SIOUX CITY | Back when Larry Clausen was first elected as a Woodbury County supervisor, Ronald Reagan was in his second year as president, video games were played in arcades rather than smart phones and the movie "E.T. The Extraterrestrial" had a long reign in theaters.
In Sioux City, the Missouri riverfront lacked today's beauty and amenities of today and the warehouse district on Fourth Street was considered a seedy area, rather than the upscale historic district of today populated by restaurants and bars.
A lot has changed since 1982 both nationally and in Siouxland. Yet through all that time, Clausen kept winning re-election to the county board, as he played major roles in policy decisions from which roads were repaired to how much money county sheriffs received to carry out patrols.
Now the Clausen era on the board has come to an end. The rural Sioux City Democrat chose not to run for re-election this year, saying he didn't have the vivacity to handle county business as he did in younger years.
"I've done the job for 34 years. Now there are other people who get to do that job. I hope they do well," Clausen, 76, said.
His last meeting is Tuesday. He will leave with one of the top tenures of any county supervisor in Iowa history. In 2013, he was tied with a Buchanan County official for having the most tenure of any active county board member in Iowa, at 30 years.
After winning his first race in 1982, Clausen wasn't thinking it would turn into a decades-long career.
"No clue whatsoever," he said.
So how did all the years of service pile up?
"What happens is, you get involved and you are making a difference. And all of a sudden, every time the election cycle would come around, you'd be in the process of doing something different or trying to accomplish something. There was something, so you just ran again," Clausen said.
"The odds are, you are gonna get beat one of those times. It didn't happen. I think that people appreciate that I am tight with a dollar. I am easy to get ahold of. I have talked with a lot of people over the years."
COLLEAGUES WEIGH IN
Pat Gill, of Sioux City, was a state legislator in the early 1990s when he met Clausen for the first time. Gill and another Sioux City lawmaker served on a panel tasked with getting feedback from local officials about various state mandates.
"It was to yell at us about local mandates," Gill said, with a laugh, before adding that Clausen definitely verbally blasted the lawmakers about the state requirements.
But Gill quickly flipped that anecdote around, noting that while Clausen may not like a particular decision, he never held resentments. As Woodbury County Auditor, keeping meetings of county board meetings, Gill has seen Clausen first-hand for 20 years.
"We've had our share of disagreements... (Clausen) never held any grudges, he never took things personally. I always appreciated that about Larry," Gill said.
"The next day, he was fine. I can't say that for a lot of others over the years."
There were periodic controversies over Clausen's time as supervisor. He knocked heads with Sheriff Dave Drew during Drew's first summer in office in 2013, as the two disagreed on whether Drew should discuss suggestions privately with the board members instead of during public meetings.
Clausen asked Drew whether he had approached any board members about the plan. Drew said open public meetings are the correct place to discuss such plans, so that's what he was doing. He said he wants to avoid backroom discussions, which he said were common in the past.
Clausen said Drew made a "ridiculous" charge in June about information on county issues being shared with only two board members at a time. By meeting with less than a majority of the five board members, according to Iowa law, those so-called 2-2-1 discussions can be conducted in private rather than in an open public meeting.
Former Woodbury County Sheriff Glenn Parrett knew Clausen for decades. Parrett said Clausen had a tight grip on access to county revenues for department heads seeking money to run operations. Each year, the county officials would go before the five supervisors with budget proposals, and Clausen asked questions on the necessity of spending requests.
"If you didn't justify it, (Clausen) wouldn't give it to you," Parrett said.
Gill agreed with Parrett that Clausen was "tight with money" in the budgeting process.
Gill added being impressed at Clausen's knowledge of the far-flung rural territory in the county, the creeks in a drainage district here or a country gravel road bridge there. Clausen in board meetings would frequently demonstrate he knew the infrastructure pieces that are important to people living all throughout the county.
"That knowledge will be sorely missed," Gill said.
"That's my job," Clausen said about his big institutional knowledge of the county. "I don't know who is going to take that over, because people need someone to go to."
However, it didn't always come easy, especially as a new supervisor.
"There is a learning curve. I was like a deer in the headlights for several years. But I put the time and the effort in, to do what I perceive as my job," Clausen said.
Clausen will turn 77 on Dec. 27. He first dated his wife of 57 years, Dorothy, as a 15-year-old. They have three adult children, Tim, Todd and Tami, who all live in Sioux City, plus seven grandchildren, and a first great-grandchild due in April.
He graduated in 1958 from East High School, then served a stint in the U.S. Navy. Seeing that it took a college degree to get a good sales job, Clausen enrolled in Morningside College, where he was graduated in 1966. He worked as a management trainee for three years, then began a career with Allstate Insurance that lasted more than 20 years.
Clausen's first run for elected office resulted in a seat on the City Council from 1978 through 1981. He said it was a contentious time in the city, as changes were made in planning and zoning rules so that businesses could locate outside downtown. That enabled the construction of the city's first large enclosed shopping center, Southern Hills Mall, at a time such malls were sweeping the nation.
Clausen said he's proud of his role in helping launch the mall in Morningside at the intersection of Sergeant Road and South Lakeport Street. (He owned a service station on the mall property some years ago.)
However, Clausen said some downtown business owners didn't like the suburban mall so they plowed tens of thousands of dollars into the 1981 City Council race to oust him. Largely through those efforts, he lost his re-election bid.
"I was defeated, and I was probably very mad," he recalled.
Within a year, Clausen was back seeking elective office, with encouragement from people to run for the supervisors position.
In 1982, Republicans controlled all five seats on the county board. Clausen and two other Democrats ousted GOP incumbents in that fall's election, giving the Democrats a majority on the board for the next 34 years. That streak ended in this election with Republicans capturing two more seats to grow their majority on the board to 4-1.
Among this year's Republican victors were Rocky De Witt, who captured the seat held by Clausen.
Clausen, who won a total of nine terms on the board -- eight for four years each and the other for two years, is a former board chairman. But two years ago, the power he once commanded on the board was diminished with the election of Republican supervisors Jeremy Taylor and Matthew Ung. Taylor and Ung joined with then-Democratic supervisor Mark Monson to form a majority voting block on most issues, with Clausen and Democrat Jackie Smith often on the losing side of issues.
Over the years, Clausen said he did a good job of working with the other supervisors, the four elected county officials and department heads. He said the key, he said, is to be professional and above board.
"You develop a trust with these people. It is not that you agree with them on everything," he said.
Clausen said his departure will break a long line of service he's enjoyed.
"You make a difference as a supervisor. You are affecting a lot of people's lives. You are looked at to make a lot of important decisions. I will miss that. I've made a lot of friends in the county and in the community, people I never would have been associated with," Clausen said.
Patricia "Pat" Roberts has known Clausen since they were classmates at East High. Roberts said three couples get together for lunch once per month, and it is fun to keep up with Clausen socially in addition to following his career.
"Through all the years of being friends with Larry and Dorothy, we have observed Larry be diligent in giving of himself to make the city and county a better place," Roberts said.
She also knows his hobbies well, including hunting, fishing, golfing and feeding birds on his acreage. Roberts said he'll have more time for all those activities.
"He has been in the public eye for a long time, so there will be an adjustment," Roberts said. "I think he'll be OK."