Katie Averill Has Deep Roots in Fort Dodge
Katie Averill’s message to a leadership group from Fort Dodge visiting the State Capitol was straight from the heart.
“I walked into the room and told them, I have been looking forward to this,” she said. “I am a Fort Dodge girl. You can take the girl out of The Dodge, but you can’t take The Dodge out of the girl.”
“The Dodge” remains in the heart of “the girl,” seven months after she and her husband, Tim, moved to Des Moines when Gov. Kim Reynolds appointed her superintendent of the Iowa Division of Credit Unions. The division has 10 field examiners who oversee 89 state-chartered credit unions, serving 1.1 million members with $16 billion in regulated assets.
Averill was senior vice president at Citizens Community Credit Union in Fort Dodge when she was appointed to the statewide position. She worked at the credit union for almost 10 years, and also served as its vice president of marketing and business development and director of marketing, while overseeing seven branch locations.
“Working for a credit union, I thought I understood the role of the superintendent,” she said, “but that was only a small taste compared to reality. It’s a broad spectrum, it touches and crosses lots of different agencies, at the state and federal level. More than a third of Iowans are credit union members.”
Averill succeeded JoAnn Johnson, who retired, in the role as the state’s top credit union regulator, heading a department charged with safeguarding the interests of credit union depositors and shareholders throughout the state.
Before her credit union work, Averill owned a company that provided packaging for dental laboratories all over the nation. Her father started the business and she worked with him for five years before purchasing it from him in 1995.
“Owning a business gives you a solid base for every aspect of a business, including shoveling the sidewalks and taking out the trash,” she said. “In a small business like that, you wear all the hats.” She sold the business to an Indiana company in 2005.
Her roots in Fort Dodge are indeed deep: both sets of her grandparents were from Fort Dodge, as were her parents, Ort and Jeanne Mills, who are both deceased. Her mother was adult education coordinator at Iowa Central Community College. Katie is the youngest of six who include Julie who lives in Perry, Jane in Chicago and Tucson, Dick in Reno and Tucson, Peggy in Kansas City and John in Kansas City. “We were a very close-knit family, which I am very thankful for,” she said.
Tim also comes from a family with Fort Dodge roots. His parents were Veronica and Jim Averill. His father is deceased and his mother continues to live in Fort Dodge. Tim’s sister, Amy Bailey, lives with her husband and their two children in Kingsley.
Katie and Tim met in high school — “he was a high school honey,” she said. He grew up two blocks from the Mills’ home where he played backyard baseball with her older brother. Katie attended St. Edmond High School and he attended Fort Dodge Senior High. They were married in 1987, months after she graduated from with a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Iowa State University, with a major in marketing. She transferred to Iowa State after a year at Iowa Central Community College.
They raised three children: Megan, Emily and Jimmy. Megan is a kindergarten teacher at St. Edmond and Jimmy is a senior in construction engineering at Iowa State.
A life-changing moment came for the Averill family in June 2011 when Emily Joy Averill was killed in an auto accident, a few weeks after graduating from St. Edmond. She was 18, an All-State and national champion cheerleader, an honor roll student, and was headed to Iowa Central on a cheerleading scholarship.
“The community of Fort Dodge was unbelievably supportive to our family,” Averill said. “Our family was there for us. My mom was a strong, strong woman. She raised us to have the confidence, tenacity and strength to go through a tragedy like this and move forward and climb higher. It broke my father’s heart when Emily died. We reverted back to the time when he was the dad and I was his little girl. He died 10 months to the day after Emily died. He was a great support to me.”
Recovering from the death of a child “is a mental journey you travel,” Averill said. “It is taking one breath at a time, one step at a time, you keep yourself moving forward.”
Emily “had a sparkly personality,” she added. “She was definitely our middle child, able to explore things, enjoying trying new things. She was artistic and creative. Her middle name, we named her the right name. What she brought in her 18 years was a lot of joy. It’s a three-letter word that embodies who she was — a great word.”
Many members of the Fort Dodge community provided donations to memorialize Emily, so Katie and Tim established the Emily JOY Averill Foundation in 2012 to remember their daughter “by continuing to promote her aspirations for education, early childhood literacy, work ethic, loyalty and the joy of life.” The foundation established scholarships for graduating seniors in high school, support of cheerleading programs that were a big part of Emily’s life, and a program called the Joy of Reading that provides financial support for projects that advance youth reading and literacy. Its priority is supporting reading with second-grade students.
The JoyMobile — a converted hospital van that serves as a library on wheels — is a fixture on the Fort Dodge scene, especially at elementary schools where it works with 17 classrooms of second-graders. “It is something I am really proud of, leaving a legacy of the joy of reading,” Averill said. “We have registered it as a Little Free Library, where people can contribute books and take a book to read. Fort Dodge has the very first Little Free Library on wheels.”
During the summer, it can be found at the swimming pool and ballparks and other places where young people gather. “People in Fort Dodge are continuing to use that JoyMobile,” she said.
“It’s a legacy that continues in Fort Dodge. We carry her in our hearts. Sometimes I get little signs from her — like bobby pins. She had such curly hair and had to put it up for cheer. We always had bobby pins all over the house. I find them everywhere. It’s a comforting little touch from my angel.”
