After 28 years, Tama Co. Supervisor Larry Vest retires

Reflects on the road traveled, the path ahead

Larry Vest – now a retired Tama Co. Supervisor – pictured behind his desk on Wednesday, Dec. 28 at the Tama County Administration Building in Toledo ahead of his retirement party after 28 years of service to the county. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

After winning seven consecutive elections to the office of District 1 Tama Co. Supervisor – one of the longest county supervisor tenures in Iowa history – Larry Vest made the decision in early 2022 to forgo another run and retire.

And last Wednesday, with his wife Anna by his side, he celebrated that decision during a retirement party held in his honor at the Tama Co. Administration Building in Toledo.

“I’m feeling good,” Vest, 80, said while seated in his supervisor’s chair, his nameplate visible on the desk in front of him and Anna seated to his right. “I made the decision and I’m going to live with it. And welcome in the new guy [Supervisor-elect Curt Hilmer]. I’ve got the opportunity to swear him into office. That’s going to be good.”

Vest – a Republican and retired farmer – officially reached his 28th year this past December 2 after first winning election in 1994 but finding himself sworn in early due to the death of his predecessor, Ferd Kvidera.

While he and Anna now live in the town of Traer, up until eight years ago they were rural Grant Township residents near Dinsdale.

Larry Vest, seated, pictured with four current and former Tama County Supervisors during his retirement party from the District 1 Supervisor seat – an office he held for 28 years – on Wednesday, Dec. 28 in Toledo. Supervisors pictured with Vest include (l-r) current District 2 Supervisor Bill Faircloth, current District 3 Supervisor Dan Anderson, former supervisor Keith Sash, and former supervisor Kendall Jordan. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

Following redistricting last year, Grant Township was moved from District 1 to District 2 — a change that ultimately led to Vest’s decision to retire, he said. The new District 1 now encompasses the entire eastern swath of the county from Buckingham down to Chelsea, by far the largest of the three districts geographically.

As Vest reflected on his time in office last Wednesday, his reason for remaining so long in the seat both figuratively and literally quickly came into focus – he loves the work.

“The people I worked with,” Vest replied when asked what he enjoyed the most about his tenure. “And for the most part, the constituents were fantastic to work with. Everyone coming to you had an issue, and it was really important to them. You had to take it serious.”

The seed to run for county supervisor was first sown in Vest back when he was a senior at Dinsdale High School – one of only 16 students in his class – during the annual Government Day.

“At that time, you kind of threw your hat in the ring to run for a certain office and then you spent the day in that office,” Vest explained. “And mine was the supervisors’ office. I kind of got interested in the whole thing.”

Congratulations, Larry! A cake made in outgoing Tama Co. supervisor Larry Vest’s honor as part of his retirement party on Dec. 28 in Toledo. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

But it would take more than three decades – alongside a decision in 1985 to stop dairy farming – before Vest would pick up nomination papers to run for county office in 1994 at the age of 52.

In the years since, Vest has seemingly not regretted that decision despite all the changes he’s had to adjust to as supervisor including the arrival of commercial wind energy in the county – a happenstance that has occupied the board of supervisors’ time for much of the past year due to the formation of the coalition Tama County Against Turbines which continues to seek a wind energy moratorium.

When asked to specifically reflect on how his district has changed over the years, Vest replied, “Oh, you know, under the Big Dome everything changes and that trickles down. And then of course who would have thought 28 years ago, we’d be looking at wind turbines and that has caused some controversy it seems. Things have changed.”

But as hot a topic as wind energy has been this past year, some of the most challenging moments in his career have involved not wind but Iowa’s mental health system, Vest said.

“The transition for mental health [has been a challenge], for sure. Because [the state legislature] made so many changes and they never ever let one of them take effect long enough to know if it was a success.”

Larry Vest – now a retired Tama Co. Supervisor – smiles while being presented with a ‘1st Place medal’ by Tama Co. Zoning Director Todd Apfel, left, during his retirement party held on Dec. 28 in Toledo. Vest served 28 years as District 1 Supervisor, winning seven consecutive elections. His decision to retire ultimately came down to the results of redistricting. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

Vest has undergone three separate wholesale changes to the mental health delivery system since first being elected, he said.

During his early years in office, county boards of supervisors were required to make decisions about their constituents’ mental health — decisions Vest feels they did not have “any business doing.”

“Three board of supervisors sat in a room, listened to the case manager, and made a decision on what should be done with some individual that had needs for services. We [had] no business doing that. … We made the decisions. [Case workers] would make a suggestion and then we’d say yes or no. … It shouldn’t have been that way [but] that was the way it was done.”

While those days are long gone, Vest said he’s not really convinced the current system has been much more successful for the most vulnerable people.

In terms of county projects Vest categorizes as some of his best work, the development in the early 2000s of the 28E agreement between the local municipal governments and the county government to establish the Tama County Economic Development office and commission ranks high on that list.

Other notable projects that Vest had a hand in through the years were the reconstituting of the county zoning ordinances and a statewide committee that changed the distribution formula for the state road use tax fund from a needs-based system to a more equitable method that brought more funding to counties throughout the state.

When asked if he ever considered a run for higher office, Vest said no.

“Locally you can make a difference. In [the Iowa legislature], you’re just part of the crowd.”

He was, however, approached to run for higher office a couple of times but “turned them down so fast, they never asked me again.”

In the days and months ahead, Vest said he may attend an occasional board of supervisors’ meeting as a member of the public but he wants to be mindful and “not be in the way.”

For her part, Anna Vest said she hopes her husband can just find a hobby.

“We’re going to find out if we’re compatible,” Vest responded to his wife with a laugh.

One thing that will not change is Vest’s regular attendance at the early morning gas station visits in Traer where he has connected for years over coffee with a set of retired Tama Co. residents.

“[They meet] once a day, every day,” Vest said of the coffee meet-ups. “I was there this morning.”

When asked to provide a parting set of words for the people of Tama County, Vest replied: “We’re going to have three very qualified people here [supervisors Curt Hilmer, Bill Faircloth, and Dan Anderson]. Curt comes with a lot of experience, too. I just wish them the best of everything. I wouldn’t have left if it hadn’t been for the redistricting.”