Harold "Jerry" Soderberg's fascination with presidential politics made him an eyewitness to history.
From Adlai Stevenson in the 1950s to Paul Simon in the 1980s, with Minnesota's Hubert H. Humphrey and Walter Mondale in between, Soderberg became a consummate insider.
Soderberg, 86, died peacefully last week at his home in Delray Beach, Fla.
To his candidates of choice, Soderberg was a confidant and a friend who was willing to step up to the plate for one of the toughest jobs on the road to the White House — fundraising — in the days before PACs and Super PACs.
"He liked doing it. He saw it as important to the election," recalled former vice president and presidential nominee Mondale. "In those days, fundraising was personal. You couldn't get a lot of money from just one person. But Jerry was very social and he knew who was who in Washington. I don't know how many fundraisers he sponsored. He made a big difference in Minnesota and the country."
Soderberg's track record of supporting winning Democratic candidates was not very good, but he loved the work, said son Jerome "Jerry" Soderberg.
"He told me, 'My forte was not in presidential handicapping, but I'm grateful for the unforgettable memories,' " son Jerry recalled.
Soderberg was involved in Humphrey's 1960 and 1968 presidential campaigns and the 1964 campaign of Lyndon Johnson in which Humphrey was Johnson's running mate. Soderberg was Minnesota finance chairman for the campaign of George McGovern in 1972. He supported the Jimmy Carter-Mondale ticket in 1976 and 1980 and assisted Mondale's presidential campaign in 1984.
Forbes magazine labeled Soderberg one of the top Democratic fundraisers of that era.
In an obituary that Soderberg dictated before he died, he described himself as a fiscal conservative on budget issues and a social conservative on other matters. He said he picked his candidates based on "personal affinity over ideology."
One of Soderberg's proudest accomplishments as a presidential fundraiser was being named chairman of the national finance committee for the 1988 campaign of Simon, the Democratic senator from Illinois.
"He was a good guy version of the insider operator," said John Hottinger, the former Minnesota Senate majority leader who worked on legislative matters with the Soderberg family. "He played a constructive role in an important era."
But Soderberg was more than just a sought-after political operative. He also was a successful lawyer and businessman.
After working for Mondale and Miles Lord when they were Minnesota attorneys general, Soderberg headed his own law firm in downtown Minneapolis. Hessian, McKasy and Soderberg represented national and Minnesota clients, including Carl Pohlad and his various interests.
Soderberg also invested in real estate and had ownership interests in several Twin Cities apartment complexes. He was a partner or owner in several small banks, including the State Bank of Wood Lake, Edina State Bank and New Hope State Bank. He also owned the St. Croix Equestrian Center in Hudson, Wis.
Soderberg grew up in south Minneapolis, attended St. Thomas Academy, where he graduated at age 16, and graduated from the University of Notre Dame. He got his law degree from the University of Minnesota and also served six years in the Army Reserve.
Soderberg was preceded in death in 1993 by his first wife, Marlys, who was a fixture at his side for both political and business functions. Soderberg was also preceded in death by daughter Noel Evans and sister Gloria Sims.
Soderberg is survived by his wife, Janet; sons Jerry, Jim, John, Jeff and Tom; daughter Sheri; son-in-law Jack Evans; stepson Scott Fischer and stepdaughter Elizabeth Nader, and brother James.
Services have been held.