PLEASANT LAKE — Former Rep. Richard Dodge, 89, R-Pleasant Lake, died Thursday, it has been confirmed.
Dodge was a longtime Steuben County politician, serving in numerous capacities, most recently as a state representative in House District 51, which covered Steuben and DeKalb counties.
Dodge served in the statehouse from 2004-2012. He was caucused in to fill the vacancy created when Rep. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, was selected to fill the vacancy created by the death of state Sen. Bud Meeks.
Dodge went on to win election in the fall of 2004 and subsequent elections until he decided to not run for reelection in 2012 when the district’s boundaries were changed, creating a district that now covers most of Steuben and LaGrange counties.
“It was a shock. I knew he was in hospice but still it is a shock,” said Rep. Denny Zent, R-Angola, who followed Rep. Dodge in office. Zent also offered condolences to Rep. Dodge’s wife, Joann, and family.
“Dick was a dedicated public servant who cared deeply about his community and state. His lifelong commitment to his neighbors, no matter how near or far, was why he was one of the first people I named as a Sagamore of the Wabash when I became governor,” Gov. Eric Holcomb said in a statement to The Herald Republican. “We were all fortunate to have benefited by Dick’s service and to know him as a friend. Janet and I ask all Hoosiers to keep his family in their prayers.”
Even though he has been out of office for eight years, said Zent, who spoke to this newspaper from the Statehouse, many veterans in the Statehouse still remember Rep. Dodge fondly. After he was told of Rep. Dodge’s passing, Zent informed House leadership. A time for prayer and remembrance were observed on the House floor by House Speaker Brian Bosma on Thursday morning.
“I’m just sick to hear this news,” said Tony Culver, Angola, who was mentored by Rep. Dodge before he followed him as chairman of the Steuben County Republican Central Committee. “Dick and his father (Howard) were both personal friends of mine.”
Zent said Rep. Dodge helped guide him on his path to becoming a state representative. He was told of the time commitment and sacrifice that goes into being a representative from a county that’s quite a distance from Indianapolis.
Nonetheless, Zent ran and it was because of Rep. Dodge’s work, his fairness and friends made in Indianapolis that made his path much easier.
“With someone like Dick, you stand on their shoulders,” Zent said. “He was just so well liked down here. He was respected on both sides of the aisle.”
Rep. Dodge’s life perhaps will be remembered as one of service to his community in numerous ways starting some 70 years ago.
Like his uncle, Wade, Rep. Dodge served as Steuben Township trustee after having served on the township advisory board. He served as trustee for seven years.
Rep. Dodge was appointed to the Steuben County Council in 1991, then filled a vacancy on the Steuben County Board of Commissioners in 2002 in which he served until his appointment to the Legislature.
During his time on the council, Rep. Dodge became a lobbyist, working to advance Steuben County’s cause to get a specific gas tax as a way to offset funding and cover maintenance related to tourism traffic.
In addition to his career in politics, Rep. Dodge has been very active in civic life, giving much to Steuben County and more specifically to his hometown of Pleasant Lake. He has been a member of the Pleasant Lake Lions Club since 1950. Longtime Lion Elten Powers, who also is the Steuben County Democratic Party chairman, said he believes Rep. Dodge’s last time on stage with the famous Lions Club variety show was 2017. Until his death, he was the membership chairman.
“Dick Dodge was a living legend in Pleasant Lake. It is difficult to imagine this village without him. He and I had a number of lively but always friendly political discussions. I never heard him say a bad word about anyone,” Powers said.
On April 6, 2017, Holcomb presented Rep. Dodge with the Sagamore of the Wabash, one of the highest honors that is presented by the state’s governor.
“He’s the very definition of what it is to be a Sagamore of the Wabash,” Holcomb said at the time. Rep. Denny Zent, R-Angola, Rep. Dodge’s successor, helped in presenting the award.
The award said, “He has endeared himself to the Citizens of Indiana by his distinguished Humanity in Living, his Loyalty and Friendship, his Wisdom in Council and his Inspiration in Leadership.”
“The passing of Dick Dodge is a loss for our community and he will be missed,” said Rick Michael, the current Steuben County Republican chairman. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to Joann and the Dodge family.”
Rep. Dodge graduated from Pleasant Lake High School in 1948. After some travels out West, Dodge returned to Pleasant Lake to work in farming. In 1950 he joined the U.S. Air Force and became a crew chief on the F-94 Starfighter jet. He was honorably discharged in 1954 and returned home, eventually going to work for his father at what became Howard Dodge & Son, a heating and plumbing company that eventually was sold to the company that has become Master’s Heating and Cooling.
Recently, he became a member of the Pleasant Lake Historical Society and attended its meetings regularly. He was involved in many different civic groups and nonprofits in the community well past his time in Indianapolis.
Dick and wife Joann have five children. They have eight grandchildren and 10 great-great grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements are pending with Weicht Funeral Home, Angola. Obituary information will be published either Saturday or Sunday.