It was through the foundation that Katie came into contact with the administration of former Gov. Terry Branstad and Reynolds when she was lieutenant governor. “Sometimes, the state of Iowa is a small world,” Averill said.
In 2015, Branstad appointed her to the Early Childhood State Board, which is charged with creating a comprehensive vision for early childhood care, education and health care.
Last May, when Branstad was appointed U.S. ambassador to the People’s Republic of China, Reynolds, a fifth-generation Iowan, took over as governor. Her selection of Averill to the credit union position was one of her first appointments.
“I admire Katie’s drive to make a difference,” Gov. Reynolds told The Messenger. “Our paths crossed through her charity, JOY of Reading. What impressed me most about Katie was the way she turned the unthinkable loss of her daughter into unmeasurable joy for hundreds of other children in her community. She’s poured her life into distributing books as a way to remember her daughter and help other kids learn to read. She’s making a difference in so many lives, and it’s one of the many reasons I respect her so much and am so proud to have her as part of my team.”
Katie and Tim live in a condo in a downtown Des Moines building — two blocks from the State Capitol — that was built in 1887. Tim works as business development manager for Country Maid, a pastry manufacturing business based in West Bend.
“Whenever people ask me my hometown, I never hesitate to say Fort Dodge,” she said. “The influences I had throughout my career and friendships and getting to know parents of my children’s friends. Growing up there taught me tenacity, compassion, creativity — and has brought wonderful friendships. With certainty, that is who I am.”
Messenger Spotlight: March 4, 2018; Paul Stevens
Bev and Greg Baedke
High school romances rarely last after graduation, they say. Spouses working together in their own business often leads to conflicts and should be avoided, they say.
Then there’s Bev and Greg Baedke.
The co-owners of the Community Orchard, one of Fort Dodge’s most popular and well-known businesses and tourist attractions, have clicked since they first met 47 years ago as sophomores at Fort Dodge Senior High School when they sat across from each other in Darrell Murray’s biology class.
Graduating in 1971, the newly married couple started a lifetime of working together at a business founded by Dr. Paul Otto and his wife Edna. Today, the apple orchard – as most know it – attracts 150,000 to 200,000 visitors in a season, which begins the first of August and continues through the third week of December.
“Greg has his duties, I have mine,” Bev said. “We made an agreement years ago that if we had a disagreement, it wouldn’t be in front of staff or customers. There are days during the season when we hardly see each other, as we are busy managing our own areas. We have always just clicked together really well.”
The Community Orchard’s roots trace back to the early 1940s when the Ottos bought the current farm, located north of the city near the Des Moines River, and first operated it as a dairy. The Ottos began planting a few different varieties of apples to see what might grow. Dr. Otto gave away apples to his patients and soon the demand grew to the point where he advertised for a full-time hired man to help expand the orchard.
Greg’s parents, Don and Darlene Baedke, moved in 1960 from their Pomeroy farm to manage the orchard for the Ottos. Darlene knew Dr. Otto when she was a nurse at Mercy Hospital. In the early 1970s, the Baedkes began leasing the orchard from Mrs. Otto after her husband died. In 1980, they acquired the orchard, forming a partnership with Bev and Greg. Ten years later, Greg’s parents retired and Bev and Greg bought out their share to become sole owners.
One of their high school classmates, Mark Mittelstadt, recalls, “Even back when we were growing up, if you were thinking of the face of the orchard’s future, it was Greg’s. He was close to his family and worked hard after school and on the weekends helping to keep it the very special place it is for Fort Dodge and northwest Iowa. It just seemed a natural progression whenever his folks were ready to turn over the keys.”
Greg grew up with the business, working after school and on weekends for his parents – he started growing pumpkins at the age of 8 – and also at Treloar’s Inn as a bus boy and fry cook. The restaurant’s founder Lester D. “Papa” Treloar lived close by in a house along the river, and Greg mowed his yard from the time he was 12. Greg’s fond memory from his childhood is working with Dr. Otto and riding with him in his purple Jeep.
As a young girl, Bev would often come to the orchard to buy apples with her parents, Bob and Dorothy Foughty, and her five siblings. Her father worked as a crane operator for C. Glen Walker Construction Co. of Fort Dodge.
“I fell in love with the place,” Bev recalled, and when she and Greg were married and she became a part of the business, she added, “Mrs. Otto was a mentor to me, we just clicked. I really enjoyed the retail part from the get-go.”
With Greg concentrating mostly on the outside work and Bev on inside work that includes a gift shop and restaurant, the two have developed the orchard into a multi-faceted operation. The orchard hosts many private events – school reunions, family reunions, wedding receptions – and its wedding receptions area is already booked for most of next summer.
“What I enjoy most is our customers,” said Bev, noting that this weekend, the orchard hosts its annual Apple Fest that will continue for the next two weekends. “They become your friends and your family. At the start of each season, when we open the doors for the first time, it feels nice to have them back. People come in and smile. “We work to make this a happy place for our guests, but it’s our happy place too.”
