Wednesday, December 8, 2021

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Civic Skinny

Four good men: Ward Reynoldson, Dick Jacobson, Joe Garagiola and Bob Hudson



Ward Reynoldson

For the past 40 years or so, I have kept a small picture of Ward Reynoldson on my desk at home. It was taken at a picnic at his home outside Osceola when he was Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court.

In the picture, he is wearing a T-shirt, a gift from some of his clerks. “Retain Reynoldson,” it says — it was a joke, of sorts, given in the days when Iowa judges were all but automatically retained by the voters, the days before people tried to throw out justices for interpreting the Iowa Constitution (unanimously) in ways those people disagreed with.

Ward Reynoldson — Nebraska farm boy, World War II Naval officer, summer fisherman, weekend artist and small-town Iowa lawyer who brought great change to the Iowa court system — died last week at age 95. He loved the law, he loved people (a dozen years ago, he reminisced about how lonely it was growing up on a farm and again how lonely he felt when first appointed to the bench), and he loved the Iowa Supreme Court, where he sat for 16 years and where he presided for nine of those years. During those years, he wrote 493 opinions, 17 dissents and 33 concurring opinions.

(In an oral history, he was asked about the impact of some of those opinions. The chief, who had a nice sense of humor and an equally nice smile, cited an insurance case with an unusual set of facts, and then he smiled and noted it was “frequently cited and never followed.”)

Reynoldson learned law from the professors in Iowa City and patience and politics from his great friend and mentor and predecessor as chief, C. Edwin Moore. That combination — especially the patience —helped him engineer a years-long effort to modernize and unite the court system, including bringing the clerks of courts out of county government and into the judicial system. It was not easy convincing colleagues, legislators and lawyers that change was needed. Never losing the language of the farm boy he was, he said that getting those clerks into the system was almost “the apple that choked the cow.”

He also eased the way for Iowa to become one of the first states to allow cameras in the courtrooms.

Being Chief Justice is not always easy — Reynoldson laughingly likened himself to the captain of the javelin team “who won the toss then elected to receive” — but Ward Reynoldson excelled at it, keeping the court collegial (“even though we would fight like hell in the conference room”) and getting along with the court’s many constituencies in law offices, legislative chambers, and Main Street.

Years after he retired, I mentioned to him that photo on my desk. “Why?” he asked. To tell you the truth, I said, in those years when I was periodically in the courtroom as the editor of The Des Moines Register, “I thought it said ‘restrain Reynoldson.’ ”

Probably not a bad idea sometimes, he said with that smile.


Dick Jacobson

Dick Jacobson was smart and generous.

Smart enough to have made a fortune — not a tidy fortune, but a huge fortune — and generous enough to have given it away.

Actually, he worked hard to make several fortunes — in banking, in trucking, in warehousing and in ethanol — and he worked just as hard to give them away. He was a soft touch, especially if you needed money for any project involving kids, perhaps because he had no children of his own.

Jacobson, who died Friday at age 79, was a major benefactor of Youth and Social Services, the Ames-based organization that has done so much for so many troubled youth in central Iowa, and he gave handsomely to about every other cause there was. When a guy called on him to help with the Miracle Field for disabled youngsters, he said sure and wrote a check. And then he called back. “If you need any more, just call me.”

My wife, who often was seeking money for youth causes and institutions, always called him first. He always came through. “Every time Barbara calls me, it costs me money,” he told me, but he said it with a smile, and he kept taking her phone calls. And 22 years ago, when our teen-aged son died, there Jacobson was at the house, teary-eyed and nearly as heartbroken as we were.

He gave $100 million to the Mayo Clinic — the most ever given by a living individual — and countless millions to the three state universities. He liked sports and athletes and coaches and sportswriters, and he’d be more than happy to stay up late and have a few beers with them. He always picked up the check — perhaps because he usually was the last one to leave.

As a businessman, he was generous to his employees. When he sold his trucking company, several of his employees — including some truck drivers — became millionaires off the stock he had given them over the years. He was a good and friendly boss, apparently, though the late Holmes Foster, who once ran Jacobson’s Banks of Iowa, recalled a time when Jacobson was less than friendly.

Foster, a gentle man, was agonizing over his decision to fire the president of one of his banks. He had never fired anyone. He knew his man should go, but it troubled him greatly. He couldn’t sleep. Finally, at two in the morning, he called Jacobson and woke him up.

