Leslie Cornelius Arends was born on September 27, 1895 in Melvin, Illinois, where he, his four brothers and two sisters grew up on his father's farm. After graduating from Melvin High School in 1912, he attended Oberlin College in Ohio for two years. Arends enlisted in the Navy during World War I, and following his discharge in 1919, returned to Melvin to work in the grain business and private bank founded by his father. In 1946, he married the former Betty Tychon. They had one daughter, Letty.
In his first bid for public office in 1934, Arends ran on the Republican ticket and was elected to serve as representative of the 17th congressional district. The voters returned Arends to the House in the next nineteen elections. In 1974, he announced his retirement and did not seek re-election.
As a congressman, Arends was particularly concerned with reduction of the federal budget and decentralization of the government. As a long-time member of the Military Affairs committee (now the Armed Services Committee), Arends also expressed special interest in military spending and military preparedness. In 1943 Arends' fellow party members elected him to the position of minority whip. The whip's major duties are to gauge the feelings of fellow representatives, try to predict their votes on upcoming legislation, and then see that colleagues are present to vote on important legislation. The whip thus aids the party leadership in designing its legislative strategy.
Arends continued to serve as Republican assistant floor leader for thirty-one years. When he announced his retirment in 1974, Arends had served as whip longer than anyone else, Republican or Democrat. Arends served under seven Presidents.
Remarks by President Gerald R. Ford at Ceremonies Honoring Representative Leslie C. Arends in Melvin, Illinois October 24, 1974:
". . .It is almost unbelievable for me to be in Melvin and see this magnificent crowd. You would not think it could happen anyplace in the country, except you know and I know and Charlie Halleck knows and Louella Dirksen know what a great, great guy Les Arends is. And that is why all of us are here.
"I am sure that many of you made a much bigger effort than I, but we are here because you know and I know and literally thousands of other people know that Les Arends gave 110 percent in anything he ever did. He did it for you all in this Congressional district. He did it for the State, and he did it for the country. He did it for his family, his friends. Les Arends, on each and every occasion that he ever undertook to do anything, made the most maximum effort, and that is why you love him--we do; why you respect him, and why we do. . ."