The orchard’s 100 acres includes 5,000 to 6,000 trees and 20 varieties of apples – honey crisp and Haralson apples being the most popular – 10 acres of pumpkins, a corn maze and The Back 40, a play area for children that opened in 2012. A third of the revenue comes from apples and apple products such as dumplings, cider and pies, a third from The Apple Orchard restaurant, and a third from the Orchard Market gift shop. Their most popular market items are corn salsa, raspberry rhubarb jam and maple dip. They ship their products – especially in December when a few hundred gift boxes a week are put in the mail and many gift baskets are hand delivered in the Fort Dodge area which includes surrounding small towns.
One of their most famous visitors came calling last November when Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president, stopped by while in Fort Dodge to speak at Iowa Central Community College. “She visited with the customers and spent some time in the gift shop. She bought some baby clothes and personal items and some food items in the market,” Bev said.
Greg enjoys working outside the most. He and the Baedkes’ only full-time employee, Tim Quick, plant about 150 new trees each year, and there is no busier time than when the apples are harvested. Depending on the crop, 900,000 to 1.1 million apples are harvested each season. Half of the harvest is used in the cider press, bakery and cafe, and the other half in retail sales.
“In today’s society,” Bev said, “most customers prefer to buy some bakery goods, a gallon of cider, eat in the cafe and head home with a few eating apples. Back in the ’70s women (and men) did a lot of canning and freezing. There are still a few who do, but not nearly as many.”
Weather is always a concern. Four years ago, they lost their entire crop because of an April freeze but were able to buy apples from other growers around the country to stay open. “But it didn’t end up being our worst year,” he said. “Our business is diversified.”
The Baedkes have three children and eight grandchildren. Older daughter Jodi is married to Dr. Daniel Spitz and they live with their three children in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Their son Jon owns Smitty’s Lawn and Landscape in Fort Dodge and recently purchased Eddie’s Green House, now called Smitty’s Green House; he and his wife Heather have two children, Their younger daughter Julie is married to Ryan Cripe and they and their three children live in Fort Dodge.
The diversification of their business continues, and now the Baedkes do some decorating for homes and businesses. They decorated the second floor of the Simpson Health Center at Friendship Haven and the elevator areas and gathering rooms on all three of its floors. That job was all the more meaningful, Bev said, because her dad, as a crane operator, helped set the steel in the original east and west buildings. Both sets of parents spent some time in the health center as well, so it made it all the more special.
Generations of Fort Dodgers have worked at the orchard over the years. Each year, they hire about 60 employees some of whom are teens to work in various roles. “It takes a lot of work and effort to keep our business going,” Bev said. “It is rewarding to hire employees and help them learn more about how a business works and the importance of paying attention to details.”
Their longest-term employee, Margaret Fiebiger, started working 34 years ago with the Baedkes and Greg’s parents, grading apples in her first years, then working many years in the market before retiring, but came back to work in the market part time again last year. “I missed the people – that’s one of the reasons I came back,” she said. “They are very caring people to work for. I watched their family grow up and they watched our family do the same.”
Messenger Spotlight: October 2, 2016
Ed Breen: Newspaper to Radio
His uncle was a Fort Dodge icon, a broadcasting pioneer who introduced the first radio and television stations to the city. But a young Ed Breen was a newspaperman at heart and believed he needed to leave the city to pursue that dream.
After all, editors at The Messenger believed his first byline in the early 1960s had to include his middle initial, Edward E. Breen, to be sure readers knew that it was not KVFD radio and KQTV television owner Edward J. Breen who was authoring the story. His uncle was one of the most prominent citizens in Fort Dodge history — an attorney, state senator and active Democrat — and used his broadcast platform to editorialize on issues of community interest.
“I knew I had to get the hell out of town,” Breen said. “The family name was so prominent. I just wasn’t going to trade on that. Back then, I was too young to know what was going on. All I knew is that I had a family connection to the radio and TV stations, but enjoyed working for the newspaper. I never took any flak from my uncle on it, never heard a word about it.”
After graduating from St. Edmond High School in 1962, Breen left Fort Dodge to attend Loras College in Dubuque and after two years, one week and one day there (“I’m still on academic probation,” he said with a laugh), he joined the news staff of the local newspaper, the Telegraph-Herald. He moved on to work briefly at a Wisconsin newspaper before arriving in Indiana where his work at newspapers in Marion (Chronicle-Tribune) and Fort Wayne (The Journal Gazette) earned him a place in the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame.
Breen worked at the Chronicle-Tribune as a reporter, photographer and editor from 1966 to 1995, when he became assistant managing editor of The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne and began an hour’s commute from his home in Marion to that city for the next 14 years before retiring in 2009.
Breen’s uncle (who died in 1978) would likely be smiling to know that his nephew eventually got the broadcast religion. It started in 2003 when he did mostly local commentary for radio station WBAT-AM in Marion while working for The Journal Gazette. It didn’t take Breen long after retiring from the newspaper to realize he was at a personal and career crossroad.
“I was 67 years old and scared to death that I had nowhere to go,” Breen said. “What am I going to do for my next act?”
Then-WBAT General Manager David Poehler helped solve that by hiring Breen to co-host (with Tim George) a daily program, “Good Morning Grant County,” which airs from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday. “Yes,” he said, “I’m up at 4 a.m., which is the only downside to my ‘retirement.’ I read the papers, catch early TV and am at the station by 5:30.”
His commentary is called “An Ed Breen Moment.”