“Dick,” he said, “have you ever fired anyone?”

“Well, no, Holmes,” he replied, “but, then, no one who works for me has ever called me at two a.m.”


Joe Garagiola

There is no reason that an alternative newsweekly in Des Moines should publish a little tribute to Joe Garagiola, who died the other day at age 90.

Except that I knew him and liked him and, especially, admired him.

Joe Garagiola was a mediocre baseball catcher, a first-rate announcer, a wonderful dinner companion and a world-class human being. He was a player long before players made millions of dollars a year — or even hundreds of thousands. He played nine years in the major leagues, from 1946 through 1954, and the most he made was probably $15,000 to $20,000 for a season’s work.

But he understood that the people who played before him, especially those who played in the Negro Leagues, had made far less. Many were destitute. Some lived in run-down trailers, with no heat and not much food, he told me. Widows of some others were all but starving, he said. As he grew older, and famous and successful as an announcer, he would hunt them down, hear their stories, and try to help.

It’s one thing to lose your fastball, he said, but quite another to be stripped of your dignity.

In the mid-1980s, he founded the Baseball Assistance Team, or BAT. He wheedled and cajoled players and others to raise money for those who were struggling — he was always amazed, he said, to run across multi-million-dollar players who knew little and cared less about those aging athletes — but ultimately he succeeded.

BAT, now affiliated with major league baseball, has given away around $25 million in the past 30 years, making more than 2,800 grants to those who never made $60,000 per game, or per season — or per career.

Garagiola was emotional and passionate when talking about these folks. Other times, though, he was wonderfully funny and entertaining. At dinner one night, I asked him if his boyhood pal from St. Louis, Yogi Berra, really said all those goofy things. He answered with a story.

“He called me last week,” Joe said. “He said, ‘Joey, I went to Mass last Sunday.’ I said, ‘Good Yogi. You’re Catholic. You’re supposed to go to Mass on Sundays.’ And he said, ‘But Joey, I have a question.’ And then he said: ‘Every time I go to Mass, Joey, the priest reads a letter from St. Paul to the Corinthians.’ ” Garagiola just listened. “My question, Joey, is this: Didn’t them Corinthians ever write back?”

I got to know Garagiola because I was president of NBC News in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the Today show had some problems in 1990. It had great people, but the chemistry wasn’t right. My friend Dick Ebersol, a guy who knew then and knows now everything about television and who then was head of NBC Sports, told me I needed to add someone to the show, someone who could get along with everyone, defuse awkward situations, be both entertaining and smart.

He suggested Garagiola.

We called him and arranged to fly to California the next day to talk to him. He didn’t know why we were coming. We met him in the evening, in his hotel room. I quickly got to the point. I explained the problem, and I offered him a job. “It’s a two-year deal, Joe,” I said, “and we’ll pay you a million dollars a year.”

He looked at me for about half a second.

“I can start tomorrow,” he said.

And that was that.

Once he started — and he helped make the show a great success — we had dinner periodically, often with his wonderful wife, Audrie. It was always at a restaurant I liked near my apartment. I had an NBC car and driver, and I would always ask him to wait and then take Joe and Audrie home to midtown.

One night, when it was later than usual, Garagiola insisted I ride with them. “I just live a few blocks from here,” I explained. “I can walk. I need to walk off the meal.” He insisted. I resisted. Finally, he said, “Look. It’s late. Something could happen to you walking home.” He paused, and then he said: “And if something happens to you, I lose my job.”

He opened the car door. “Get in.”


Bob Hudson

Bob Hudson worked for 38 years at The Des Moines Register and Tribune Co. He was a marketing man — at various times he ran the promotion department, the circulation department, the classified advertising department and, eventually, all of marketing — but he loved news.

He was immensely proud of the newspaper, and he was particularly proud on days when the paper had some hard-hitting story about someone or something. Even if that someone or something was a major advertiser who soon would be yelling into the phone at Hudson’s ear.

Hudson, who was 92 when he died on March 20, personified the Greatest Generation. He grew up in small-town Iowa, was drafted after his junior year at Iowa State, and was an infantryman in Germany for 34 months. But in all the years I worked with him and knew him — and I worked with him closely — I never heard him make more than a passing reference to his service.

He never mentioned the Bronze Star and the three battle stars that he won. CV


Each of these remembrances was written by Michael Gartner.

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