WASECA — Waseca farmer Rod Searle, a state lawmaker who served as Speaker overseeing an evenly split House of Representatives, died Sunday at age 93.
Searle, born in urban New Jersey, moved with his wife Jane to rural Waseca in 1947 and — despite lacking any knowledge of agriculture — began farming 280 acres of run-down land.
"He was a city boy, but he grew into a great farmer and a great conservationist," said Peter Madel of Waseca, Searle's longtime friend.
Searle died at his farm, where he had been receiving hospice care, with his wife Ruth and his daughter Linda at his side.
He was elected to the Minnesota House in 1956, and spent 24 years as a legislator. In 1979 he was selected by an evenly-divided body to be Speaker of the House.
"He was one of the giants in the Legislature for years," said Mark Piepho of Mankato, who was a freshman legislator when Searle served as speaker. "When he was speaker he did a good job. He had people's interests in heart."
Madel served as Searle's campaign manager, a job he says wasn't too hard.
"He usually didn't have an opponent and if he did he'd get in the 70s (percent vote)," Madel said.
"He was a charming and highly principled human being. He was unflappable — when he was speaker that held him in good stead."
In a book he wrote, Searle said of his service as speaker: "Out of necessity, and challenged by the legislative concerns of the times, raw politics was minimized, and a system of balance, cooperation and mutual respect produced workable solutions to the problems that confronted us."
Searle got his farming knowledge from the University of Minnesota Experiment Station in Waseca, neighbors and extension agents.
While in the Legislature, Searle transferred his credits earned at Rutgers and attended classes part-time at what is now Minnesota State University, obtaining his BA in 1960. Madel said that as a prominent lawmaker, Searle had been invited to give the commencement address at MSU.
"He told the students he hoped to be sitting out where they were next year when he graduated. The (MSU) president didn't even know he was a student at the time."
Searle retired from the Legislature after one term as Speaker to give more attention to a multitude of volunteer efforts he was involved in, including in education, agriculture and the environment.
Later in life, Searle turned away from the Republican party he had long served, saying: "My party has abandoned me."
In 2010 Searle was among a group of Republican former lawmakers who endorsed Independence Party candidate for governor Tom Horner, rather than the Republican-endorsed candidate, Tom Emmer. The state Republican party took action against those in the group, preventing them from serving as delegates to the state or national party conventions for two years.
Searle’s first wife, Jane, was a librarian and volunteer who assisted children with reading disabilities. She died in 2000. They had two sons and a daughter, who survive him.
Searle married Ruth Bartlett in 2001.
Searle's funeral is Friday in Owatonna. Parker Kohl & McRaith Funeral Home in Waseca is handling arrangements.