He said, “I’ve done the commentaries now for 17 years. They’re mainly local. One week, I did one on the 50 most powerful people in Indiana politics. Much of the time, they deal with local politics. They’re 650 words long and run 4 to 4 1/2 minutes. I’ve done 852 of ’em and counting.”
Breen said his uncle did radio commentary at KVFD “every morning for years and years. He continued this on television, where he hosted a program with the same name as his radio commentary, called ‘It Seems to Me.’ Maybe a bit like him, what I am doing is stirring the pot. It’s something that is needed in these communities. There’s little local content on radio anymore.”
Breen was the oldest of the three children born to Maurice and Alyce Julander Breen. The family lived in a two-story brick house at 925 Second Avenue South built in 1910 by his grandfather, Edward J. Breen. His father Maurice J. Breen practiced law in Fort Dodge for nearly 50 years and his brother Maurice C. Breen served as city attorney (he died in 2011). Breen’s sister Alice Catalfo is a retired Des Moines teacher who lives in Granger with her husband Dan. Breen’s father died in 1972 and his mother in 2006.
At St. Edmond, Breen was editor of the school newspaper, the Tri Crown, and was working as a soda jerk at Donahoe’s sundry store at 11th Street and Central Avenue after classes and on weekends when in the fall of 1960 Messenger sports editor Bob Brown came in one Sunday morning to buy out-of-town newspapers.
“He asked if I was interested in working at The Messenger taking high school sports scores and writing brief stories,” Breen said.
Breen was asked if he could type when offered the part-time position. He gulped and assured Messenger editors he could handle it — then raced home that weekend to teach himself three-finger typing before starting his job the following weekend. Breen worked during the sports seasons and then three summers filling in for fulltime newsroom employees on vacation.
Messenger police reporter Helen Strode played a major role in his career choice as a newspaperman.
“It was Helen who really attracted me to this. Helen kind of adopted me. She could go around police lines and I thought that was the coolest things in the world, and I still do. She loved journalism and she infected me with it. She knew more about the police department and the crime world in Fort Dodge than any other living human being.”
Breen and his wife Joanne, a professional artist who he met in Dubuque, will celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary on Feb. 27. They have two daughters: Lisa Breen, who works for a medical laboratory in Indianapolis, and Audrey Shepard, a teacher in Noblesville, Indiana, married to Mike and the parents of two sons, Max, 16, and Liam, 14.
His closest ties to Fort Dodge are two first cousins, Diane Burch and Eddy O’Farrell, and a former high school classmate who he considers his best friend, Dan Carney, a deacon with the Holy Trinity Parish. They’ve known each other since second grade and “we have talked every couple weeks for the last 50 years,” Breen said.
Breen hopes to achieve a career goal later this year — 60 straight years of being in a newsroom on Election Night.
He worked in The Messenger newsroom on Election Night 1960, when John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon, and will anchor WBAT’s coverage on Election Night 2020. Of the 15 presidential elections, he counts Bush vs. Gore in 2000 as the most memorable. On a purely human level, Kennedy in 1960 and Obama in 2008.
Newspapers face many challenges today, Breen said, but the ”need for news and information persists. It is essential, as we are finding in this current chaotic landscape. New ways will be found. We just aren’t there yet. But it will not be Facebook. I had the joy of being there for some of the good years and the frustration of being part of a changing technology and culture which was beyond the control of any of us.”
Messenger Spotlight: February 2, 2020; Paul Stevens
Matt Breen Follows Family Tradition
Back in November, Matt Breen found himself awash in memories as he and a television camera crew from KTIV-TV in Sioux City visited the Warden Plaza in his hometown of Fort Dodge.
The now-vacant building at the corner of Ninth Street and First Avenue South once was the home of KVFD-AM radio — the city’s first radio station, founded 80 years ago by his grandfather, Fort Dodge broadcasting icon Edward J. Breen, who also launched the city’s first television station, KQTV.
The Warden was where Matt cut his teeth in broadcasting nearly 30 years ago when the Radio Club of Fort Dodge Senior High met Sundays at the KVFD studios to produce a half-hour weekly program.
“It looks very different,” said Breen, evening news anchor at KTIV since 2002, who was back home for a promotional campaign filming to “give our viewers a glimpse of who we are, and not just what we do.”
“The building hasn’t been inhabited for more than 15 years. The drop-down ceiling had fallen in. Windows have been broken out. When KVFD moved its studios, all of the broadcasting equipment was removed. Many of the walls between the studios were missing.
“But I could still find my grandfather’s old office. There, among the wood-paneled walls. I could still imagine him sitting behind his desk looking out the window on to First Avenue South. Maybe he was preparing the newscast that day. Maybe he was preparing his commentary. Though I don’t have memories of him in that setting, I could imagine what it was like. And, that made me very proud. In a sense, broadcasting is the family business, and my hope is that I can carry on that legacy. And, that my grandfather would be proud of what I am doing today.”
A year ago, Breen was honored for his work as an anchor, producer and reporter by the Iowa Broadcast News Association when it presented him its highest honor, the Jack Shelley Award, for “outstanding contribution to the cause of professional broadcast journalism in Iowa.” His grandfather is a member of the association’s Hall of Fame.
