John Midgordon

I have been greatly impressed with the Ames Historical Society work and its website and have enjoyed discovering things about my hometown that I have either forgot or never knew. Since the City of Ames has been so important in my family’s life I am writing this article in honor of my family, but also in honor of the community that gave my family a wonderful place to live, for my siblings and myself to grow up in a safe and friendly environment, and where most of our middle-America values where instilled. JLM-2009

The Midgorden family consisted of Leonard J. and his wife Mildred Sarah (Anderson) and their three children: Helen, Ruth and John. The Midgorden and Anderson clans were originally from the Norwegian settlements in Northeastern Illinois. The Midgordens moved to Lamoni, Iowa shortly after the turn of the century, prior to World War I. Leonard and Mildred were married in 1915 and all their children were born in Lamoni, Iowa.

Leonard J. Midgorden (born May 6, 1891)

While living in the southern Iowa town of Lamoni, Len (as he was most often called) was involved in a number of business enterprises. When Henry Ford brought out the Model T automobile southern Iowans discovered that during bad weather the front wheels on their Model T’s often turned in opposite directions on the muddy roads.  Len invented a radius rod to be installed on the early Fords so that the front wheels would always turn in the same direction. He manufactured these radius rods and shipped them all over the world until Henry Ford began putting this improvement on his cars at the factory.  Len, and his brother Orville, sold cars, the first radios, and farm machinery over the years.


Leonard Midgorden (far right) and other employees in the radius rod factory in Lamoni, Iowa

But most of all they had a machine shop where they supported the local farmers. In the late 1930’s the effects of the depression put the Midgorden brothers business enterprises in jeopardy and Len began to look for different employment.

In the summer of 1937 Howard Ames, owner of Diesel Service Company in Ames, came to Leonard to see if he would move to Ames and become the foreman of his machine shop and manufacturing business. At the time Leonard was about to take a job in Missouri, but accepted Mr. Ames’ offer and the family moved to Ames.  Len served as foreman of the Diesel Service machine shop and manufacturing business until his retirement. In addition to supporting the local farming community Diesel Service produced oil purifiers and cooling towers for diesel powered light plants around the mid-west.


Leonard, the saw sharpener                                 Mildred Midgorden

A few years before Len retired he began to study saw sharpening technology. He began sharpening saws in his basement workshop on Douglas Avenue. By the time he retired he already had a goodly number of customers. He built a new double-car size garage and turned half of it into his saw sharpening shop. He sharpened saws until he was 87 years old and quit at that time in order to take care of his wife, whose health was failing.

During his saw sharpening career he had the Iowa State Highway Commission account and most of the local contractors. People came from all over central Iowa to have their saws sharpened. At the peek of his business he was sharpening over 500 circle saws a month and many hand saws. The Ames Tribune did a human interest story with a picture of Len in his shop. After the story appeared in the paper he was inundated with calls from Ames housewives asking if he sharpened knives. For a time he was covered up with a knife sharpening business. Len tested every saw blade before it left his shop. In the twenty-two years of his saw sharpening business Len never had a customer come back with a complaint about his work.

Mildred Sarah Anderson-Midgorden (born February 22, 1893)

Mildred Sarah Anderson was also born and raised on a farm in Illinois, only a few miles from where Leonard Midgorden lived before he moved with his father to Lamoni. She graduated from the Ottawa High School in three years and was valedictorian of her class. Mildred taught school in a one-room school house in Illinois before marrying Len Midgorden. She then joined Len in Lamoni where they began raising their family.


Len and Mildred's 50th wedding anniversary photo

Mildred was a stay-at-home mom until all her children were raised. During her years in Ames she took a number of extension courses offered by Iowa State to improve her home economics skills. After son John was off to Graceland College in Lamoni, she began working at the Mary Greeley Hospital, which was only two blocks from her home on Douglas. Mildred took a short course for state employees who provide management of food services. At the hospital she administered the baby formula room. Millie, as she was affectionately called by her co-workers, became a much loved employee at the hospital.


The Midgorden siblings, Helen, John and Ruth, circa 1998

Helen Jeannette Midgorden-Middleton (December 27, 1917)

Helen, the oldest of the Midgorden children, had just finished two years at Graceland College in Lamoni when the family moved to Ames. This was fortuitous for Helen since it allowed her to finish her degree in home economics at Iowa State College while living at home. Helen belonged to Omicron Nu, Phi Kappa Psi, and Alpha Delta Kappa honorary societies. After graduation Helen taught home economics in the Bondurant and Underwood high schools. Helen met her husband, David Middleton during her teaching career. Dave was raised on a farm near Clarion, Iowa. At the outbreak of World War II Dave and Helen moved to Washington to work for the Boeing Airplane Company to help with the war effort. They liked the Pacific Northwest so well they both got teaching jobs in Wapato, Washington after the war and lived there the rest of their lives. Both Helen and Dave are now deceased.

