Former Allamakee County Republican Central Committee Chairperson Dave Koopman remembers his interactions with George H.W. Bush

Mary and David Koopman ... Submitted photo.

Christmas greetings from 30 years ago ... David Koopman of Postville, former chairperson of the Allamakee County Republican Central Committee, received this Christmas card from the George H.W. Bush family following his interaction during a campaign visit the then-vice president and soon-after 41st President of the United States made in Waukon in 1987 and his ensuing election. Pictured above is the front of the Christmas card, with the interior of the card featuring a series of family photos of all the Bush children and their families and the back of the card featuring a picture of the Bush’s dog, Millie. Koopman has saved the card, along with a handwritten personal thank you note received from George H.W. Bush and a copy of the program from President Bush’s 1989 inauguration ceremony he was invited to. Submitted image.

by Lissa Blake

When Postville’s Dave Koopman heard the news that George H.W. Bush had passed away, he reflected on his own personal memories of the man who would come to be the 41st President of the United States.

Koopman, a retired school guidance counselor and former chair of the Allamakee County Republican Central Committee, recounted events in late 1987 through 1989 where he had personal contact with “Bush 41,” as he was sometimes called, to differentiate him from his son, George W. Bush, the nation’s 43rd president.

“In 1987, there were several Republicans besides Bush who wanted to be president,” remembered Koopman.

Allamakee County hosted an event for Jack Kemp and Pete du Pont in July of 1987, and the Central Committee decided to invite the elder Bush, who was serving as Vice President to Ronald Reagan at the time.

“I remember the first time I met Bush was in 1980 in West Union. He was running against Reagan. We just had a half a minute conversation and I shook his hand,” said Koopman.

Koopman had been chairman of the Allamakee County Republicans for a number of years. Other members of that committee at the time included Lois Simmonds, Ollie Emerson and his wife, Chris, Ozzie Quandahl, Bev Shafer, Chris Lauerman and more.

“I remember the Committee contacted Representative Tom Tauke of Dubuque and asked if he could help reach out to the vice president,” said Koopman.

The vice president’s office was agreeable, and the committee was soon after notified that Bush was available November 6 of that year. “I remember the Winneshiek County Republicans heard about it and asked if the vice president was going to be here, if he could possibly present at Luther College... I know he spent some time on the campus earlier in the day,” said Koopman.

Koopman said after the plan started forming, there was some conversation about what the Central Committee could charge for a seat at the prime rib dinner. “There was some debate about what to charge. We ended up charging $12.50 a plate. Some said we could charge more than that to have supper with a vice president,” he said.

“But Ollie Emerson said, ‘No, then we’d only get 200 people there. If we have a decent price, we’ll have a crowd’,” remembered Koopman.

It turned out that Emerson was right, as the venue, the former Drawing Board location where Waukon Veterinary Service is currently located on Rossville Road in Waukon, was packed with 400 people.

“You had to get in there two hours ahead of time. One room couldn’t really see the platform where the speakers were, but after his speech was done, the vice president made sure he walked down and shook hands with the people who couldn’t see,” said Koopman. “He was very cordial. I’m sure he drove the Secret Service guys crazy.”

Koopman credited Quandahl and Emerson for making sure the guests were treated to a nice meal. “It was a beef prime rib dinner. Those suckers covered the plate,” said Koopman.

Koopman said the event was a hit, and he was pleasantly surprised when he received a handwritten thank- you note from Bush in the mail a week or so later. It read as follows:

“Dear David, Thanks so very much for last night’s great dinner. What a tremendous turnout. I left all encouraged. If only we can get ‘em all to the caucuses for us. Many my thanks, George Bush.”

Koopman remembered that although candidate Pat Robertson was very popular in Allamakee County at the time, his supporters were relatively new to political procedures.

“The Bush supporters realized it was important at the caucus to get delegates to the county convention and from there to the state convention. Consequently, the Bush contingent was more aware of how to get delegates at each level, so they would have supporters at the national convention,” said Koopman. “It was a very hectic election year. It was a lot of fun, but it also was a lot of work.”

Koopman said he and his fellow Bush supporters were thrilled when Bush was elected in November of 1988. He was pleasantly surprised when he was personally invited to be among five educators from Iowa to attend Bush’s inauguration in Washington.

“He wanted five educators from each state. I was one of them he picked from Iowa,” he said.

Koopman and his wife, Mary, accepted Bush’s invitation to go to Washington,D.C. for the inauguration. “I remember we got there a day later than planned. The weather was not particularly nice, as it was rather cold and windy. We were out on the ground in the snow,” he said.

“We were at least two football fields away from the podium, so we had to have binoculars… But at least we were there,” he said.

Koopman said he remembers visiting with a couple from Idaho. “They knew where Iowa was and we know where Idaho was,” he quipped.

In the cold and nasty weather, the Koopmans watched a little bit of the parade and later attended one of the inaugural balls. “I remember seeing one of the president’s boys, either Neil or Marvin, there,” he said. “Overall, the trip was very interesting. It was an honor to be asked and fun to be there.”

The following December, the Koopmans received the Bush’s family Christmas card, complete with pictures of the entire Bush family.

Koopman said he first supported Bush’s campaign in 1980 and again in 1988. “As a UN Ambassador, envoy to China and CIA director, he was obviously qualified. Reagan got elected in 1980, so Bush had to wait his turn, so to speak,” said Koopman.

Looking back on his presidency, Koopman said he feels Bush 41 did some “fantastic things as far as the world dynamics go.”

“The (Berlin) Wall came down. If he had to go to war, he’d say, ‘Okay, we’ve accomplished it (as in the case of Kuwait), now we’re done,” he said. “On the domestic side, it didn’t go as smooth for him. And he had some people problems, with Noriega and Panama.”

But all in all, Koopman feels like “41” was a good man to back. “At the time I was working in his realm of contacts, I just thought he was the most qualified candidate. He was very pleasant and very appreciative,” concluded Koopman.

In addition to his career in education in Postville, Koopman is a former Postville City Council member and taught religion at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church in Postville. He and his wife, Mary, have three children: Anne Koopman of Postville, whose husband, Mike Erickson, is the Director of Faith Formation at St. Patrick Parish in Waukon, Kathy Koopman Marovets of Cedar Rapids and Susan Cioeta of Philadelphia, PA.

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