was patently obvious to anyone who knew him and showed up readily when doing a bit of research for this article. A founding member of the Lone Eagle Auto Club, a local antique automobile organization, Ed also belonged to the Midstate Jeepsters and the Antique Auto Club of America. Deeply committed to his community, Ed served on the Downtown Business Association, was chair of the Little Falls Tourism Committee, helped organize the Little Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau, served as director of the local chapter of the Little Falls Jaycees and was president of the Little Falls Lions. Ed and Lucy helped with many events and festivals throughout Little Falls and were recognized with the Mayor’s PRIDE award in 2011 and the Little Falls Exchange Club’s Book of Golden Deeds for their generosity and commitment. In 1962, Ed received the Minnesota Power & Light Co.’s Private Enterprise Award.

Both Ed and Lucy believed in the importance of helping others and in the power of history. Former MCHS executive director, Jan Warner, and her belated husband, Art, MCHS board president, commended Ed and Lucy in their nomination of the couple to the Book of Golden Deeds, citing their integral role in the success of the organization:
Throughout the more than forty years of our involvement (with MCHS) we can think of no other couple that has given more of themselves than Ed & Lucy Tanner….Their commitment to Little Falls is reflected in the very artifacts they donate, most of which are related to local businesses. Through these particular artifacts they are contributing to the ongoing collection and preservation of the history of this community. (Warner, Jan. Undated notes. Tanner File. MCHS Archives.)

Strong supporters of the museum, they have contributed to many aspects of the Society’s mission, including helping to fund installation of the museum’s courtyard fountain in 1977 in memory of fellow Little Falls resident, Jane Moyer.

Ed was perhaps best known as owner of the local Dairy Queen. Ed’s father, Keith, opened the store in 1950 on Highway 371 North in Little Falls, merely a decade after the Dairy Queen industry got its start in Joliet, Illinois. A true Minnesotan and winter weather fan, Ed for many years had the longest open season of any Dairy Queen in the nation’s cold climates, mid-February to mid-November. Ed claimed to have grown up on the taste of a DQ. Born at St. Gabriel’s Hospital in Little Falls on August 25, 1935, to E. K. (Keith) and Viola May (Redding) Tanner, Ed spent most of his life in Little Falls. After attending Gustavus Adolphus College for four years, Ed married Lucy Jeanne Murphy on November 20, 1965, in Fisher, Minnesota. Ed and Lucy had one son, Jerry.

Ed’s family had been in the Little Falls area for over a century, arriving in the 1850s and helping to develop the community into the strong river town that it is today. MCHS has a massive amount of information collected on and contributed by various members of the Tanner family, including Ed and Lucy. Known as the Tanner Collection, it covers the history of Little Falls and Morrison County from inception to today. I had just barely started getting to know Ed better before he died suddenly in 2015. I regret not having the time but am grateful I can delve into the MCHS archives and collections to get a larger taste of the man and his legacy. Now, would it truly be crossing curatorial ethical lines to jump into that snowsuit!?!

~ Ann Marie Johnson, MCHS Curator

This article originally appeared in the Morrison County Historical Society newsletter, Vol. 30, No. 1, 2017.

Ed Tanner (right side of photo) in his snowsuit, undated. #2016.77.1.
Ed Tanner (right side of photo) in his snowsuit, undated. #2016.77.1.