The University of Iowa LibrariesThe Biographical Dictionary of Iowa: Jacket Art - Agriculture - Cresco, Iowa by Richard Haines ca 1934 -  Photo by Scott Christopher courtesy of Gregg Narber


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Hoegh, Leo A.
(March 30, 1908–July 15, 2000)

–lawyer, state representative, Iowa governor, and federal civil defense administrator—was born on a 160-acre farm in Audubon County, Iowa. His father, William Hoegh, was a farmer and president of the farmer Savings Bank in Elk Horn, Iowa. The grandson of Danish immigrants, Leo Hoeghgrew up in a strict Danish Lutheran home and did not learn English until he was six years old. He possessed a strong work ethic, and at a young age he set up a shoeshine stand in Elk Horn, where he charged 5 cents for a normal shine, and 10 cents if the shoes were caked with manure.

    In 1929 Hoeghgraduated from the State University of Iowa, where he had been captain of the water polo team, president of Pi Kappa Alpha, and a member of All for Iowa (AFI), which later became the national honor society Omicron Delta Kappa. In 1932 he graduated from the State University of Iowa College of Law.

    In 1932, during the trying days of the Great Depression, Hoeghestablished a law practice in Chariton, Iowa. He quickly earned a reputation as a civic leader and made a name for himself with local farm families. Because of abysmal prices for agricultural products, Iowa farm families struggled to keep their farms solvent. Many of Hoegh's first clients were local farmer seeking legal assistance to prevent foreclosures and reduce mortgage payments. Hoeghlater recalled that although he received little cash payment for his services, he "saved quite a few farms and made quite a few friends."

    Hoeghmarried Mary Louise Foster in 1936, and they had two daughters, Kristin and Janice.

    Hoeghfirst sought public office in 1936, when he campaigned as a Republican to represent Lucas County in the Iowa General Assembly. He was twice reelected, but resigned in 1942 after the United States entered World War II. During the war, he served in the 104th "Timberwolf" Infantry Division and attained the rank of lieutenant colonel. He also received several decorations, including the Bronze Star, Croix de Guerre, and Legion of Honor. In 1946 Hoeghcoauthored a book about the division with Howard Doyle: Timberwolf Tracks: The History of the 104th Infantry Division.

    Following the war, Hoeghreturned to Chariton and pursued a political career. He campaigned vigorously for Republican candidates, including Dwight Eisenhower. In February 1953 Iowa governor William Beardsley appointed Hoeghas Iowa's attorney general. In 1954 Hoeghran for governor and defeated Democrat Clyde Herring by just 25,000 votes.

    In his one term as governor (1955-1957), Hoeghimplemented an extensive program to improve education, mental health services, highway safety, and industrial development. He favored the introduction of speed limits on Iowa's roads and unions in manufacturing centers. His plan required a budget of $146 million, the largest in Iowa's history. Hoeghurged legislators to fund his programs by raising taxes on cigarettes, alcohol, and gasoline, and by increasing capital gains taxes and sales taxes. These policies earned him much praise from educators and social activists, but also the nickname "High-tax Hoegh" from fiscal conservatives. Despite his successes, many Iowans opposed the tax increases, and Hoeghfailed to win reelection in 1956.

    In 1957 President Eisenhower appointed Hoeghas a member of the National Security Council and director of the Federal Civil Defense Administration, a cabinet-level position. As director, Hoeghdeveloped national strategies to protect Americans and their resources in case of nuclear war. This included the evacuation of federal officials from Washington, D.C., to a safe area where they could continue to run the country.

    In 1958, following the launch of Sputnik and heightened fears of Soviet attack, Hoeghoversaw the creation of the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization. He continued as director until 1961. Hoeghbecame a vocal proponent of family fallout shelters in private homes. He often appeared on radio and television programs and in several films that encouraged families to construct inexpensive and basic shelters in their own basements. To illustrate his point and to encourage families to take action, Hoeghclaimed to have built an adequate shelter for his family for just $212.

    In 1964 Hoeghmoved to Chipita Park, Colorado, where he established a law practice. He retired in 1975 to Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he died at the age of 92.
Sources The Leo A. Hoegh Papers (1929– 1978), are held in Special Collections, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City. See also "Against the Ant Hills," Time, 10/22/1956, 22– 26; an obituary in the Colorado Springs, 7/20/ 2000; Leo Hoegh and Howard Doyle, Timber-wolf Tracks: The History of the 104th Infantry Division (1946); and "The Eisenhower Ten," at, accessed 5/14/2006.
Contributor: Jenny Barker Devine