I come to the floor today to pay tribute to an extraordinary Iowan with whom I shared a decades-long friendship.
Over this past weekend, former Iowa congressman Berkley Bedell passed away at age 98.
For nearly a century of life, Berkley took his grandmother’s advice to heart: “You can do almost anything, within reason, if you will only set your mind it.”
From an early age, Berkley set his mind to a high standard of achievement.
He set an example for the rest of us. He practiced what he preached. And he made a difference in this world.
As a child raised during the Great Depression, Berkley became a soldier in the U.S. Army, a World War II veteran, an entrepreneur and job creator, a member of Congress, a philanthropist, a policy influencer and most of all, a devoted husband and father.
Our decades-long friendship began when Berkley and I were elected to serve Iowans in the U.S. House of Representatives.
That was in 1974.
Soon after the orientation for new members, Barbara and I developed a close friendship with Elinor and Berkley.
This friendship remained for the next 45 years.
Looking back, those were lonely days for a freshman Republican House member. That’s when the Watergate scandal upended the mid-term elections.
Voters elected 91 new House members to Congress.
I became the only Republican in the Iowa congressional delegation.
Among our so-called Watergate Class of 1974, I was joined by Tom Harkin, Michael Blouin and Berkley Bedell.
We joined Representatives Neal Smith and Ed Mezvinsky.
Senators Dick Clark and John Culver served here in the Senate.
Berkley would go on to represent Iowa’s sixth congressional district for six terms, from 1975 to 1987.
Although Berkley and I didn’t share the same political points of view, we shared a common approach for representative government: with dialogue and feedback from Iowans at our respective town hall meetings.
Throughout our service together in Congress, party labels didn’t displace our ability to work with and for Iowans.
As one example, during the farm crisis in the 1980s, we used our voices to raise public awareness and steer help to struggling farm communities in our home state.
We did everything possible to shape farm policy and restore hope to thousands of farm families coping with double-digit inflation and the debt crisis.
As a federal lawmaker, Berkley took his oversight work seriously.
In fact, he took an unorthodox approach to check out the federal bureaucracy. From time to time, he took the liberty of dropping by in person at government agencies like the Interior or Agriculture Departments.
He wanted to keep tabs on how they were serving Iowans.
That’s what I’d call an in-the-flesh gut check.
Berkley was born in Spirit Lake, Iowa, a close-knit farming community in Dickinson County.
His neck of the woods is located in the Iowa Great Lakes, a regional destination for fishing, boating and outdoor recreation.
The area is fondly known as The University of Okoboji, where generations of families go year after year to vacation and enjoy life.
This is where Berkley’s insatiable work ethic took root. It guided him for his nearly 100 years of life on Earth.
Through philanthropic good works, he leaves behind a legacy of conservation stewardship and historic preservation.
With his wife, he helped launch the Okoboji Foundation more than three decades ago.
Since then, the foundation has awarded millions of dollars to scores of nonprofit organization in the Lakes area.
Berkley believed in paying it forward.
He cared deeply about giving back to his community for future generations to enjoy.
He rolled up his sleeves, opened his wallet and pitched in to make a difference.
By my measure, he represents a life well-lived and lived life well.
As I mentioned earlier, Berkley and Elinor became steadfast friends with Barbara and myself.
We shared an abiding mutual respect and cherish their gracious regard for our friendship.
After their move to Florida in retirement, Barbara and I enjoyed an annual gift each February from the Bedells.
They sent a box of oranges from their home in the Sunshine State.
Through these many years, their annual Christmas letter was something we looked forward to and many years they even thanked us for our friendship in their letter.
Berkley also stayed in touch with a friendly Valentine note each year for Barbara.
With Berkley’s passing, we are saddened to know these tokens of friendship have come to an end.
Berkley’s story is an inspiration for younger generations of Americans pursuing their dreams.
It’s never too early to dream big.
As a 16-year-old entrepreneur, Berkley launched a fishing tackle business called Berkley Fly Company with his brother Jack.
I’m told he started the company with $50 in paper route money.
He started tying fly-fishing lures in his bedroom.
Pouring years of sweat equity into the family business boosted the local economy and created jobs in his beloved Iowa Great Lakes.
His tenacious leadership developed a strong workforce for Berkley Industries.
Today, that company – which is now called Pure Fishing – is one of the leading fishing tackle manufacturers in the world.
At 98 years young, Berkley didn’t let age slow him down by any stretch of the imagination.
He remained active in public policymaking and immersed in electoral politics in Iowa.
Despite our different political philosophies, we both appreciate how crucial it is to engage the next generation in civic life.
Berkley’s leadership and legacy will be remembered for generations to come.
I’m proud to call him a good, good friend.
Barbara and I extend our condolences to his sons Ken and Tom and daughter Joanne. Your dad made a big footprint in his life journey.
As my former colleague in the House of Representatives, Berkley later became my constituent when I was elected to serve here in the United States Senate.
He never stopped advocating for his community and his country.
It became Berkley’s lifelong hallmark – to leave God’s green Earth better than he found it for generations to come.
I wish Godspeed to my good friend, Berkley Bedell who joins his beloved wife Elinor in eternal life.