Breen was only 5 years old when his grandfather died in 1978 and has “impressions” of him, including watching logs float by his home along the Des Moines River. Matt’s mother Ann was an elementary school teacher and his father Fred was an attorney and district associate court judge. They divorced when he was 25. His mother lives in Fort Dodge with her husband David “Buzz” Powers. His father, who later in his career became a senior judge, is retired in Des Moines.
“My father was an attorney and both my grandfathers were attorneys,” Matt said. “It took my first pre-law class in college (University of Northern Iowa) to understand that the practice of law had nothing to do with the TV shows I watched, like LA Law.”
Breen returned to Fort Dodge and earned an associate of arts degree at Iowa Central Community College. He continued his education at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, recommended to him by a high school friend for its hands-on journalism program. He worked on the campus radio and television stations and was co-sports editor of the campus newspaper.
He was hired in 1996 as a general assignment reporter at KTIV — the station where NBC’s Tom Brokaw got his start — and moved to its sister station in Rochester, Minnesota, as a co-anchor before returning to KTIV as morning and noon anchor, later adding evening news anchor to his duties.
It was at KTIV that he met his wife Bridget, who was an evening newscast producer at the time and worked her way up to become general manager of the station, owned by Quincy Media Inc. of Quincy, Illinois. They have three children — RJ, 17, and Elizabeth, 15, who both attend Heelan High School, and Jason, 14, who is in eighth grade at Holy Cross School, Blessed Sacrament Center.
“I am a parent of three teens and I want to be as supportive of their interests as my parents were of my own,” said Breen, whose siblings are Liz, who works in home construction in Viera, Florida, and Jed, who teaches English in Beijing, China. “My parents never pressured me to become a lawyer, never pressured me to do what they expected. I was allowed to explore, and whether I succeeded or failed, my parents were supportive of it all.”
Another member of Ed Breen’s family did well in the journalism business. His nephew (and Matt’s cousin), also named Ed Breen, is a member of the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame after work at newspapers in Marion and Fort Wayne. In retirement he does an early morning drivetime radio show, “Good Morning Grant County” where, like his uncle, he provides commentary and a forum for listeners.
Matt Breen said the Missouri River flooding in 2011 was the biggest story he ever covered.
“Most imagine a flood that rises for a short period, but the Missouri River stayed at historic flood stages for 2 1/2 months,” he said. “People were hanging on our every report to know if a levy breached, if the homes they abandoned were underwater, when they could return to their homes. That is when broadcast journalism becomes more than informative — it becomes absolutely essential.”
“For me, I was lucky enough to marry a Sioux City girl, lucky enough to work in a newsroom where I can do many different things on a consistent basis. My goal when I came here was to work two years, then move on. I found a niche, I found a fantastic community that accepted me. When people tell me we make a difference in their lives, I know I am at the right station, right position, doing the right thing.”
Breen is proud to be the grandson of Fort Dodge’s iconic Ed Breen. “He had a live call-in show; today it would be unheard of to take live phone calls directly on TV. Today, you would never imagine putting a TV station in a town of 25,000 to 30,000 people. I thought it was so brave of him.
“So many things have changed in the broadcasting industry since my grandfather’s time, it might be easier to list the things that haven’t changed. Technology changes so quickly. In my grandfather’s time in television, photographers shot on film. And, of course, that film had to be developed. And it was time-consuming. Today our photographers shoot on data cards that are the size of a postage stamp. And the video is available immediately in resolutions that could never be dreamed of in my grandfather’s time. In my grandfather’s time, a live broadcast was only done from a studio with an entire building’s worth of equipment. Today, I can broadcast live from anywhere in the world from my phone.
“I can’t say what my grandfather would think about television news today. But, I hope he would be proud that broadcast journalists continue to serve the public today, as they did in his day.”
Messenger Spotlight: March 10, 2019; Paul Stevens
Jane Burleson: Venerable Local Supporter and ‘Diva’
Jane Burleson will soon say goodbye to the city she loves and has served so well.
But when she departs her native Fort Dodge for the warmer climate of Arizona, where she will live with relatives, it will be with the promise that she will one day return.
“It’s going to be kind of hard, but I’ll do it,” she said. “Life is about new experiences. Here I am 88 years old and I need new experiences. I’ll miss the people and my friends, but I’ll get a chance to come home sometimes.”
A public reception to bid Jane farewell is planned for 4 p.m. on Saturday at Cricket’s Lounge, 512 Central Ave., according to her niece, Stephanie Spicer, whose mother was Jane’s sister.
“It will be called the Diva Going Away Party. Everyone is to wear green,” Spicer said. “We call her a diva because of the great way she dresses and her independence.”
Union activist. Volunteer. Church leader. Lifelong Democrat. City Council member. Civil rights champion. And great cook, according to those who know her well — especially those who have enjoyed her sweet potato pie.
Jane Burleson — the first woman and the first African-American to serve on the Fort Dodge City Council — has worn all the titles well as one of the best-known, respected and beloved residents in Fort Dodge’s history. No one has served on the City Council longer than her 24-year tenure.
She is a lifelong Democrat who, at 88, worked a 12-hour shift on Election Day last Nov. 8 at Precinct 6 at the Elderbridge Agency, helping people register to vote. She also served as a caucus leader. Both are roles in which she has served for decades. A Hillary Clinton supporter, Burleson said she was “surprised” and “disappointed” when Clinton lost to Donald Trump.
