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Garst, Warren
(December 4, 1850–October 5, 1924)

–19th governor of Iowa (1908-1909)—was born in Dayton, Ohio, the son of Michael and Maria Louisa (Morrison) Garst. He moved with his family first to Champaign, Illinois, and then to Boone, Iowa. He attended public schools in Boone and later worked as a brakeman for the Chicago and North Western Railroad. Garst spent a larger portion of his life as a merchant in Coon Rapids, Iowa, with his father and his brother Edward. The Garst family established the now legendary Garst Store in 1869. Warren later became one of the founding members of the Bank of Coon Rapids.

    First elected to the state senate in 1893, serving the district composed of Carroll, Sac, and Greene counties, Garst served in the 25th through the 31st General Assemblies. As chair of the Senate Committee on Appropria tions for five legislative sessions, Garst developed a reputation for a thorough understanding of appropriations and state resources. Garst was said to be able to see through complex business situations with ease and to be able to envision the state's future needs before the state senate was persuaded to spend money.

    At the Republican convention of 1906, Senator Garst was nominated for lieutenant governor on the ticket with Albert B. Cummins. On January 17, 1907, Garst was inaugurated into the office of lieutenant governor. Unlike his predecessors, Garst chose to preside over every senate meeting during his term. When Governor Cummins resigned in November 1908, Garst became Iowa's 19th governor. Bringing his previous knowledge to the job, Garst was lauded as governor for his shrewd intelligence, business methods, and continuity of purpose. He worked diligently to secure a stable economic future for the state and to protect the quality of life for Iowans, and he was an avid supporter of expanding and beautifying the state capitol grounds as a destination and home place for all Iowans, not just legislators.

    The 1908 election for governor involved primaries for the first time. Garst, the only progressive on the Republican ticket, narrowly lost the nomination to State Auditor Beryl F. Carroll. Two years later Garst again lost to Carroll in another close contest for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

    In 1911 the Iowa State Teachers Association (ISTA) drafted Garst to head the Iowa Better Schools Commission to lay the groundwork for better school administration. In that capacity, he also chaired the legislative committee of the ISTA. In 1913 Governor George Clarke nominated him as Iowa's first industrial commissioner. In that position, Garst was charged with protecting state workers in cases regarding the new workers' compensation laws for industrial accidents. Arguing that the state should provide funding to protect workers injured on the job, Garst quickly renewed his stature as a voice in Des Moines for all of the people of Iowa.

    Even after Garst left public office to return to Coon Rapids, he remained active within his community. He firmly believed that what was good for Coon Rapids was good for Iowa, and what was good for Iowa was good for the nation.

    Garst was first married to Elizabeth Johnson, who died in 1881. They had one daughter, Ada Belle. He married Clara Clark Lee in 1889. They had two children, Louise and Warren. Garst died at age 73 in Des Moines.
Sources on Garst include Johnson Brigham, Iowa: Its History and Its Foremost Citizens (1918); William Tell Garst, Our Garst Family in Iowa (1950); Michael Kramme, Governors of Iowa (2006); Leland L. Sage, A History of Iowa (1974); Ora Williams, "Tribute to Warren Garst," Annals of Iowa 15 (1927), 570–76; and The Encyclopedia of Iowa: A Volume of the Encyclopedia of the United States (1995).
Contributor: Kristy J. Medanic