Legends of MSHS: W.H. Alderman

This article originally appeared in the July/August issue of Northern Gardener. It is one in a series of profiles of important figures in the Minnesota State Horticulture Society’s 150 year history.

William Horace Alderman had a gift for cultivation.

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 11.34.11 AMDuring his tenure as the head of the University of Minnesota’s horticulture department (1919–1953), the department developed 62 varieties of winter-hardy fruits including the Latham raspberry, plums (one bears his name), gooseberries, strawberries and apples. About 50 percent of the apples grown in Minnesota are varieties he helped develop, including Haralson, Beacon and Fireside apples.

Nicknamed “Prof,” Alderman encouraged hundreds of students in the field of horticulture. Born in 1885 in western New York, Alderman graduated from Cornell University in 1908. He was the head of the horticulture department at West Virginia University when, at age 34, he was offered a similar position at the University of Minnesota.

Alderman also fostered the growth of MSHS, nurturing it through financial storms in the 1920s. Just a year after Alderman moved to Minnesota, MSHS faced a disastrous budget shortfall. At Alderman’s invitation, the society and its library moved into Room 10 of the U’s horticultural building. The MSHS office remained there—rent free—for 73 years.

In addition to teaching, Alderman served terms as president of MSHS and the American Society of Horticultural Science. He retired in 1953 and lived in St. Anthony Park with his wife, Katharine.

In retirement, Alderman continued to contribute to horticulture, writing a book, Development of horticulture on the Northern Great Plains (1962), and the definitive history of MSHS for its 100th anniversary in 1966 (History of the Minnesota State Horticultural Society).

If his name seems familiar, it may be because Alderman Hall, where the U’s horticulture department is located, was named after him in 1974.

In 1977, the Aldermans moved to Laguna Hills, Calif., and he was 100 years old when he died there, in his home, on July 2, 1985.

“He was into staying and building, and that is what he did,” JoAnne Ray, editor of the Minnesota Horticulturist (the predecessor of Northern Gardener), told the Minnesota Daily in 1985. “He left behind one of the top horticulture departments in the country.”

—Julie Jensen

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