The election made her even more adamant in her belief in getting to the polls and casting your vote: “You need to keep pushing, your vote does count. It’s like playing the lottery; you can’t win if you don’t play.”
President Trump is the 16th president of her lifetime. Over the years, she has met many of the candidates for president who have come to Fort Dodge during the Iowa caucuses — some who went on to hold the nation’s highest office.
Calvin Coolidge was in the White House when she was born in Fort Dodge to Otavia Bivens Jones Dukes and William Kelly Jones. She was born in 1928 — as she is quick to point out, the year before Martin Luther King. She grew up in what she still calls “The Flats” in southwest Fort Dodge, attending school at Pleasant Valley, Wahkonsa, Junior High and Senior High.
She left high school to marry at age 17 (later earning credits to get her diploma). After separating from her husband, Charles Turner, she moved to Chicago to work in a packing plant. They had a son, Charles, who survived combat in Vietnam but suffered a violent death in St. Louis in 1974. It was a heartache that remains to this day.
In 1948 Burleson returned to Fort Dodge to care for her ailing father. He died soon after, and she was hired that year by the Tobin Packing Plant, which Hormel purchased five years later. It was a good fit. In her 33 years at Tobin and Hormel, she worked in the sliced bacon department, sausage production line and eventually on the cut floor, and became involved in union activities, serving as secretary for the Local 31, United Packinghouse Workers of North America.
“In looking back about Jane, she always had a sense of identity and purpose in life and at work,” said Gary Ray, who joined Hormel in Fort Dodge in 1968, rose to corporate positions in Austin, Minnesota, and is now chair of the Hormel Foundation. “Her good nature and attitude at work would carry over to the other people on the line. Jane always had a lot of positive energy and excitement about her that you enjoyed being around her.”
She married Walter Burleson at First United Methodist Church in 1954. He had been in the restaurant business and also worked at the state liquor store, and was the first black person to serve on a jury in Webster County. He died in 2011.
Jane Burleson has been heavily involved in civil rights, locally and nationally, for more than five decades.
“Jane devoted a substantial part of her life seeking justice and fairness for all individuals of this great country of ours regardless of the color of that person’s skin or religious beliefs,” said Al Habhab, who met her in 1960 soon after he was first elected mayor of Fort Dodge.
“Jane came to my office to call to my attention specific instances of discrimination,” said Habhab, who served 14 years as mayor and later was a District Court judge and Iowa Court of Appeals justice. “Her presentation was excellent and meaningful and directly to the point. I looked into discrimination in housing and based on state and federal legislation, our City Council adopted anti-discrimination legislation that is still the law of this land. Jane’s perseverance hastened its adoption. But this is but a small part of her accomplishments.”
When the Hormel plant closed in 1981, she joined the Fort Dodge Community School District as a special education teacher’s aide. That was the year of her first foray into elective politics when she ran for a seat on the Fort Dodge City Council.
She lost her first attempt, but she ran again in 1983 and was elected. On the council, she recalled with a smile, “there were seven of us and six of them were men. They gave me hell but I gave them hell right back.”
Today, Fort Dodge is much more receptive to black residents than it was then, she said.
“We’ve come a long way. We are much more open today.” she said.
Burleson was a role model for young people in Fort Dodge especially blacks, recalled Charles Clayton, executive director of Athletics for Education and Success. “When I was growing up, she was one of the few we had who was an advocate for you — just as long as you do the right thing.”
Clayton recalled a time when he was “running my mouth” as a seventh- or eighth-grader while attending a football game at Dodger Stadium. “Here comes Jane, marching right up to me and reading me the riot act. She even knew my mom’s name and I straightened up right away. Jane was always somewhere around, always to give good advice.”
Sherry Washington, an organizer of Black History Month in Fort Dodge, shares the feeling: “Mama Jane is such a beautiful woman. She inspires me in so many ways. Her strength, knowledge and nurturing is superb. Her guidance and encouragement directed some of my political involvement — always encouraging and conversing on so many topics. I always love hearing her funny stories — there is never a dull moment. And I love her for loving me — dear Mama Jane, there will never be another.”
Washington said she was encouraged by Burleson to run for the Democratic Party’s 4th Congressional District Affirmative Action Chair and State Platform Delegate, both of which Washington is currently seated.
During her years of political involvement, Burleson has been active as a volunteer at the polls and during the caucuses and has attended numerous district and state Democratic conventions. She was selected to be an at-large delegate at the Democratic National Convention in New York City in 1980, but injuries from a car accident prevented her from going.
She recalls the many presidential candidates who have visited the city, including John F. Kennedy’s visit in 1960. She’s met Jimmy Carter, Jesse Jackson and Bill Clinton. After Clinton spoke in Fort Dodge, Burleson said, she moved forward toward the stage to get his autograph. A Secret Service agent intervened and said she could go no further. She recalled with a smile, “I told the agent, ‘I’m his maid, ask him to sign my card.’ And he did.”
