Sunday, April 20, 2008

Hoover-Wallace Dinner Honors Leach, Ponseti, Sen. Culver

Hoover-Wallace Dinner Honors Leach, Ponseti, Sen. Culver

Former Senator Culver, Governor Culver

Iowa's highest and mightiest gathered Saturday night in Coralville to honor a groundbreaking physician and two political leaders who have continued their public service despite their rejection by Iowa voters.

The annual Hoover-Wallace dinner raised over $57,000 for the Borlaug-Ruan International Internship Program and honored former congressman Jim Leach and former Senator John Culver for their public service, and Dr. Ignacio Ponseti for his pioneering method of treating children born with clubfoot, a congenital bone defect.

The guest list was a who's who of Iowa politics, including Governor Chet Culver, son of the former senator.

The dinner also honors two Iowans who made their marks in both humanitarian work and in politics: President Herbert Hoover and Vice President Henry A. Wallace. “Their greatest contribution is their inspiration,” Leach said in his speech. “What strikes me is the inspiration more than the successes. “

Ironically, the dinner's two namesakes strongly disliked each other, said former senator Culver, author of American Dreamer, the definitive Wallace biography. The former senator said Wallace felt a dispute over agricultural policy in the Coolidge administration between his father, Agriculture Secretary Henry C. Wallace, and Hoover, then Commerce Secretary, contributed to Henry C. Wallace's death in 1924. Henry A. Wallace, still nominally a Republican, then supported Democrats Al Smith and Franklin Roosevelt over Hoover during Hoover's two White House bids.

Leach and former senator Culver received the Hoover-Wallace-Borlaug Public Service Award, named for the dinner's namesakes and for Iowa Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug. The evening's other honoree, Dr. Ponseti, received the Hoover-Wallace Humanitarian award.

“It was like watching this miracle unfold, one cast change at at time,” said the mother of a child born with clubfoot in a video presentation. The Ponseti Method treats clubfoot with a series of casts, rather than through the old method of invasive surgery that sometimes left patients still unable to walk.

“The tendons can be stretched by gentle manipulation,” said Ponseti of his method. With a series of cast changes every three to four days immediately after birth, the defect can be fixed in less than a month without surgery or hospitalization. “Any medical professional trained in the method can do it,” said Ponseti.

Dr. Ponseti describes his life's work as Congressmen Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack and University of Iowa Preisdent Sally Mason listen.

“This is more than I deserve,” said the very modest 93 year old physician. “It is actually the medical school and the hospital you are honoring, for making it possible for a man to realize his aspirations.”

Ponseti's aspirations began in his native Spain, where he was a doctor for Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War. He fled to Iowa in 1941, after the Republicans lost the war to dictator Francisco Franco's forces. “That terrible conflict gave birth to a wonderful Iowan,” said Congressman Bruce Braley.

“Here, I found my home,” said Ponseti.

“I specialized in the politics of the developing world,” as a professor, said Congressman Dave Loebsack, “and what Dr. Ponseti has done is especially important in the developing world.”

Loebsack also praised Culver and Leach for their public service in and out of office. There was a little irony, as Loebsack had ended Leach's 30 year congressional career with his 2006 upset win. But Leach was affable toward his former rival.

“When Congressman Loebsack was introduced I almost applauded more loudly than people thought possible,” said Leach, now head of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, “because he made possible my job change.”

Jim Leach

Leach seemed relieved to have moved to academia, and offered words of caution about modern political culture. “There is a sense increasing in America that maybe the best and the brightest are not being attracted to public life,” he said, “and that's something we need to think through very deeply.”

“American politics is to an overwhelming extent today about salesmanship,” said Leach, noting that both Hoover and Wallace were multi-talented men in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson. “Increasingly, America is a place where success is measured by advancing personal ambition, rather than serving others” as Hoover and Wallace did, he said.

Former senator Culver focused his remarks more on Wallace than on his own career. He said the occasion of Wallace's death in 1965, during his own first term in Congress, inspired him to become Wallace's biographer.

“Wallace had been out of public life 15 years, and he was so controversial in 1950 that he's been written out of history. He'd become a non-person,” said the former senator. “I became very curious. I was struck by what an extraordinary life he'd had, and I decided some day I wanted to write his story. It was important to him and the world to give him a more appropriate place in history.” That story was finally published 35 years later, and was recently produced for television by PBS.

“The next Wallace or Hoover or Borlaug or Culver or Leach or Ponseti may be in an Iowa classroom today,” said governor Culver, as the ten 2008 interns in The Borlaug-Ruan Program were introduced. The governor's speech offered no unique remarks about the former senator, other then his saying “my father” as he named the three honorees.

“I cannot think of another experience that has shaped my life to that extent,” said former program participant Curtis O'Loughlin of his internship in India. O'Loughlin will graduate from the University of Iowa College of Medicine next month.

Other prominent guests included former governors Bob Ray and Terry Branstad, former congressman Mike Blouin, most of the statewide elected officials and legislative leadership, University of Iowa President Sally Mason, and former Ambassador Kenneth Quinn.

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