Above: Senator George McGovern, June 30, 1972
Photographer = Warren K. Leffler
Image Source = Library of Congress
Reproduction Number = LC-U9- 26137-21
GEORGE STANLEY MCGOVERN (JULY 19, 1922-OCTOBER 21, 2012)
United States Senator and Statesman
ELEANOR STEGEBERG MCGOVERN (NOVEMBER 25, 1921-JANUARY 25, 2007)
George McGovern (1922-2012) was born in Avon, South Dakota. His mother was Frances Maclean McGovern. His father was the Reverend Joseph C. McGovern, a minister of the Wesleyan Methodist Church. The family upbringing was strict (even no movies) and financially strapped during the Great Depression. Young George rebelled against his struct upbringing by watching movies anyway. More importantly, he developed a lifelong empathy for the underpaid working people and the poor more broadly speaking.
Eleanor Stegeberg (1921-2007) was born at Woonsocket, South Dakota. She and her twin sister Ila grew up during the Great Depression also. The death of their mother when they were twelve years old forced greater responsibilities upon them at that young age.
Both saints graduated from high school in 1940–George from Mitchell, South Dakota, and Eleanor from Woonsocket. Both of them matriculated at Dakota Wesleyan University, Mitchell, South Dakota, in Fall 1940. There they met and fell in love. Eleanor had to leave school after one year for financial reasons. So she went to work as a legal secretary at Mitchell. George remained at Dakota Wesleyan until he joined the military, flying thirty-five combat missions as a B-24 bomber pilot in Europe and earning the Distinguished Flying Cross. Then he returned to Dakota Wesleyan, completing his undergraduate degree. He had already married Eleanor on October 31, 1943 They raised five children.
George thought that maybe he should be a minister, so he, influenced more by the Social Gospel than by his father’s theology, pursued that track in The Methodist Church (1939-1968), a forerunner of The United Methodist Church. He attended Garrett Theological Seminary, Evanston, Illinois, for a year and served as a student supply minister at Diamond Lake Methodist Church, Mundelein, Illinois, in 1946-1947. The experience convinced George that his destiny was not as a minister. So he transferred to Northwestern University and started graduate studies in history instead. In 1950 George joined the faculty of Dakota Wesleyan University.
George might have had tenure and a long career as a university professor had he not chosen politics instead. In 1948 he, raised a Republican, volunteered for the campaign of Henry A. Wallace. George became disenchanted with many of the people around the former Secretary of Agriculture, Vice President, and Secretary of Commerce, though. Four years later George worked on behalf of Adlai Stevenson‘s Presidential campaign. In 1955 George left his faculty post to work full-time in South Dakota Democratic Party politics. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives (1957-1961). He, defeated in a bid for the U.S. Senate in 1960, became the first Director of the Food and Peace Program and a Special Assistant to the President in 1961. Thus George oversaw the distribution of much food to hungry people in developing nations. He served as a U.S. Senator (1963-1981), losing his bid for a fourth term.
George was a dedicated public servant. In Congress he, advised by Eleanor, took special interest in food and nutrition programs. He also worked on peace and war issues. George’s opposition to the Vietnam War pertained to the facts of that conflict, not war itself; he was not a pacifist. Such opposition caused many jingoists to question his patriotism and to vote for President Richard Nixon instead in 1972, but at least the Senator from South Dakota was an honest man. Presidents Gerald Ford (in 1976) and Jimmy Carter (in 1978) appointed him a delegate to the United Nations. From 1991 to 1998 George served as President of the Middle East Policy Council. In 1998 President Bill Clinton appointed him the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture. Clinton awarded the former Senator the Presidential Medal of Freedom in August 2000.
After the Clinton Administration ended the good works continued. The World Food Programme appointed George the United Nations Global Ambassador on World Hunger in 2001. Two years later he began to work with former Senator and 1996 Republican Presidential Nominee Robert J. “Bob” Dole on the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program. They helped many of the world’s poorest children, especially girls and young women, gain access to good food. The two former Senators shared the World Food Prize in 2008 for this accomplishment. And George spoke out against the Second Iraq War, for many of the same reasons he had opposed the Vietnam War.
George and Eleanor worked together and separately on issues which affected people. The Senator had food and world peace on his mind. Eleanor focused on family issues, such as women’s roles and child development, for a while. She served on various boards, including those of the Psychiatric Institute Foundation and the Child Study Association. In 1994 their daughter Terry died; alcoholism had contributed to her demise. So both of them worked on raising funds for research into alcoholism.
Eleanor died at Mitchell, South Dakota, on January 25, 2007.
George died at Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on October 21, 2012. Politicians and public figures of various stripes offered their appreciation and admiration for him. On the Cable News Network (CNN) website I found positive comments from President Barack Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden, former President Bill Clinton, Senator (as I write this, Secretary of State) John Kerry, former Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson, and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Gingrich, who had little in common politically with George McGovern, described him as:
Just a great guy.
Last October, shortly after the former Senator’s death, I clipped a Cal Thomas column–a tribute to his good friend and debating partner, George McGovern. The former Senator, Thomas wrote, was a gentleman and
…a fellow American, a patriot and an example
practiced “family values” better than some conservatives who merely talk about them
understood war better than some conservatives who have never fought in one
believed America should only put American lives at risk when supreme national interests and security are at stake and diplomacy has completely failed.
This position, Thomas wrote, was
Honorable and principled.
George and Eleanor McGovern left their planet better than they found it. The impact of their actions was–and is–domestic and international. They did all this for the glory of God and the benefit of others. Thus I honor them as saints gladly.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
JUNE 24, 2013 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF THE NATIVITY OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST
O God, your Son came among us to serve and not to be served,
and to give his life for the life of the world.
Lead us by his love to serve all those
to whom the world offers no comfort and little help.
Through us give hope to the hopeless,
love to the unloved,
peace to the troubled,
and rest to the weary,
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
—Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60
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