Longtime labor, Democratic activist Norm Sterzenbach dies
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James Q. Lynch
Hours after being honored by the Iowa Democratic Party’s Thursday night, longtime labor and Democratic activist Norm Sterzenbach of Cedar Rapids died.
Sterzenbach was presented with the party’s Outstanding Supporter Award at the annual Hall of Fame event in Des Moines.
“He went to the hotel very happy after the Hall of Fame and went to sleep and never woke up,” according to his son, Norm.
Sterzenbach, 71, worked for many years at Rockwell Collins and was involved in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. For a number of years, he was the state political director and lobbyist for IBEW at the Iowa Capitol during legislative sessions.
“Outstanding supporter” sums up Sterzenbach’s contributions, said Nate Willems of Mount Vernon, who worked with him on party functions and campaigns.
“There was no job too big or too small for Norm,” Willems said. “He was such a knowledgeable, experienced, accomplished person, but he was willing to do the volunteer tasks that weren’t always fun.”
Sandy Opstvedt, one of Iowa’s Democratic National Committee members and who lobbied at the Legislature with Sterzenbach, called him “everybody’s mentor” because of his willingness to train union and party activists.
“He was a man of very few words,” Opstvedt said, “but he was the optimal communicator because he took in everything. So when he spoke, you’d better listen.”
“He was a man of deeds who showed us the meaning of dedication,” the Iowa Democratic Party said in a statement Friday. “Norm’s influence will be felt in our community for years to come.”
Those who knew Sterzenbach said the award was long overdue. However, that didn’t surprise Linn County Democratic Party Chairman Brett Nilles, who attended the Hall of Fame event.
“He’s one of those guys never wanted to be in the limelight, but always wanted to make sure we’re doing the right thing,” Nilles said. “Knowing Norm for years, I would say that when he stood up there on the podium, I’ve never seen him to appear more happy and proud of all the things he’s done. He received the recognition he deserved.”
In 2013, the Linn County Democratic Party honored Sterzenbach, who was its second vice chairman for several years.
“He was always willing to step up and do whatever it took to elect who he felt and we felt were the best people for the job and would do the best for the community … to make Cedar Rapids and Iowa a better place,” Nilles said.
Rick Moyle, executive director of the Hawkeye Labor Council said Sterzenbach “dedicated his life to helping working families and getting working family friendly politician elected.”
“The world is a better place for having Norm Sterzenbach in it,” he said.
Much of his work was behind the scenes, Willems said. Sterzenbach had a knack for finding items needed for campaign offices, basics such as tables and chairs, “at the right price — free.”
Opstvedt won’t forget the smile on Sterzenbach’s face as he accepted the Hall of Fame Award. Sterzenbach, who had been in declining health didn’t speak, but his son, Norm, made comments on his behalf.
“When he shook Norm Jr.’s hand, that’s an image that will stay in my mind,” she said.
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