CEDAR FALLS, Iowa --- Marv Diemer was a man on a mission --- right up to the day he died Tuesday at age 88 after a sudden illness.
Whether debating a bill on the floor of the Iowa Legislature, helping build a bike trail in Cedar Falls or lobbying the U.S. Postal Service for a stamp honoring Hall of Fame slugger Mickey Mantle of his beloved New York Yankees, Diemer held nothing back.
Not even his clothes on one occasion, recalls former Iowa House Speaker Don Avenson.
When a piece of legislation he backed was being gutted, Diemer stood up on his chair in the House chamber, took off his suit coat and threw it in the floor. “He said, ‘Here, take my coat too,’ “ Avenson recalled. Then Diemer stripped off his necktie, saying “Take this!” Then he took off a shoe and said, “Take this!”
“Then he waved a white handkerchief as a flag of surrender,” Avenson recalled. “I think everyone in the House chamber was getting a chuckle out of it at that point.”
But Diemer wasn’t on the losing end often, because of his zeal. Avenson, an Oelwein Democrat, recalled enlisting Diemer, a Republican, to round up bipartisan support for landmark legislation establishing the state Resource Enhancement and Protection, or REAP, program funding environmental and recreational projects around the state.
“Marv was a really good legislator, tenacious and represented his constituents well” in his 14 years in the House from 1978-92, said Avenson.
“Marv was an outstanding legislator, a great advocate for the University of Northern Iowa, and I think he had the best, firmest handshake in the House of Representatives,” Gov. Terry Branstad said. “He was a very positive guy, and in the areas of finance and accounting, was a significant contributor in the Legislature. He was a passionate proponent of recreational trails, and through that effort helped improve Iowans’ quality of life.”
Trails and nature were Diemer's passion. Longtime local transportation planner Rod Larsen recalled that Diemer personally met with property owners along the Cedar Valley Nature Trail, attempting to allay their concerns as the trail was built on an old rail line from Evansdale to Hiawatha.
Several local officials recalled that Diemer was instrumental in securing funding in the first recreational trail constructed in the now-burgeoning Cedar Valley trails system. Much it was built concurrent in the 1980s and early ‘90s with reconstruction of the metro highway system, coordinated then in Cedar Falls by Jim Krieg, now general manager of Cedar Falls Utilities.
Diemer “championed the Chain of Lakes concept,” Krieg said, in which a chain of trail-connected recreational lakes were created from dredging concurrent with highway construction. “And in the last 15 years (he) has spent hundreds of hours grooming the Rotary trail that is adjacent to Big Woods Lake” in northern Cedar Falls.
Cedar Falls Mayor Jon Crews recalled it was Diemer who approached him with a proposal to ask voters to approve a local option sales tax solely dedicated to street repairs, after previous measures for multiple purposes failed. Voters approved the tax in 1991.
Diemer was a devoted fan of UNI Panther athletics. In 2010 when the Panther men’s and women’s basketball teams each won the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, he arranged for the trophies to be displayed side by side in downtown Cedar Falls. “Although he wasn’t a UNI graduate he was a Panther at heart,” UNI Foundation President Bill Calhoun said.
Diemer was a member of the “Pinstripe Faithful” local Yankee fan club. In 2006 his dream came true when the U.S . Postal Service issued a stamp honoring Mantle, whose fantasy camp he attended in 1992. Diemer worked on the project five years. enlisting support from Mantle’s Yankee teammates Whitey Ford, John Blanchard, Clete Boyer, Bobby Richardson and Hank Bauer, in addition to former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and the vice president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Services for Diemer are pending at Richardson Funeral Home.