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John R. Yoakam Papers

Identifier: Tretter-152

Scope and Content

The papers document the personal and professional life of John Reid Yoakam, Professor of Social Work at the College of St. Benedict and gay activist.

The collection consists of diaries; personal and professional correspondence; personal and professional writing; photographs documenting Yoakam’s personal activities, including travel; conference programs, brochures, flyers, pamphlets, ephemera, and tabloids documenting GLBT community events in Minneapolis/St. Paul; teaching materials for courses taught at the College of St. Benedict, The University of St. John's, and the University of Minnesota; departmental reviews and other activity at the College of St. Benedict; and research files consisting of photocopies of academic publications, clippings, newsletters, professional and community programs and flyers concerning Yoakam’s research interests. There are also small runs of minutes for professional and social organizations where Yoakam served as a board member. Inclusive dates for the collection are 1947 to 2010; bulk dates are 1970-2001.

Collection strengths include minutes, program outlines and notes Yoakam wrote while working at the Neighborhood Counseling Center in the late 1970s; minutes of board meetings, social programming information and photos for MNBears, a national gay men’s social organization with an active Minnesota chapter that Yoakam was president of from 1995-1997; and an extensive collection of diaries that Yoakam kept from high school until his death in 2009. The diaries provide an in-depth portrait of a gay man evolving from youth to adulthood during the formative years of the gay liberation movement, the AIDS epidemic and beginnings of greater social and political integration of GLBT people into American civic and cultural life.

Yoakam’s life work as a counselor and educator is reflected in the large quantity of research files covering social work organizations and topical materials, as well as course-related and teaching materials from his tenure at The College of St. Benedict from 2000 to 2009.

Many of the folders in the collection were given folders numbers in the upper right-hand corner as part of a previous inventory of the collection. Users are advised that these numbers are not part of the current organization of the collection and should be ignored.


  • Creation: 1947-2010


Language of Materials

Collection material in English

Restrictions on Access

Items in this collection do not circulate and may be used in-house only. Materials will be retrieved from and returned to storage areas by staff members.

There is a small amount of restricted material in the collection. Interested researchers should contact the Tretter Collection curator for further information concerning content and access to these materials.

Restrictions on Use

Please contact staff regarding copyright status of these materials. Researchers may quote from the collection under fair use provisions of the copyright law (Title 17, U.S. Code).

Biographical Sketch

John (Jack) Reid Yoakam was born in Toledo, Ohio on January 11, 1947 and graduated from Bellaire High School in Houston, Texas in 1965. After completing his B.A. at Texas Christian University in 1969, Yoakam attended Chicago Theological Seminary and graduated with a M.A. in Religious Studies in 1973.

While in seminary, Yoakam became involved with Chicago’s Gay Liberation Front and came out in 1972. Upon graduation, the United Methodist Church denied his application for ordination. The church’s rejection led Yoakam to travel the United States seeking a ministerial role to the fledgling Gay and Lesbian liberation movement. He visited Gay House in Minneapolis and moved there in 1973. In 1974, Yoakam was hired by the Neighborhood Counseling Center as a counselor/educator, where he remained until 1979. From 1979 to 1983, he was Food Services Manager at Parkview Treatment Center in Minneapolis. He returned to counseling at Parkview in 1983, and was subsequently hired as a psychologist at the Minnesota Department of Health in 1987. His position entailed counseling clients with HIV/AIDS. From 1985-1989, Yoakam developed and ran AIDS support groups for the Minnesota AIDS Project.

During the late 1970s and 1980s, Yoakam founded or participated in several organizations, including a men’s coffeehouse at the Plymouth Congregational Church, the Minnesota Committee for Gay Rights, and the Minnesota AIDS Project. In 1989, he became the Coordinator and Case Manager at the University of Minnesota’s Youth and AIDS Project, heading that organization until 2000. Yoakam also designed and taught courses on a range of social work-related content areas at the University of Minnesota and St Thomas University between 1992 and 1999. After completing his dissertation -- “A History of the Gay and Lesbian Counseling Program of Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis, 1974-1987” in 1999, Yoakam joined the faculty of the Social Work Department at the College of St. Benedict in St Joseph, Minnesota. At the College of St. Benedict, Yoakam served as faculty sponsor to PRISM, a GLBT student group on campus. His primary research interests included aging in the GBLT community, services to at risk GLBT youth, and service learning.

Yoakam met his life partner Gary Gimmestad in 1994. Both became involved with MN Bears, the gay “bear” subculture. John Yoakam died of cancer on April 20, 2009.


39.5 Linear Feet


The papers chronicle the personal life and professional activities of John R. Yoakam, Minnesota educator and gay activist. The papers contain diaries, correspondence, photographs, clippings, minutes and research files created between 1947 and 2010.


The papers are organized into the following series:

1. Personal Files, consisting of five subseries: Diaries and Planners; Family, Childhood and Youth; College and Post-Secondary Student Writing; MN Bears; and Miscellaneous Files.

2. Academic Files, consisting of two subseries: Teaching and Academic Activities and Professional Writing

3. Organizations, consisting of three subseries: Neighborhood Counseling Center (NCC); American Society on Aging (ASA); and Miscellaneous Organizations.

4. Correspondence

5. Photographs

6. Publications

7. Research Files

Source of acquisition

The papers were given to the Tretter Collection by Gary Gimmestad, executor of the John Yoakam Trust, in 2010 and 2013.

Related Materials

Gay House Records (SCRB 165)

Minnesota Committee For Gay Rights (MCGR) Records (SCRB 163)

Minnesota AIDS Project (MAP) Corporate Records (SCRB 153)

Twin Cities Pride Records (SCRB 19)

Processing Information

The collection was initially processed by Stewart Van Cleve in 2010, with modifications to the original processing completed by Susan Hoffman and Karen Spilman in 2013.

John R. Yoakam Papers, 1947-2010
Stewart Van Cleve (2010); Susan Hoffman and Karen Spilman, (2013)
March, 2013
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Collecting Area Details

Contact The Jean Nickolaus Tretter Collection in GLBT Studies Collecting Area