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Jun 22

Personal Reflections from Den Stulc

Dear Ken, Tom, and Jo:

Now approaching fifty years, I contacted the late Dr. Burton Newell for a reference on Berkley and Co. Dr. Newell said he knew nothing about Berkley the fishing tackle company but further stated “you will never find a better person than Berkley Bedell”! My first introduction to Berk was actually through an iconic photo. It was him sitting before a small table tying flies with an assortment of feathers and a white owl cigar box holding his flies. The only thing missing was his dog, Stubby, which I later heard referenced many times! Another first was when I was introduced to the values espoused by Berk. As co-workers we were there to help provide a better life for co-workers and their families contributing to not only the company but the community, state, and nation! Little did I know at the time through all Berk’s body of achievements we will most remember him for his compassionate, loving, and giving heart!

Berk was entrepreneurial from an early age. Always an optimist and never a pessimist. Many stories abound about Berk creating the Steelon Leader and filling his car to the brim ( all seats taken out including the passenger seat ) with product and then going from dealer to dealer selling out the stock. And yes, even taking orders for product he never made and on return the Team had to learn how to make the new product before Berk went back on the road! Berk’s big success story was the development of Trilene. With this successful fishing line came a big rival, DuPont Stren. Stren took Berkley to court based on ‘fluorescent’ patent infringement. Berkley and Co. won but it was extremely costly to the company. So what does Berk do? He turns right around and takes DuPont to court! It was at this time I experienced Berk’s fight, tenacity, and never give up attitude. Although Berk always exhibited a lot of humility, he must have had a huge internal smile when Tom purchased Stren from DuPont!!! Even when Berk went on to Congress he always had some contact with the company he left. I remember what I called “love letters” from Berk to Tom. Berk would lay out all the things we could be doing better from product to the company was getting out advertised! After all the “constructive criticism” I enjoyed the ending of the letters where Berk would sign off LOVE BERK and tell Tom how much he appreciated what he was doing for the company! After Berk left Congress he found ways to “back door” the company to help in product development! Berk developed great relationships with the R&D team and they would make baits up for him in special colors, shapes, and actions. Berk became one of our great field testers and actually was the ‘push and shove’ behind the successful biodegradable bait, GULP! Berk’s love of fishing never ended and all the co-workers were proud of Berk’s achievements such as Small Businessman of the Year, Bass Hall of Fame, and Freshwater Hall of Fame honors.

It is said you can determine the ‘culture’ of a company through the ‘leader’ of the company. All co-workers were very fortunate Berk combined intellect, inspiration, generosity, humility, truth, integrity, and philanthropy as the leader and founder of Berkley and Co. Through actual experience and through folklore there were many humanistic “Berk Stories” that contributed to him being beloved:

  • Co-workers all felt like they were treated equally…
  • Supported in-house opportunities through postings for all co-workers…
  • Visited co-workers in the hospital, sent thank you notes, and birthday cards to the co-workers…
  • Fixed equipment in manufacturing while in his dress clothes for the co-workers…
  • Co-worker shared Berk gave him money out of his pocket so he could pay his monthly rent…
  • Provided work for people in the Hope Haven facility ( also gave them the building )…
  • Set up a basketball hoop in the facility for noon games and built a tennis court for co-workers to use ( Berk really enjoyed his athletic prowess with stories about being a 125 lb. guard on the football team and his basketball skills )…
  • Berk’s dancing with the co-workers at the Christmas party were legendary ( felt sorry for Elinor )…
  • Many other wonderful actions and good deeds too numerous to mention…
  • YES, Berk’s entrepreneurship was always on display: new product creation, great sales/marketing mind, supported manufacturing, built the existing Berkley facility with a few exceptions, purchased small companies, imported product, set up rod facilities in Emmetsburg, Ia. and Taiwan…

Berk mastered being an entrepreneur and an exceptional leader but he also mastered being a great husband, a great Father, a great Grandpa, and most of all set an example for all of us. For the company Berk started and Tom built upon have benefited our community and many co-workers for over 80 years and will keep on giving for many, many more years. Berk’s legacy will live on with millions of spools of fishing line, bait, terminal tackle, accessories, and rods being shipped all over the world proudly branded with the BERKLEY name. BERK is a GIANT IN THE FISHING TACKLE INDUSTRY! But, for me, Berk’s philosophy of the “more you give the more you receive” makes him the most beautiful person in the world!!!

