'Lester the Tester' earns his monikor

ALBERT LEA, Minn. — He's known as "Lester the Tester" for a reason.

Lester Perschbacher has worked as a milk tester in southeastern Minnesota for 60 years. In his spare time, he enjoys gardening at his home in Albert Lea.

ALBERT LEA, Minn. — He's known as "Lester the Tester" for a reason.

Lester Perschbacher will be honored June 18 during Alden's Morin Lake Days. He serves five counties in southeast Minnesota involving 31 farms.

The state's oldest milk tester at 82 years old, Perschbacher started as a tester for the Dairy Herd Improvement Association on Oct. 9, 1956, and this year, he is celebrating 60 years in the profession.

Perschbacher said his schedule varies daily, sometimes starting at night and finishing in the morning. He sometimes starts as early as 4 a.m., with testing continuing throughout the day. Because of his ever-changing schedule, he said he sometimes sleeps in different towns.

"There are nights when I don't come home," Perschbacher said. "I've pretty much milked every hour of the day and night."


Perschbacher grew up at a farm near Alden, leaving home when he was 14. As a young adult, he worked on different farms as a hired man. With the money he made working, he tried to buy two farms of his own, but both deals fell through. One day, a man that he was working for, a milk tester, encouraged him to travel to the University of Minnesota to be trained in milk testing.

"He said, 'I want to give you a weeks vacation.' Well, I've never had a vacation in my life," said Perschbacher. "He said that there was testing school the next week in the cities, why don't you go do it."

While at training, Perschbacher was hired as a milk tester for his home county. During the years, he has been contacted by several other counties that needed a milk tester.

When it comes to traveling, Perschbacher said it's the hardest for him in winter. Traveling from his home in Albert Lea, he sometimes drives 75 miles to test. Still, he said he has only missed one day of work because of the weather.

"The road was closed, so that was it," Perschbacher said. "I've drove times that all I could see was the windshield, and I've made it. Some of that stuff is pretty dangerous, but you can make it."

Perschbacher said after 60 years, he still enjoys his work.

"There's something different every day. Once in a while, there's something that I've never seen before," Perschbacher said. "You'd think in 60 years, you'd see it all, but it's not so."

When Perschbacher isn't working, which isn't a lot, he spends time doing one of his passions, gardening, in his personal garden and at the Albert Lea Garden Club, in which he is the president. He also takes care of the garden at the church he attends.


He used to garden with his wife, Cathy, who died in 2010, and has kept up the garden ever since. He said he knows Cathy would be happy to see he still puts in the time and effort to make their garden beautiful.

When asked if he ever plans on retiring, he responded with, "Why?" He said he will work until he physically no longer is able to.

"When my health gives out, I hope that's the last day I'm alive."

When it comes to the past 60 years on the job, he said there are too many memories to count. One memory that sticks out is the first night on the job when he got his famous nickname, "Lester the Tester."

"It's been with me since then," Perschbacher said. "Nobody knows who Lester Perschbacher is, but they know who Lester the Tester is. It's kind of funny; even our minister at church, he knows Lester the Tester."

When Perschbacher heard he was to be honored at Alden's Morin Days, he modestly said he didn't know why he would be honored for just doing his job.

"I said you don't need to do this; good gosh, it's just another day."

This is not the first time Lester the Tester has been honored for his dedication. At the 2015 Freeborn County Fair, he was named Man of the Year from the Freeborn Agricultural Society. Perschbacher was given a copy of the plaque with his name on it, with the original plaque hanging at the Heritage Barn.


Still, he can't help but be excited for Saturday. For the reception, eight of his family members, including three of his granddaughters, his grandson and his great-grandson, will be traveling to Albert Lea to celebrate with him.

There will be a reception at 5 p.m. June 18 to honor him. After the reception, there will be a parade at 7 p.m., in which Perschbacher will be the Grand Marshall and ride in the parade in a horse-drawn carriage, driven by a tester that started with Perschbacher in 1956.

He said his hope is that it doesn't rain for the parade. As for the past 60 years, he can't help but look back and smile.

"It's been fun," Perschbacher said. "If it wouldn't have been fun, I wouldn't have stuck with it."

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