By Adria Carpenter
Jean-Nickolaus Tretter wasn’t just a collector and part-time hoarder. When other LGBTQ people couldn’t speak out, he helped them find the words.
“I’m proud that your name will not be forgotten,” said Tretter’s niece, Nicole Ringrose, at the celebration of his life last Friday. “Thank you for looking out for the best in others, and giving us the best we have.”
Tretter, a native of Little Falls, Minnesota, dedicated his life to preserving LGBTQ history, from a charred book that survived the Third Reich, to full packets of rainbow Goldfish Crackers. Following his passing last December at 76, Tretter left behind over 40,000 items in the archives, making it one of the largest GLBT history collections in the country.
“We owe him a profound debt of gratitude for his stubborn dedication to all of us,” said Lisa Vecoli, former Curator of the Tretter Collection. “Jean made a difference, a difference that will be felt for generations. Without him, there would not be an LGBTQ archive at the University of Minnesota. And many of the stories and artifacts we preserve here would have been scattered and lost forever.”
Tretter was not only a visionary archivist of LGBTQ history but an active participant in it. When he returned after seven years serving as a linguist for the US Navy, Tretter and his friends organized the first Twin Cities Pride march and picnic in June 1972, commemorating the Stonewall Riots that sparked the Gay Liberation Movement three years prior.
In 1982, he assembled the third largest delegation to the inaugural Gay Games in San Francisco and was the co-chairmen for the Minnesota’s Gay/Lesbian Olympic Committee. He persuaded the leadership to include the Twin Cities in the torch relay from New York City to San Francisco and organized a 40-city path through the Midwest. Tretter wrote the “red book” of rules, which still governs the games today.
He also hosted the only regularly broadcasted Gay and Lesbian classical music show in the country, called “Night Rivers,” on KFAI for 16 years.
After 30 years of collecting every scrap of gay history, his St. Paul apartment was overflowing with material. Tretter donated his collection to the University of Minnesota in 2000 and served as the curator until his retirement in 2011. But even after passing the reigns to Vecoli, he stayed on as a member of the collection’s Advisory Board.
“He once said to me that ‘If we don’t preserve our history, if we don’t write our history, they will write it for us. And if they write it, it’ll be a lie,'” said Tretter’s friend, James Garlough.
See more photos from the event below and at the Star Tribune.