Iowa President, Humanitarian Hero Honored in West Branch
Saturday, October 25, was the 50th anniversary of President Herbert Hoover’s state funeral in his boyhood home of West Branch, Iowa. Hoover is the only Iowa-born United States President, and the first to be born west of the Mississippi River. He is also one of Iowa’s – and the world’s – greatest humanitarian heroes, whose famine-relief initiatives during World War One and again following World War Two are credited with saving up to 1.4 billion lives.
As the leader of the Commission for the Relief of Belgium during World War One, Hoover spearheaded an unprecedented initiative to purchase and deliver food to over nine million Belgian men, women, and children who were trapped between the occupying German army and a British naval blockade. Hoover secured diplomatic privileges for the Commission and negotiated with both sides of the conflict to ensure that food was safely delivered to starving civilians. His fundraising efforts were such that the Commission was left with surplus funds after the armistice, which were used to rebuild schools and establish a Belgian-American cultural exchange program. Following World War Two Hoover again sprang into action, conducting an assessment of global hunger that resulted in further American leadership to avert famine.
Remembrance ceremonies on October 25th included a grave-site reading of the eulogy delivered at his state funeral 50 years ago and remarks by Iowan dignitaries, including World Food Prize President Ambassador Kenneth Quinn. Perhaps the greatest tribute paid to Hoover that day was a 3 ½ hour meal-packaging event in the high school gymnasium, where over 250 volunteers packaged 84,024 meals for distribution to hungry families in Iowa and abroad. Organized on a three-month timeline by the West Branch Lions Club in partnership with Outreach, Inc and local businesses, the activity was described as “something simple that everybody can do”.
West Branch Lion’s Club organizer Mike Quinlan, who climbed a tree as a boy to watch the original state funeral, captured the spirit of the community, saying: “After serving our country in the armed forces, serving the hungry and our community is the best thing we can do to honor the legacy of President Hoover”.
These same Iowa-values once led President Herbert Hoover to declare: "For thousands of years, the question 'am I my brother's keeper?' has echoed in the conscience of mankind. The American people were the first in history to accept that obligation as a nation."
Photo Credits: Remembrance Ceremony for President Hoover (top), Outreach Meals (bottom)