My father, Rodney Urdahl, was born in 1922 and grew up in Northwood Iowa.
His parents had migrated from Norway, Rodeny’s dad was a farmer and his mother a homemaker. Back then, Northwood was a haven for Scandinavian immigrants seeking a better, more prosperous life. Dad often said, “We were never poor, but we had no money.” He and his younger brother were “always too busy in school and being kids to notice. “
In 1928, when penicillin and antibiotics didn’t exist, Carl Urdahl died from pneumonia. At the age of 5, my dad became the man of the house. The family farm was lost, and my grandmother moved with her two young sons to Mason City. Despite such daunting circumstances, dad excelled in school; he was particularly gifted in science and math. As a high school senior in 1940, he was chosen as the starting quarterback for the Mason City Mohawks football team.
Upon graduating in 1941, he enrolled in the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in King’s Point, New York. Upon graduation, he served as a lieutenant commander in the United States Marine Corps, sailing around the world on freighters and tankers in enemy-infested waters. He often credited his strong faith in God for his having survived World War II unscathed.
My parents married in in 1946 and lived in Mason City. In 1948, dad bought a bar and pool hall in Beimond, and ran for the Iowa Senate in 1950. Returning to Mason City in 1955, Rodney began working as a chemist at the Lehigh Cement plant. During this time he also started his own business. He sold real estate and insurance, and provided accounting services and income tax preparation for numerous North Iowa clients. This enterprise, the Urdahl Agency, prospered until my father’s death in 1995.
Dad loved all sports, especially baseball and golf, and nearly always was available to play catch and/or a few holes. Every summer he took my mother, brother and I on a nice family vacation. Rodney simply loved being a father and excelled at it.
I once asked him for advice on setting and achieving goals in life. He said, “Take one thing you want to accomplish and focus on it completely, and work at it to the best of your ability.” I followed that fatherly advice throughout my career in politics/government and the private sector — and passed it on to my four children.
Dad was liked by nearly everyone who knew him, because he was a gentleman of what is now called “The Old School.” He was generous to a fault, respectful and kind to all — and particularly those without means. Never did I hear him denigrate anyone with slurs or disparaging comments.
In 1996, while campaigning for re-election as a Cerro Gordo County supervisor, I met a Mason Citian of my father’s age. As dad had died only months earlier, this chance meeting at the senior citizen’s front door was truly meaningful. This soft-spoken voter had few worldly possessions and was short with a withered arm. As he described growing up in Mason City many decades earlier, he recalled that while walking to school boys would bully him due to his deformity. He then said, “But it ended when Rodney Urdahl made those bullies stop.” He added, “Rodney was the only person who helped me, he was always my friend — and I just wanted you, Jay, to know that.”
Rodney Urdahl — friend, gentleman, husband and father. God bless you, Dad. Just thinking about you makes me a better man every day.
Happy Father’s Day to all fathers, past and present.
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