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Charles Hoeven, Mr. Republican

Republican Charles Hoeven from Hospers, IA.
Republican Charles Hoeven from Hospers, IA.

Sits out there rather comfortably, not a bit of arrogance in style or positioning or size. I can't help thinking his grave stone--and even where it stands--fits and suits the old guy it remembers, a true, old-fashioned politician, U. S. Representative Charles Hoeven, who represented what was then the Eighth District of the state with very little showmanship because showmanship held no quarter in his character.

In today's splashy political climate, he wouldn't stand a chance, unless, perhaps, he'd take on the school board for a library book about lesbian parents. That might notch up his fan appeal. But Charley the Republican wouldn't. Charley was Alton school board president.

Born in 1895, he was the child of a mixed marriage. His father's people were immigrant Dutch, his mother's immigrant German. He spent his boyhood in Hospers, a village on the seam. When he served, he did so in a fashion that suitably represented all, I'm sure. For forty years he held elective office, in D. C., from 1942-1965. Eleven times he was voted back into the House . Eleven times. Just about made him an institution. Some called him "Mr. Republican."

Out there in Nassau Township Cemetery, you have to look close to see the small print below the name. You could miss that bottom line, positioned as if it were a footnote. Who knows? For Charley Hoeven, maybe all those years of service in Washington were little more.

Here's his record, in part, from government files. Take a deep breath.

CHARLES HOEVEN, Alton High School; State University of Iowa, B.A., in 1920, LL.B., 1922; was admitted to the bar in 1922 and commenced practice in Alton, Iowa; during the First World War served as a sergeant, Company D, Eighty-eighth Division, with the Intelligence Service in England and France; county attorney of Sioux County; member of the State senate from 1937-1941, elected to the Seventy-eighth and to the ten succeeding Congresses; chair, Republican Conference (Eighty-ninth Congress); died November 9, 1980.

Character is more than a string of name plates. In December of 1917, Cpl. Hoeven came home on leave. The Alton Democrat wrote up the story this way:

Corporal Charley Hoeven spent a few days at home here during the week. He is a stalwart looking soldier. He put on twenty pounds at Camp Dodge and says the boys have everything they need in the line of eats. He gave an interesting talk evening in the Presbyterian church.

That note may well say as much about Charley Hoeven as his string of political offices.

His days in Washington ended abruptly. When Mr. Republican got blind-sided by young turks determined to usher in a young, ex-Big Ten footballer named Gerald R. Ford to top leadership. In total secrecy, those young turks pulled off a coup that must have had old Charley's head a-spinning. At 67 years old, his voters had kept him in office, but his party gave him a ticket into retirement.

A broad Sioux City avemue is named after him, but you'd have to see his name on the signs to know it. Hoeven Drive follows the channel of the Floyd River, a comfortable place for good old Charley, who probably always thought of home as close by.

Lots of pictures of Charley exist, some with the muck-a-mucks of his day; but if you'd like to visit him anytime soon, pedal down a country road a mile south of Orange City, then go east to a little patch of township cemetery. Take the east path in and look for his grave on your right. You'll find it, I'm sure, even though, like Charley, the stone is unassuming.

He didn't make headlines, like Matt Gaetz or Marjorie Taylor Green, but that's okay. You can't help but think a little hard-working reserve would be a very good thing in Siouxland and D. C.

Dr. Jim Schaap doesn’t know what on earth happens to his time these days, even though he should have plenty of it, retired as he is (from teaching literature and writing at Dordt College, Sioux Center, IA). If he’s not at a keyboard, most mornings he’s out on Siouxland’s country roads, running down stories that make him smile or leave him in awe. He is the author of several novels and a host of short stories and essays. His most recent publications include Up the Hill: Folk Tales from the Grave (stories), and Reading Mother Teresa (meditations). He lives with his wife Barbara in Alton, Iowa.
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