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Fred Schwengel Memorial Bridge

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Bridge dedication
The Fred Schwengel Memorial Bridge is a four-lane, steel girder bridge that carries Interstate 80 across the Mississippi River between Le Claire, Iowa, and Rapids City, Ill. The bridge was opened to traffic Oct. 27, 1966; Schwengel attended the grand opening celebration. The bridge was officially named in Schwengel’s honor in 1995, two years after his death.

Biography
Frederick Delbert Schwengel (May 28, 1907 - April 1, 1993) was born on a farm near Sheffield in Franklin County, Iowa, and attended rural schools in West Fork Township. He worked his way through high schools in Chapin and Sheffield, living away from home, because his father didn't believe in "frills, like education."

Schwendel family photo
A young Fred Schwengel top row, third from left, pictured with his family. He was the oldest child born to Gerhardt and Margaret (Stover) Schwengel, who immigrated to the U.S. from Germany at the turn of the century.

He went on to college and graduated from Northeast Missouri Teachers College (now Northeast Missouri State University) at Kirksville, Mo. in 1930, where he founded a fraternal organization. He took post-graduate work during summers at the University of Iowa in Iowa City from 1933-1935.

Schwengel was also a member of the Missouri National Guard from 1929-1936. He then served as an athletic coach and instructor of history and political science in public schools in Shelbina and Kirksville, Mo. from 1930-1937.

Reportedly because of the low teaching salary, in 1937 Schwengel quit teaching and moved to Davenport, Iowa, where he entered the insurance business. He was an agent of the American Mutual Life Insurance Company from 1938-1955.

Schwengel died of heart failure in Arlington Hospital in Arlington, Va., where he lived.

Political career
Schwengel started in politics as president of the Scott County and First District Republicans. He was elected to the Iowa House of Representatives in 1944, serving five consecutive terms, from 1945 to 1955. He also served as member of the Iowa Development Commission from 1949 to 1955.

Fred Schwengel - Photo courtesy of the Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of RepresentativesHe was elected as a Republican to the 84th and to four succeeding Congresses (Jan. 3, 1955-Jan. 3, 1965) as a U.S. Representative from southeastern Iowa. He was an unsuccessful candidate for re-election to the 89th Congress in 1964, but was elected to the 90th and to the two succeeding Congresses (Jan. 3, 1967-Jan. 3, 1973). Schwengel was an unsuccessful candidate for re-election to the 93rd Congress in 1972.

Other notable accomplishments
Schwengel was a pre-eminent historian of the United States Capitol. He founded the United States Capitol Historical Society in 1962, and continued to serve as its president until 1993. He also was a founder and president of the Republican Heritage Foundation, vice-chairman of the National Civil War Centennial Commission, and Joint Sessions of Congress for Lincoln Sesquicentennial.

He authored bills to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of Lincoln's birth, the 100th anniversary of the Civil war, and the 100th anniversary of Lincoln's first and second inaugurals.

In Schwengel's obituary published in the Des Moines Register April 3, 1993, U.S. Rep. Jim Leach, R-IA, is quoted saying, "There is literally no member that has ever served here who loved this Congress and history more than Fred Schwengel. He was guided, he noted, as a member, by three principles: One was to respond to his conscience. One was to represent his constituents. And, the third was never to do anything that reflected unfavorably on this body."

He was also active in the communities where he lived, giving freely of his time to the Community Chest, Red Cross, YMCA and Boy Scouts. He was the 1942 President of the Davenport Jaycees.

Although a devout religious man, Schwengel opposed prayer in public schools and called for a clear division between church and state. He wrote: "A religious experience to be acceptable to God and to be worthy of the name must be a voluntary response to God. The power of government, in whatever form it may take, must not be used in an attempt to force people to be religious." Schwengel received the first JM Dawson Award from the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty in 1986 for, among other things, helping to defeat a proposed constitutional amendment that would have guaranteed people the right to pray and practice their religions on public property, including public schools. His actions in this matter eventually lead to his defeat from Congress. The day the measure was defeated, Schwengel said, "I think we'd lower the quality of prayer if we let the state write it."

Rep. Schwengel was a member of the House Public Works Committee and helped create the Interstate Highway System, convincing President Eisenhower to support construction of the Interstate on a "pay-as-you-go" basis.

He also served on the House Administration Committee and Joint Committee on the Library. He also served on the District of Columbia Committee and a member of two commissions, the National Visitor Facilities Advisory Commission and Highway Beautification Commission.

Rep. Schwengel was an original member of the Highway Beautification Commission (1971-1973) when it was formed. The commission held several public hearings, conducted public opinion surveys and sponsored symposiums dealing with such subjects as the aesthetic considerations in the design of new and existing highways, landscaping and planning aspects of highway beautification, and possible need for regulation of on-premise signs.

Schwengel received the Freedom of Religion Award, Phi Sigma Epsilon God and Country Award and Triangle Award, and Veterans of Foreign Wars Citation.

The legislative and congressional papers of Representative Schwengel are housed in a collection at the University of Iowa Library.

References