MASON CITY – May 19 – The 50+ year professional and political career of Dr. Gary B. Blodgett, the longtime Mason City orthodontist and state Legislator who died May 19, included service in the Bush administration in Washington, D.C. Since the 1970s, Blodgett’s name was virtually synonymous with north Iowa Republican causes and campaigns.
Since 1968, when he assisted with Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign, Blodgett was extensively involved in politics and government. In 1972, he raised funds for President Nixon’s re-election; in 1976, he raised funds for President Gerald R. Ford and helped to organize Ford’s Iowa efforts. Between 1980-92, he was actively engaged in the presidential campaigns of Ronald Reagan and the first President Bush. Until 2014, when Alzheimers disease finally slowed him down, he raised money for Gov. Terry Branstad and was a mainstay in GOP circles. Reporters, lobbyists and elected officials referred to Blodgett as north Iowa’s “Republican Patriarch” and “GOP Kingmaker”. He served as Deputy Majority Leader in the Iowa House of Representatives from 1993-2001 while chairing several standing Committees. When first elected in 1992, he shocked political observers by carrying Mason City – north Iowa’s most populous community and a reliably Democratic stronghold. Prior to Blodgett, Republicans who, since the 1940s, had represented Cerro Gordo county in Iowa’s House of Representatives rarely won Mason City. Blodgett promised voters he would serve four terms and did so, voluntarily retiring from the Legislature in 2001. His fiscal and social conservatism, and support for lower tax rates and limiting government’s growth, were consistently reflected in his voting record. President George W. Bush in 2001 appointed him to the position of federal Administrative Judge. In this capacity, Blodgett adjudicated legal cases under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Service’s Provider Reimbursement Review Board, a tribunal which resolved disputes filed with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. In late 2007, concerned about problems with his memory, he resigned from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, DC, returned to Clear Lake, and retired.
Gary Burl Blodgett was born in Pleasantville (Marion county) Iowa, on Oct. 17, 1937. In high school, he was the quarterback of the football team, co-captained the basketball team, was on the Baseball and Track teams and elected as a class officer. He graduated in 1955 from Pleasantville high school and then attended Central college in Pella, Iowa before transferring to the University of Iowa. On June 29, 1956, he married the love of his life, Sandra ‘Sandy’ Hodgson.
During his undergraduate years, Blodgett ran varsity track for the University and played the trombone for the Hawkeye marching band. He was a member of the Alpha Omega fraternity and, in 1957, competed in Florida for a position on a Farm Team affiliated with the Chicago Cubs professional Baseball team. Two months later, he returned to college. Completing his undergraduate studies in 1958, he entered the university’s Dental School.
Graduating first in his 1962 class, Blodgett served in the United States Public Health Service from 1962-65. In 1967, he graduated, first in his class, from the University’s College of Orthodontics. He was a generous supporter of the Hawkeyes and the Orthodontics department and Dental School, and in 2007 was honored by the university as the College of Dentistry’s Distinguished Alumnus of the Year. Blodgett joined the Mason City orthodontic practice of Dr. Lowell T. Oldham in 1967. That practice is now owned by Dr. Judy Demro, who joined Blodgett and Dr. Tom Johnston in 1985. Blodgett practiced orthodontics until 1992, when he was elected to the Iowa House of Representatives.
He was a 66-year member of the Masonic Lodge (#128 – Pleasantville, Iowa) and, for decades, of Mason City’s First Presbyterian church. A charitable man to whom philanthropy was meaningful, he served, for many years, as a trustee of the Bertha Stebens charitable Foundation, serving as its President from 2008 to 2012. From 1968 to the early 2000s, he supported the United Way, The Boy Scouts of America, the Mason City and Clear Lake Chambers of Commerce, Disabled American Veterans, the Future Farmers of America and numerous other philanthropic and academic institutions and civic organizations. He was elected as President of the Iowa Orthodontic Association in 1971. In the 1980s, he was a member of the Board of Directors of the Midwestern Orthodontic Association and in the 1990s, Blodgett served as a member of the American Dental Association’s Political Advisory Board.