Jimmy Carter came to Fort Dodge as president and had prescribed the 55 mph and other energy-saving programs to conserve energy. He encouraged Americans to turn down the heat and wear sweaters in their homes as he was doing so in the White House to set a good example. His mother, Lillian, accompanied him and Burleson got a chance to meet her, recalled Daryl Beall, former state senator. “Jane got a kick out of Miss Lillian, who was chilled at an event and wanted a sweater. ‘I don’t care what Jimmy says. Turn up the heat,’ Lillian Carter quipped to Jane.”
Judge Brown, who taught at Iowa Central Community College and Fort Dodge Senior High, has admired her greatly since he came to Fort Dodge in 1977. He said Burleson has played key roles locally in the Martin Luther King birthday celebration and Black History Month.
“She obviously enjoys being a public servant,” he said. “She loves politics. She wants people to be involved in politics. Don’t sit back, she’ll tell you, get out there and act.”
In 2013, Burleson was inducted into the Iowa African American Hall of Fame. She helped to launch Fort Dodge’s Martin Luther King Scholarship Committee, served as president of the Fort Dodge A. Philip Randolph Institute, and has been involved with the League of Women Voters and the Democratic Party. She has served her church, Coppin Chapel African Methodist Episcopal, for more than 50 years. She received the Cristine Wilson Medal for Equality and Justice in 2006. In 2002, she was named the Citizen of the Year in Fort Dodge.
She looks forward to her next adventure in Arizona, where she will relax in the sunshine and continue her passion of doing crossword puzzles. “I always want to be doing something — something helpful,” she said.
Said Beall, “Frankly, I cannot imagine our community without Jane. She has been such an integral part of Fort Dodge for years in her church, city government, schools, labor, Democratic politics.”
He thinks the perfect going-away gift for his friend would be a bottle of her favorite scotch, Glenlivet.
“Glenlivet is an expensive scotch whiskey. For discerning tastes. Jane is that way with people too. She meets people of all social, economic, ethnic and spiritual strata equally well. She is as at home at the country club as she is at the union hall. Jane is a beautiful human being.”
Messenger Spotlight: March 5, 2017; Paul Stevens
Phyllis Daniel Bush: Love and Learning
Life brings us what we call “teaching moments” — and from the time Phyllis Bush began her teaching career as a 22-year-old until she drew her last breath in March at the age of 75, she provided plenty of such moments to her students, family, friends and fellow educators.
Over her 32-year teaching career, the Fort Dodge native taught English to thousands of students in Illinois and Indiana. But when faced with colon cancer that could not be contained, she taught another, more important lesson: how to die with courage, grace and dignity while maintaining a strong will to live.
Phyllis Daniel Bush was a teacher to the very end.
“When she was in the oncology unit for her second or third chemo treatment,” recalled Donna Roof, her spouse, “there was a lady sitting right behind us who appeared nervous and apprehensive. Phyllis started talking to her. She worked very hard to assuage her fears. This was a person she had never met, a stranger. She was able to get people to face their fears or assuage their fears, to let them know — ‘You can do this’ — whether it’s a student with a 20-page paper to write or a stranger taking chemo.”
Last December, when it was clear that the cancer could not be overcome, Bush began making preparations for the limited time she had left, including writing her own obituary and planning with Roof her memorial services that were to be held Saturday at Trinity Episcopal Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana, her home city. She died March 19 while under hospice care.
In the obituary, Bush wrote, “I am fortunate to be surrounded by family and friends whose love and support made me realize that there is good in the world, and it is worth fighting for. When you come to celebrate my life, you will meet people who have influenced my life and/or have been a major part of it. It is then that you will know who I am, and who I’ve been.”
Phyllis A. Daniel was born in Fort Dodge on August 7, 1943, the youngest child of John and Renee Daniel. Phyllis’ father and his father, Ferris Daniel, founded Daniel Tire Co. (now operated by relatives Steve and Jeff Daniel) and in 1963, her father and her brother John opened Daniel Pharmacy, which John has been operating to this day at 1114 Central Ave. Her sister Joan taught in Fort Dodge and Webster City.
“My dad and granddad were strong-willed, and my sister got some of that,” said John, a pharmacist like his son John III, part of a family business that includes a gift shop, home decor and Merle Norman studio operated by John’s daughter Mary Kay Daniel. “Phyllis was smart and she really communicated well. In our neighborhood softball games, she was strong. She could hit the ball better than most of us. I remember when she learned to ride a bike — I was running alongside her, it took her just a half hour to learn. She was pretty determined, strong-willed.”
Sarah Kercheval, who was Bush’s best friend in high school, said it was no surprise she became a teacher.
“She admired her teachers, and they admired her,” Kercheval said. “In high school, one of the English teachers had a son who was about to be married. The teacher asked Phyllis to come to her house for dinner and wanted help in planning a shower for the bride-to-be. Phyllis helped with the menu (I think it was something that included little sausages covered with grape jelly) and concocted some shower games like naming their first baby after a famous author. Think about it. A teacher actually asking a student for help. And later, much later, when Phyllis blogged about what Cancer-Schmantzer was doing to her body, her students would respond with love and sympathy.”
Rosemary Steinmaus Kolacia, a fellow member of the Fort Dodge Senior High Class of 1961, knew Bush from junior high school on.
