Iowa’s four living governors gathered in the State Historical Building Monday night to view the exhibit that chronicles their terms in office along with the 39 other Iowans who’ve been the state’s governor.
The exhibit includes hundreds of pictures, keep-sakes and even some video histories. There’s a ping pong paddle in former Governor Robert Ray’s section of the exhibit. “We had a ping pong table in the hallway behind the lower office and when we’d work at night and everybody’d get kind of tense or tired, we’d go out there and play a round of ping pong,” Ray says. “It loosened everybody up, relaxed people and everybody had a good time. Actually, people became pretty good ping pong players.”
There are a couple of cookbooks in Ray’s display, too, and he says those are significant symbols of what his wife, Billie, did to create the governor’s mansion — Terrace Hill. “She not only raised the money, but she got the architect, the interior decorator, the painter, the laborers to do the work for free. She literally saved that beautiful mansion,” Ray says. “We were able to put the elevator in and develop the third floor so the governor and his family would have some privacy, so I look at (those cookbooks which were fundraisers for the mansion’s restoration) and I think how hard she worked.”
Right next to Ray’s section of the exhibit, former Governor Robert Fulton is pictured with a crew cut in his official 1969 photo. “I’d forgotten the hair was so short,” Fulton says. Fulton’s governorship was the state’s shortest, too. It lasted just 16 days. Governor Harold Hughes handed the reigns of state government over to Fulton on January 1st of 1969 so Hughes could be sworn as a United States Senator, gaining valuable seniority status in the process. Robert Ray was then inaugated as governor on January 16th, 1969.
Iowa’s longest-serving governor, Terry Branstad, was on hand to see his part of the exhibit. “You know, I have a lot of wonderful memories about serving 16 years as governor, going to every county every year,” Branstad says. “It got me to all parts of Iowa to go to a lot of wonderful places and see a lot of wonderful people.”
Iowa’s current Governor, Tom Vilsack, donated the shoes he wore in two of the four marathons he ran in last year for the exhibit. Vilsack’s old Blackberry — an electronic device that allows you to read and respond to email — is part of the exhibit, too. Vilsack acknowledges the irony since he once publicly declared that he did not know how to send or delete email. Vilsack carries the newest Blackberry model in his suit-coat pocket. “I am so skilled at this you wouldn’t believe,” Vilsack told a reporter as he pulled out his newest Blackberry. “You’ve got to be able to make fun of yourself,” he added.