Ruth Louise Midgorden-Goodwin (born April 26, 1924)

Ruth Midgorden was a member of the first class to graduate from the then new Ames High School (now the Ames City Office Building). Ruth also received her degree in home economics with a minor in journalism. During her senior year she was editor of the Iowa State Daily newspaper. While at Iowa State Ruth was a member of Mortar Board, Theta Sigma Phi, Phi Upsilon and Omicron Nu honorary societies. After graduation Ruth worked for the Herald Publishing Company in Independence, Missouri. She met and married a returning soldier, Alfred J. Goodwin of Ottumwa, Iowa.  A.J. was also an Iowa State graduate in Mechanical Engineering. The Goodwins lived in Oklahoma and California, and presently reside in Independence, Missouri.

John Leonard Midgorden (born December 22, 1931)

John was five years-old when the Midgorden family moved to Ames. He received all his public education in Ames. While the family rented a home at 625 10th street John began his public school education at the Roosevelt Grade School. During the Fall of his second grade the family bought the home at 1408 Douglas and John transferred to the Beardshear elementary school.

During John’s third grade year he took up the trombone, under the encouragement and instruction of Mr. Richard Day. When John entered Junior High School (in the old high school building across the street from the new high school) Mr. Day brought him into the High School concert band. There was a tunnel under the street between the Junior and Senior High School buildings and the band/orchestra practice room was near the tunnel in the basement of the high school building. This made if very convenient for John to get to band practice from the junior high building.

One summer Mr. Day employed John as the light control person at the Ames Municipal Bandshell. It was a fun job where John had to configure the many banks of colored lights and change the configuration when there was an appropriate change in the music. During John’s high school days he became a member of the Ames Municipal Band. By the time he was a senior in high school he became the first chair trombonist in the band and played a trombone solo both at a High School band concert and during the summer at one of the Thursday evening bandshell concerts.

John became obsessed with aviation at an early age when his good friend, Norton Mezvinsky, gave him a model airplane kit. That launched John into model airplane building and his life-time hobby that he still pursues. There is an article with the Ames Historical Society about the model airplane club he was instrumental in organizing.


Father and son team, circa 1948

Prior to the big flood of 1944 the Carr Hardware Store on Main Street carried model airplane supplies in their basement. After the 1944 flood they no longer were a source of model supplies. So after World War II Leonard and John decided to start a hobbyshop of their own to service the growing number of boys in Ames who were model builders. The business was called Ames Model Service and Supplies and was housed on the Midgorden’s back porch at 1408 Douglas. Up until John graduated from high school in 1950 the little business thrived and there were always boys at the house buying their glue, fuel, paint and many other necessary modeling supplies. Leonard became the "service" department of the business and any mechanical problems were quickly solved by Mr. Midgorden’s expertise. The Midgorden father-son team also produced a trainer model that they kitted and sold to many local modelers to help them learn how to fly. Len also built a one-wheel trailer to tow behind his car to take the Ames boys and their planes to contests around central Iowa.

John spent many summers working for Black’s Hybrid Seed Corn company of Ames. He began as a de-tasseler and after several years of this work he became a roguer, cutting out the unwanted volunteer corn in the male rows. His last job with Black’s was as a foreman of a de-tasseling crew in 1951. By this time the de-tasseling crews were girls.

After receiving an Associate of Arts degree in pre-engineering from Graceland College in Lamoni, John came home to Ames and graduated from Iowa State in 1955 with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering. While at Iowa State he was inducted into the national aeronautical honor society, Sigma Gamma Tau.  John worked his way through Iowa State working for his Dad at Diesel Service, learning to weld and run metal lathes and milling machines. When the owner Mr. Ames learned that John was in an engineering program at Iowa State he moved John from the shop to the drafting room to create engineering drawings for the manufacturing side of the business.

Between John’s sophomore and junior years at Iowa State he worked at the Chance Vought Aircraft Company in Dallas, Texas. Upon graduation John took a permanent job with Vought in their theoretical aerodynamics department. After Sputnik was launched in 1958 John found himself in Vought’s Missiles and Space Division. While working in Dallas John met his future wife, Judith Mottashed, and their two sons, Barry and Mark, were born in Texas.


After thirteen years in his Aero-Space career John left Texas in 1968 and entered the ministry of the Community of Christ, with International Headquarters in Independence, Missouri.  He has served the church as Bishop in the Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, California and Hawaii regions.  He also served for ten years as a special assistant to the Presiding Bishop in Missouri. After the church moved John and Judy to Fremont, California Judy obtained her masters in Library Science from San Jose State University, but there were no library positions available in California in the early 1990's.  So, John took early retirement and they moved to Phoenix where Judy did find employment.  However a job opened up back in California, so after five years in Phoenix John and Judy moved back to California in 1999, where they current reside in Monterey County near the little town of Castroville.  He is still active as a pastor and in his hobby of radio controlled aircraft.  Judy, although retired, is still doing substitute librarian work.

I shall always be grateful for my growing up in Ames. It is a wonderful place and I feel greatly blessed to have had my young years molded by so many wonderful teachers, friends, associates and family!  JLM