I first met Al Anderson as a junior in his high school history class back in 1972. After the first day, my fellow students met in the hall and we told each other, “Wow. This is going to be different.” It wasn’t just that Al seemed to know everything there was to know about history, it was his enthusiasm. It’s not easy making a crowd of teenagers get excited about history, but Al did it.
That was my first hint that Al never did anything part-way. He was always full speed ahead.
Al, a long-time resident of Troy, died on Oct. 11 after a long battle against cancer. He was 77.
His friends and neighbors in Troy knew him as a high school teacher, then as the owner of his own business. He was one of the most devoted Cleveland Indians fans in the world. He was a voracious reader and lover of trivia contests.
Some people even knew him as an heirloom tomato kingpin. Al and his wife Nancy took a trip to North Carolina once and he ordered an heirloom tomato salad. By the time they got home, Al was making plans to start growing his own heirloom tomatoes, and not just one or two plants. He and a friend soon became the producers of the most different kinds of heirloom tomato seeds in the country. He shipped his tomato seeds all over the world.
Then there was travel. Al loved to visit new places and meet new people — the saying “he never met a stranger” certainly applied to Al. He visited all 50 states and numerous foreign countries and made new friends in every one of them. He attended baseball games at almost 60 different major league ballparks.
When Al believed in a cause, there was no stopping him. When he was in college, he became a Freedom Rider and was on the front line of the civil rights movement. He continued to support civil rights for the rest of his life. He spent a lot of time and effort helping others fight alcohol addiction and was a long-time member of the Miami County Recovery Council Board of Directors.
But here’s something a lot of people in Troy didn’t know about him: in political collector circles, Al was a rock star. He started collecting political memorabilia when he was a teenager and, like everything else he did, he threw his whole self into it. He started his business, Anderson Americana, in 1972. It wasn’t long before he was recognized as the expert on political campaign pins.
Not only did other collectors call him for advice but when publications and other media outlets needed information about political memorabilia, Al was the guy they called. New York Times, Washington Post, TV networks, yes, even the Troy Daily News would call Al for his expert opinion. He really was a legend with the group of people around the country who are devoted to preserving American history.
When I left the TDN in 1997, I went to work with Al in his history business. He was hard to keep up with — even when he walked down the street, you had to hurry to keep from being left behind. But my training was pretty easy. Al said all we had to do was: 1. Do the right thing. 2. Do no harm. 3. Have fun. That was it. He summed it all up by saying, “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.”
Al once told me about an old proverb that said something like, “When someone dies, it is like a library burns down.” Well, Al was like losing the entire Library of Congress. It’s hard to imagine the number of people whose lives he touched, including those students long ago at Troy High School.
It was one of those students in that history class who said it best.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “May his memory be a blessing.”
For many people, from collectors to students to baseball fans to tomato lovers to people in recovery to fellow travelers, it certainly is.