COTTAGE GROVE -- Alan Page, a trailblazing Minnesota Supreme Court justice, Vikings MVP and philanthropist, got a hero’s welcome Feb. 28 at Grey Cloud Elementary School.
It may have been the first time the school has hosted a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Page was awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor in November at the White House.
He was recognized for his work with the Page Education Foundation, which he founded in 1988 with his wife Diane. The foundation has awarded more than $14 million in scholarships to students of color.
Of course, he also has what could be the most famous finger in Minnesota: that crooked left pinky, a gnarled souvenir from 11 bruising seasons as a defensive lineman with the MInnesota Vikings.
When he brandished the distorted digit, students responded with the kind of ‘’oohs” and “ahs” normally reserved for really awesome fireworks. Groans and grimaces erupted when he described how he first dislocated the finger during an attempted tackle.
“He went one way, and I went the other,” he said. “My finger got caught in his jersey.
"..I didn’t cry, but I wanted to.”
The pinky became such a distraction during his visits to schools he finally wrote a book about it, “Alan and His Perfectly Pointy and Impossibly Perpendicular Pinky.”
Two lucky kids got the honor of holding the microphone while Page read from the book, which he co-wrote with his daughter Kamie.
In anticipation of Page’s visit, Grey Cloud students paid tribute to another of his books, “Invisible You,” by drawing and displaying “Invisible Me’ self-portraits.
Page earned his law degree while he played for the Vikings. He told the students that he was inspired to become a lawyer as a boy, when the United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled against school segregation in the Brown vs. the Board of Education lawsuit.
In 1993, he became the first black associate justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court.
“It is by far the most challenging, interesting and fascinating thing I have ever done in my work life,” he said. “Playing professional football was difficult and fascinating, but it didn’t hold a candle to serving on the Minnesota Supreme Court.”
Page started in four Super Bowls, was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1971, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, in his hometown of Canton, Ohio, in 1988.