The most interesting man in Grundy County

John Conrad stands next to his barn quilt outside of his home just west of Conrad. The longtime Republican staffer and lobbyist, whose family settled the community in the 1850s, is now working with the World Food Prize in Des Moines. (Robert Maharry/The Grundy Register photo) 

Longtime GOP staffer reflects on travels, politics and small town roots


For two cities in the same country, Conrad, Iowa, and Washington, D.C., could hardly be more different, but somehow, some way, retired Republican staffer and lobbyist John Conrad III manages to fit in like a glove in both places. On Sunday morning, he stops into Casey’s for coffee with old friends—a weekly routine when he’s in town—but before long, he’ll be off again, first to Des Moines, then New York City and Washington before the end of the year. As he attempted to sort out social security paperwork, Conrad sat down with The Grundy Register at the house he and his grandparents have both called home to share tales from a career on the go and the lifelong bond that he’s formed with his former boss, U.S. Senator Charles Grassley.


A political life

Conrad’s roots in his hometown go back farther than anyone else currently living here: as you may have guessed, his great-great-grandfather, also named John Conrad, first settled in the community by way of Indiana in 1853, and it still bears his moniker today. The eldest Mr. Conrad, a Democrat, served as the first Grundy County Assessor, and that political interest carried through generations of family lineage. But no one felt it quite as strongly as the third John Conrad, who first traveled to Des Moines as a teenager in the mid 1960’s for political events and instantly found himself hooked.


“I kind of enjoyed the big dinners and the speakers coming in—you know, Ronald Reagan and everybody,” he said. “That really sparked an interest in everything.”


Conrad credits Grundy County Republicans like the late Gene Myers and former Congressman T. Cooper Evans with serving as mentors and inspiring him to study history at Iowa State University. Before he had even graduated, he was already working on the unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign of David Stanley, a state senator from Muscatine who narrowly lost to Democratic congressman John Culver in 1974.



Long term, however, the experience turned out to be a huge win for Conrad: he familiarized himself with the staff of revered former GOP Governor Robert Ray and secured a full-time job with the Iowa American Revolution Bicentennial Commission. From there, he never looked back, taking one of the first ever partisan staffer positions with the state senate and leveraging that into an opportunity to work for U.S. Senator Roger Jepsen from 1979 until 1985, when upstart Democratic representative Tom Harkin defeated the one-term incumbent. Four decades later, Conrad’s fascination with the Capitol hasn’t waned.


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