God Bless Berk, God Bless Elinor, and God Bless the Bedell Family

Memories of a highschooler working for Berkley

When I was in 8th grade I worked part-time at Mouritsens (sp) grocery store as carry out and after-hours clean up.  The following year I moved up in the world and worked upstairs at Berkley & Co.  This was the summer of 1950. I was 15 years old and would be a  freshman in highschool that fall.

One of my jobs with Berkley that summer was delivering fishing leader components to home workers, pick up their production and take it back to the factory above Mouritsens. To perform this task I drove Berk’s 47 Oldsmobile sedan ( I really thought I was big stuff ).

\We usually got paid every two weeks.  At the end of August I went to the office to collect my final check for the summer. Berk was handing out the checks.  I was the last in line to receive mine. I was glad no one else was in the office, because I really got a lecture….about driving his car all summer with only a driver’s permit. Finally, I told Berk that I had only been following orders given to me by my immediate boss, Harper Seeman.  He handed me my check, and I thought I would probably never get to work for Berkley & Co. again.

I got lucky, however, and was rehired that fall to work part-time after school to sweep and mail the day’s production This didn’t take much time and did not interfere with after-school sports. The interesting part of this was that I could load the day’s production on a TWO WHEELED CART AND BUMP DOWN THE STAIRS on my way to the post office, which was only a block away.

There are many other stories, but one final vignette: Two years ago my wife, Jean, and I attended a Democratic rally in Arnolds Park. As we were getting out of our car upon arrival in the parking lot Berkley and a family member parked next to us.  Berk saw us and recognized us right away. He was very cheerful, but looked very frail and was not using a walker. Since it was at least a block to the pavilion, we offered to walk with him, and he readily accepted. Jean and I will never forget the short but wonderful conversation we had during this walk as well as the short speech he delivered at the rally.

Berkley Bedell will be remembered as a kind and generous man who gave of himself to the benefit of others.  We will all miss him!

With deepest respect,

 Steve and Jean Rose

A tribute from Senator Chuck Grassley given on the US Senate floor.

Remembering Berkley Bedell

Mr. Grassley – Mr. President, I come to the floor today to pay tribute to an extraordinary Iowan with whom I shared a decades-long friendship–a very prominent Democrat from my State.

Over this past weekend, former Iowa Congressman Berkley Bedell passed away at the age of 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 to it.”

From an early age, Berkley Bedell 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. He was, obviously, a World War II veteran, an entrepreneur, a job creator, a philanthropist, a policy influencer, and, most of all, a devoted husband and father.

What I left out is how I got acquainted with him. He was a fellow Member of the House of Representatives during my early years and for some time after I came to the Senate. Our decades-long friendship began when Berkley and I were elected to serve Iowans in the House of Representatives in 1974. Soon after the orientation for new Members,  Barbara and I developed a close relationship 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 is when the Watergate scandal upended the midterm elections. Voters elected 91 new House Members to that Congress. I happened to be the only Republican in the Iowa congressional delegation. Among our so-called Watergate class of 1974, I was joined by Iowans Tom Harkin, Michael Blouin, and Berkley Bedell. We were all freshman Members of Congress. We joined then with more senior Members from the State of Iowa–Neal Smith, who went on to serve 36 years in the House, and Ed Mezvinsky. The Democrat Senators from Iowa were Dick Clark and John Culver. Berkley would go on to represent Iowa’s Sixth Congressional District for six terms, from 1975 to 1987. Even though he lived about another 32 years after that, I presume he would have served a lot longer if his health had held out.

Although Berkley and I didn’t share the same political points of view, we did share a common approach for representative government, meaning with dialogue and feedback from Iowans that was very necessary if we were going to represent them properly. Most often, the forums for that were our respective townhall 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 of the 1980s, which was much worse than this farm crisis we have right now, 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 who were coping with double-digit inflation and with the farm debt crisis.

As a Federal lawmaker, Berkley took his oversight work seriously. Even though I take oversight seriously, I didn’t do it in quite the way he did. His was kind of an unorthodox approach. He just ventured, willy-nilly, into a Federal bureaucracy here or a Federal bureaucracy over there. He took the liberty of dropping by in person at these agencies. He would go up to people and ask: What is your job? I don’t know exactly the questions he asked, but in knowing Berkley the way I did, I think he probably wanted to have very calm conversations with them to determine what they did and maybe even see if they were doing it right, particularly if they were spending the taxpayers’ money right. He did this to keep tabs on how these Federal employees in these various bureaucracies were serving the Nation and, particularly, serving Iowans. Now, that is what I would call an in-the-flesh gut check–a very different type of oversight from what I have done.

