Leo Elthon: The Iowa teacher elected Governor of Iowa

Leo_ElthonThroughout history, there are many instances where talented teachers have gone on to successful careers in politics. One such example is Leo Elthon, an Iowa educator who became the 32nd governor of his state.

Leo Elthon was born on June 9, 1898, in Fertile, Iowa. As a child, he attended schools in Fertile. He graduated from Fertile High School. Following his graduation in 1917, Leo enrolled first at Augsburg Seminary in Minneapolis, then at Iowa State Teacher’s College in Cedar Falls, and finally at Hamilton College of Commerce in Mason City, Iowa.

After his college graduation, Leo taught manual training and athletics for two years at Clear Lake. In 1920, he accepted a position as principal at Fertile High School. Two years later, he married his sweetheart Synneva Hjelmeland. The couple established a farm and enlarged their family to include six children, two sons and four daughters. During this time, Leo became active in local civic affairs, serving as the president of the local school board and the director of the Fertile Township Farm Bureau.

In 1932, this talented educator was elected to the Iowa Senate on the Republican ticket. He served more than twenty years there until he was elected the lieutenant governor of Iowa in 1953. Upon the unexpected death of Governor William S. Beardsley due to a car accident on November 21, 1954, Leo was sworn in as governor of his state and served in that capacity until January 13, 1955.

During his tenure in politics, this dedicated educator campaigned for additional state school aid, a revision of school reorganization laws, enhanced highway safety, and increased unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation.

This chalkboard champion suffered a heart attack in 1964 which left him in poor health. He passed away on April 16, 1967, and is interred at Brush Point Cemetery in Fertile, Iowa.