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College couple lived in trailer village

Detroit Lakes couple lived in a community of trailers at Gustavus Adolphus College

Duane and Annabelle Erickson with their daughter, LeAnn, inside the travel trailer they lived in for two and a half years while Duane was attending college at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter in the late 1950s. The travel trailer village was formed on campus after the college ran short of housing for married couples. The Ericksons were the first trailer to move into the village. Contributed photo

Duane and Annabelle Erickson, of Detroit Lakes, were both 23 when they got married on June 15, 1957. Duane was enrolled at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, and he was between his freshman and sophomore years. There was a shortage of housing for married couples on campus, so the college got creative.

“They made up a little village of trailers,” said Annabelle. “And we were the first ones.”

Yes, the newlyweds lived in one of the most unconventional college settings during their time in St. Peter… in a little community of travel trailers.

“I paid $1,500 for the trailer,” said Duane. “It was called a Spartan, which was built by some aircraft company. It was already used and old when we got it. This was the only place on campus that trailers were allowed.”

“We moved in right after we got married. It was cheap, and we were poor,” said Annabelle, who had just finishing nursing school and had begun her career as a nurse when they bought the trailer. “We used it for about two and a half years and sold it to another college couple.”

The trailer was parked on campus all by itself to start. Then, as more arrived, a little encampment of trailers formed near the football stadium.

“There were maybe eight or so couples there, each with a trailer,” said Duane.

A more recent photo Duane and Annabelle Erickson. Contributed photo

“They had some cabins, too, right next to the trailers, but those didn’t have bathrooms,” said Annabelle. “They had to go to the stadium locker room for bathrooms and showers. We had a shower and bathroom, so we had it good. We had a gas stove and a refrigerator. We slept on a couch that pulled out under a book case.”

During those years, there were about six to 10 trailers on campus. Some would leave when a student graduated, and others arrived when a new couple enrolled at the college.

“It was very inexpensive. The first year it was $5/month, and the second year it was raised to $15/month. We managed to pay that.” said Annabelle

As more arrived, the connections between these young couples evolved.

“We all became friends,” said Duane. “We did a lot of visiting and playing cards. We would also have Bible study in the trailers. It was kind of like a village. Everyone was about the same age, and we all got along very well.”

Before long, the young couples became young parents.

“There were a lot of babies born there. Our daughter, LeAnn, was born when we lived there,” said Annabelle. “She had the bedroom, and we slept on the Murphy bed.”

Couples living in the trailers would come together for Bible study and other social functions. The gatherings were cramped, but fun, said the Ericksons. This photo was taken in the Erickson’s travel trailer in about 1958. Contributed photo 

The couples would help watch each others’ babies so they could attend classes or run errands.

“We would leave babies sleeping in the trailers, but the windows would be open so we could hear them when they would wake up,” said Duane. “We would babysit each others’ kids right through the windows.”

“A friend of ours worked evenings at the hospital, and I worked days at the hospital. She would watch LeAnn, and I would watch her little one, Kimberly. She was about a year old at the time,” said Annabelle.

The football field stadium also had a track around it, which made for a great place to give the kids walks.

The Ericksons stayed in a travel trailer like this one. File photo

“Duane would take LeAnn to the track when they had a meet or practice. Every time a competitor would go over a hurdle, Duane would lift the stroller up and give LeAnn quite the ride,” said Annabelle.

Duane graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College in 1960 with a bachelor’s degree in social work. He worked most of his life in the Department of Corrections, eventually climbing the ladder to the top DOC position in the state. He retired in 1996. Annabelle worked as a nurse until retiring in 1988.

A snowball fight outside the trailers. Contributed photo

Duane grew up in Kennedy, Minnesota, which is located in the extreme northwest part of Minnesota. He met his wife, Annabelle, who had just started a career as a nurse, during a trip to Minneapolis. Annabelle grew up in Winona, located in the far southeast corner of Minnesota. They lived about as far apart as you could and still live in Minnesota.

“All of a sudden the wind blew, and we met in the melting pot of Minneapolis,” said Annabelle.

Duane and Annabelle celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary in June. Duane passed away on Oct. 4, 2018, just a few days after he was interviewed for this article. Even in their final days together, Duane and Annabelle enjoyed reminiscing about their unconventional living arrangement and the friends they made during their days in St. Peter.

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