Berkley was born in Spirit Lake, IA. I assume he lived his entire life in Spirit Lake, IA, except for the period of time he was in the military and until he spent some retirement time in Florida. Spirit Lake, IA, is a close-knit farming community in Dickinson County. His neck of the woods is located in the Iowa Great Lakes region–a regional destination for fishing, boating, and outdoor recreation. I will bet the Presiding Officer has been there many times.

The area is fondly known as the University of Okoboji, where generations of families go year after year to vacation and enjoy life. By the way, the University of Okoboji is not really a university but is very much a selling point for that part of the State, from an economic development point of view, and it has worked very successfully. As I just described, 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 to launch the Okoboji Foundation more than three decades ago. Since then, the foundation has awarded millions of dollars to scores of nonprofit organizations in that lakes region of Iowa.

In other words, Berkley believed in paying it forward. He cared deeply about giving back to his community for future generations to enjoy. As you would expect an Iowan to do, he rolled up his sleeves, opened his wallet, and pitched in to make a difference. By my measure, his represents a life well lived, and he lived life well.

As I mentioned earlier, Berkley and Elinor became steadfast friends with Barbara and this Senator. We shared an abiding mutual respect, and we cherished their gracious regard for that friendship. After the Bedells moved to Florida in their retirement, Barbara and I enjoyed an annual gift from the Bedells each February. It was a very simple annual gift but one that had a lot of meaning to it–more than the material it represented. They sent us a box of oranges from their home in the Sunshine State. Just as regularly as a clock, we received these over many, many years.

Through these many years, their annual Christmas letter was something that we looked forward to. In many years, in personal notes in those very letters, they even thanked us for our friendship. Berkley also stayed in touch with a friendly Valentine note each year to Barbara, my wife. With Berkley’s passing, we are saddened to know that these tokens of friendship have now come to an end.

Berkley’s story is an inspiration for younger generations of Americans who are pursuing their dreams. It is never too early to dream big. This was how Berkley Bedell was dreaming as a 16-year-old: He became an entrepreneur. Berkley launched a fishing tackle business with Jack, his brother. It was called the Berkley Fly Company. I am told he started the company with $50 from 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 what was then called Berkley Industries. That company, which is now called Pure Fishing, is today 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. Usually, at least once a year, he called on me here in Washington, in the Hart Office Building, to tell me about some legislative issue he was interested in, and we worked together on some of those legislative issues. Everything here in Washington is so political, so this may sound very unusual, and maybe it is unusual today: Despite our differences in political philosophies–he was a Democrat; I am a Republican–we both appreciated how crucial it was to engage the next generation in civic life. Berkley’s leadership and legacy will be remembered for generations to come. I am proud to have called him a very good, good friend.

Barbara and I extend our condolences to his sons, Ken and Tom, and to Joanne, his daughter.

Your dad made a big footprint in his life’s journey. As my former colleague in the House of Representatives, Berkley later became my constituent when I was elected to serve here in the U.S. Senate. I never knew Berkley Bedell to stop advocating for his community or for the good of our Nation. It became Berkley’s lifelong hallmark to leave God’s green Earth better than he had found it for generations to come.

I wish Godspeed to my good friend Berkley Bedell, who joins Elinor, his beloved wife, in eternal life.

I yield the floor.

The PRESIDING OFFICER – The Democratic whip.

Mr. DURBIN – Mr. President, I was in my office and just learned, by Senator Grassley’s floor speech, about the passing of Berkley Bedell, and I just wanted to add my voice to his.

He was a wonderful man. I served with him in the House of Representatives. Spirit Lake was his home area in Iowa. He was a really knowledgeable man when it came to issues of agriculture, and I didn’t learn until many years later that he was a very successful businessman in the fishing tackle business, if I remember correctly, and sporting goods. He had many interests.

He was a spirited, friendly, good person who worked hard at his job and was a credit to the U.S. House of Representatives, regardless of party, and I think Senator Grassley’s remarks reflect that. I am going to miss his annual Christmas card. He and his wife–she passed away just recently, as well–would send a card about the comings and goings of their big, old family. It was a big oversized card, and I always looked forward to it.

I feel honored to have been able to serve with him. I thank my colleague and friend Senator Grassley from Iowa for paying tribute to him.

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