In 1974-75, Blodgett helped to establish the North Iowa Racquet Club, serving on its original Board of Directors. Throughout the 1970s and into the 1990s, he helped to organize campaigns and raise funds for Governors Bob Ray and Terry Branstad, U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley and Roger W. Jepsen, US Reps Fred Grandy, Jim Nussle, Tom Latham, Steve King and Jim Lightfoot, and numerous state legislators and other elected officials. Cerro Gordo county Supervisor Casey Callanan, who had been an intern in Blodgett’s office in the state Capitol in Des Moines, said, “Candidates who had Gary’s endorsement and backing had big advantages. He and Sandy made sure that those races were well-funded. Dr. Blodgett was consistently thorough in everything he did, and I’m grateful for his friendship and support.”
As a presidential appointee Blodgett presided over hundreds of legal cases involving health care policy, in which his expertise was highly regarded. Shortly after his 2001 inauguration, President George W. Bush jokingly asked Blodgett if there was “anything in his past” which might jeopardize his being named to a position in the new administration. Blodgett, known for his dry sense of humor, shocked Bush by replying that he had “served two years in a Texas prison.” Blodgett then told the President that his “prison time” was as a general dentist, at the La Tuna federal correctional facility, in El Paso, Texas.
He was a 49-year member of the Outing club in Clear Lake, first serving on its Board of Directors in 1973. Blodgett also served as the Outing Club President in 1977 and again in 1989 and as a director until 1991. He was a 52-year member of the Mason city Country club, and until recently, a member of the University club of Washington, D.C. As a lawmaker, Blodgett was also active in ALEC – the American Legislative Exchange Council. He was a member of the Des Moines club, the Des Moines Embassy Club and the Clear Lake Yacht Club. For many years, he was a member of the University of Iowa Athletic club, where he hosted fellow alumni and friends for pre-game (football) lunches and post-game cocktails.
Until he was in his early 60s, Blodgett regularly played tennis and remained an accomplished billiards player well into his 70s. In the mid-1970s, he simultaneously held tennis championships (singles) at the Outing club, the Mason City Country club and the North Iowa Racquet Club. From 1968 until it disbanded in 1997, Gary and Sandy were members of Mason City’s Euchre & Cycle club. For many years, Dr. Blodgett was a member of Pheasants Forever, the Iowa Farm Bureau, the American Farm Bureau and the NRA (National Rifle Association). He played golf until he was 75 and when younger, he enjoyed bird hunting, deep-sea fishing in Florida and the Caribbean, boating, operating his Arctic-Cat 440 Panther snow-mobile and downhill skiing. He and Sandy also traveled to Europe, Canada, Mexico, Alaska, Puerto Rico, and to several Caribbean islands, nations and Territories.
While serving in federal and state office, Blodgett frequently observed that “successful private sector experience, prior to serving in elective or appointive capacities, is essential to public service.” He disdained career politicians who, prior to entering government, “hadn’t met payrolls or created real-world jobs.” As a Legislator, he sometimes took positions opposed by most conservative lawmakers, concerning issues like education and the environment. Blodgett’s son, Todd, said his father was “always a straight shooter, who never left any doubt about where he stood – on anything. He plainly expressed his views without hesitation. Diplomacy wasn’t his thing; compared to my dad, Donald Trump is like a politically correct, professional mediator. But his frankness was respected and he never lost an election for public office. The voters always knew he was well-informed, trustworthy, smart and honest.”
A Celebration of Life will be hosted by the Blodgett family in Mason City, in July. The date will be announced prior to this event, which will be held at the Historic Park Inn hotel.
Preceding Gary Blodgett in death were his parents and a sister. He is survived by his wife of nearly 65 years, Sandy; sons Todd and Troy Blodgett; his daughter, Suzette Blodgett-Clark, daughter-in-law Brenda Blodgett, and six grandchildren: Cole Blodgett, Elizabeth Blodgett, Grant Blodgett; Claire Clark, Brady Clark and Marshall Clark. Dr. Blodgett’s sister, Mrs. Sharon Sinnard, of Davenport, also survives him.
The family requests that any memorials honoring Gary Blodgett be made to the Alzheimers Association of America, or to any worthwhile cause.