Students, alumni honor Sen. Culver’s legacy


Former Sen. John C. Culver, a Democrat who represented Iowa for 16 years in the U.S. House and Senate, died in late December. Culver founded the John C. Culver Public Policy Center at Simpson College. Photo courtesy of Seth Andersen

by Randy Paulson and Zoe Seiler

SIMPSON—A group of five Simpson College students and alumni attended the memorial service for the late U.S. Senator John C. Culver on Jan. 18 in Washington, D.C.

Culver died on Dec. 26, 2018, at the age of 86. A Democrat, Culver represented Iowa in Congress for 16 years and was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1964, and then to the U.S. Senate in 1974.

Culver also left an impact on Simpson College. The college partnered with him in 2010 to create the John C. Culver Public Policy Center, “which seeks to encourage and inspire young people to dedicate their lives to public service,” a statement from President Jay Simmons said.

“Sen. Culver was a towering public figure and leader who has inspired countless Americans to a life of public service,” said Seth Andersen, director of the Culver Center, in a statement to The Simpsonian.

Andersen also attended the memorial service, which took place at St. John’s Church of Lafayette Square.

“(Culver) was deeply proud of founding the Culver Public Policy Center at Simpson College in 2010 and closely followed the accomplishments of the dozens of undergraduate Culver Fellows who have benefited from the Center’s programming and opportunities,” Andersen continued.

Among the several hundred mourners at the service were columnist and former Culver Lecturer Mark Shields, as well as Culver’s son, former Iowa Gov. Chet Culver. Former Vice President Joe Biden, former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd from Connecticut and author Elizabeth Drew, who wrote a book of Culver’s time in Congress, also attended the service, according to Andersen.

Three current Culver Fellows who are in Washington this spring for the Capitol Hill Internship Program (CHIP) also attended the memorial service: juniors Erin Magoffie, Abby Schulte and Quinn Slaven. Recent Simpson alumni who were also there include Robert Lyons and Mackenzie Bills.

“One of the most impactful takeaways from the memorial service was the way Sen. Culver lived his life,” Magoffie said in a Facebook message to The Simpsonian. “It was made obvious that the senator was equally dedicated to his family, his constituents and his strict moral conscious.”

She said it often seems as if public servants end up neglecting one of those categories, “but Sen. Culver worked hard to to make each of them a priority throughout his life.”

Slaven said the memorial service was beautiful and honored Culver’s life. He also said he didn’t feel out of place at the service.

“There were a few familiar faces from Simpson, and the people I met, including Joe Biden, had heard of the Culver Center and understood why we were there,” Slaven said.

While serving in the House in 1967, Culver was notably one of only 16 Congressmen to vote against a bill that would have criminalized burning the U.S. flag.

“In many ways, it was the most important vote I ever cast,” Culver later said during a speech at Harvard, “because it made the so-called ‘tough’ political votes that were to occur during my 16 years in Congress relatively easy from that point on. It taught me a valuable lesson: do what one believes is right, rather than popular at the moment.”

During his six years in the Senate, Culver served on several committees: Armed Services, Judiciary, Environment and Public Works and Small Business.

After working in government, Culver practiced law in Washington until 2009. He also held numerous positions in higher education, such as being on the Senior Advisory Committee of the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government as a member, Chairman, Interim Director and eventually Chair Emeritus.

Culver’s legacy of public service continues to inspire Simpson students to pursue a future in government and public policy.

“(The Culver Center) has afforded me many opportunities to meet figures in politics, plan political events and work on networking in the field of political science,” said junior Culver Fellow Levi Lefebure in an email to The Simpsonian. “I am very grateful for the opportunities that he has made possible for me.”

Slaven is also grateful for opportunities provided by the Culver Center and was attracted to Simpson because of it.

“It’s no exaggeration to say Sen. Culver is the reason I am at Simpson College,” Slaven said in an email to The Simpsonian. “His generosity in setting up the Culver Public Policy Center drew myself and many others here. I also believe his entire life is an inspiration.”

Simpson alumna Britney Samuelson, who graduated in 2017, said she chose a career in public policy due to her involvement with the Culver Center. While still a student, she was able to travel to Washington meet Culver, attend a conference at Harvard and meet many politicians.

I chose Simpson entirely because of the John C. Culver Public Policy Center. Once I was accepted as a Culver Fellow, so many doors opened up to me,” Samuelson said in a Facebook message to The Simpsonian.

“Without the Culver Center, I’m not sure that I would’ve discovered this path as early on as I have,” she added. “I know that the other Culver Fellows and I will do our best to carry on his legacy as we aspire to be the kind of public servant that he was.”

On Jan. 10, Sen. Charles Grassley introduced a resolution honoring the life and legacy of Culver, which all 99 other senators co-sponsored.

Andersen said the Culver Center is planning to hold a program at Simpson later in the spring “to celebrate Sen. Culver’s life and legacy.”