With the bang of the gavel, Sen. Wally Horn (’58, ’62) began his 43rd consecutive session in the Iowa Legislature this January, officially making him the state’s longest-serving legislator.
Horn, who has served his district as a state senator for more than 30 years, got a taste of the public life at a young age. When he was a child, his father successfully ran for county sheriff. This familiarized Horn with elections and how they worked, opening up the possibility of public office.
In 1952, he enrolled at Truman on the recommendation of a high school coach. At Truman, Horn was an All-American college student. He played basketball, joined Phi Sigma Epsilon fraternity and was on track to graduate with a degree in teaching.
“Some of the most memorable times were playing basketball, fraternity life and meeting people who would become lifelong friends,” he said.
That all changed when Horn suddenly came down with appendicitis, which forced him to drop out of that semester’s classes. While recovering, he was drafted into the Army. Horn served in the Bloody Red One tank battalion, which was responsible for patrolling the Germany-Czechoslovakian border. Upon completion of his service in 1955, he returned to the University to finish his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education.
After graduating Horn had a long career in education. He taught and coached in three school districts in Iowa, where he was very involved in his local teachers organizations. In 1972, while serving as president of one of these organizations, a reapportionment, or redefining of districts, in the Iowa Legislature yielded an open seat in the House of Representatives. Because of his strong commitment to bettering education, Horn decided to run for the seat.
“I thought I could do more good for education in the legislature,” he said.
Horn won the election, beginning his decade as a representative and 33 years as a senator.
Serving in the legislature, he quickly found the lessons he learned while teaching helped prepare him for the job. He learned having goals, setting objectives, planning and always being mindful of the budget were all applicable to public policy. Most importantly, studying education taught him how to learn.
“Learning how to learn is a skill I obtained in college and continue to use today,” he said.
It is clear that Horn’s passion for public service has been passed down to his students. Many of his former pupils have run for office or have become public servants. While he is proud of his legacy, he always leaves his students with the same advice.
“Be prepared to have no time to yourself and not make much money, but love every minute of it,” Horn said. “Be prepared to give more than you receive.”
Horn is considering retirement at the completion of his tenth term in 2017, at age 85. After 40 years he still considers each day a privilege.
“Helping others is what I love to do,” he said. “I have not really worked a day in my life because of how much I enjoy what I do.”