“She lived at Expo Pool in the summer as did I,” Kolacia said. “We became better friends after she was out of college and teaching. She never missed a class reunion. I would ask her to give our class some sort of speech at the reunion programs. She was so eloquent. She always ended up doing it but it was not her favorite thing to do. Sometimes she agreed to do it but only for me. Once I had to promise her a visit to us in Florida and she would agree. I loved her and will miss her. Oh, how I wish she would have willed me her vocabulary.”
After a year at Fort Dodge Community College, she transferred to the University of Iowa where she earned a degree in English and met her future husband, Richard Bush, also an education student. They married and had a son, David, who works in the software business in Indianapolis and has two sons of his own, Evan, 14, and Aiden, 12. David said his parents divorced when he was in the eighth grade and that his father died several years ago.
Bush’s 32-year teaching career began in Rockford, Illinois. The majority of her career was spent at South Side High School in Fort Wayne where she served as English Department chair and where she met Roof, who also taught in the English department.
One of Bush’s students at South Side, Josh Klugman, a professor of sociology at Temple University, shared fond memories from her class as a senior in 1993-94:
“Ms. Bush was great,” he said. “She would have us write journals and she would give us compassionate and sensitive feedback on our narratives about our lives and the novels we were reading. She would also have us do ‘hourlongs’ which were lengthy hour-long book reports at the end of the school year. I did War and Peace and I am always grateful to her for pushing me to challenge myself by reading that hulking novel and trying to process it in an intelligent way. We would have lengthy class discussions about the novels we were reading and she was able to get everyone involved in the discussions. Her passing is a loss for education, not just for what she brought to the teaching profession, but also her political activism against “choice” and the other fashionable prevailing winds in education.”
Kercheval recalled that after retirement from teaching, Bush “turned to the politics of education. She was a lion, testifying at numerous hearings in defense of public schools and public school teachers. She continued to write and speak of the unfairness of the hours Indiana public school teachers were forced to work, of the number of classes they were forced to teach and the number of students in each class. She pointed out how homeschoolers and charter schools were eating up funds that should have been marked for the public school system. Truly she was fearless in her defense of a quality education for all.”
In 2012 Bush founded the grassroots public education group, Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education. She served on the board of directors for the Network for Public Education, which last year established the Phyllis Bush Award for Grassroots Organizing.
When she was diagnosed two years ago with cancer — Cancer-Schmantzer, she called it — Bush started a blog, “Kind of a Big Dill,” and wrote: ‘While all of this may seem quite scary, I always find that the more I know and understand, the better I can deal with whatever hand is dealt to me.”
Jane Bice Borchers, who was a year behind Phyllis at FDSH, recalled a phone conversation right after Bush learned the news of her cancer’s spread to Stage 4 in which Bush said, “I got the news today that my expiration date is coming sooner than I wanted.” Added Borchers, “She kept her droll sense of humor right to the very end. She made me laugh and I think that helped her too. She was a presence, she was one in a million.”
Roof said she and Bush had been together 25 years when they decided to marry. The intent was to have a private ceremony at the Allen County Courthouse in Fort Wayne, but some of her former students learned about it and about 40 showed up to witness the union. The presiding judge was one of Bush’s former students. “It showed the love the students had for her,” Roof said.
When not advocating for education, Bush enjoyed reading, walking her dogs (Max Quigley and MacGyver), playing tennis, watching the Chicago Cubs, and traveling.
Then there was “Gramma Camp.” Her son David said his two boys “went up to their house every year since they were born. My mom would pack their agenda with a lot of activities, which would include the zoo, Chicago Cubs games, meeting with friends, playing games in the yard and many other unique activities she would organize based on the time of year and ages.
“She left us with a love of world travel, acceptance of others, integrity, education, work ethic, and the energy to be fully committed to anything we were passionate about.”
Messenger Spotlight: May 5, 2019; Paul Stevens
The Church of the Damascus Road Ministers to Inmates
All of his parishioners have been convicted of crime and are serving prison time for their offense, but there’s no job the Rev. Paul Stone would rather do than to serve as their pastor.
“I feel like I’m working with people who recognize that to change their lives, they can’t do it alone. They need God’s help,” said Stone, who directs The Church of the Damascus Road — a congregation of inmates at the North Central Correctional Facility in Rockwell City and the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility. It is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.
“That is very satisfying, watching the growth in these guys. I am given more love overtly in the prison setting than I experienced in the congregations I served (outside) before.”
Thousands of inmates have been part of the congregation since it was formed in 1997, first in Rockwell City and then the following year when the Fort Dodge prison opened. The Rev. Carroll Lang became its first pastor after playing a role in the city’s second bid to land a prison after losing out to Newton in its first attempt. A promise was made to have an experienced pastor in place, he said, who would work with inmates inside the prisons and “help when they get out to reintegrate into society as contributing citizens.”
Lang was pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Fort Dodge when he was called to serve the Church of the Damascus Road, the first prison congregation in Iowa and at the time one of six such congregations nationwide. (There are now four in Iowa.) And for the next 12 years, until he was succeeded by Stone, he helped lead its growth — meeting with inmates twice a week at each prison, worship services one night and Bible study the other. Any inmates in the prisons can attend. They become and remain as members strictly through attendance, Stone said.
Funding comes from congregations, individuals and businesses in a 100-mile radius. Churches of all denominations contribute, Lang said, heeding Jesus in Matthew 25 — “I was in prison and you came to me.” CoDR operates with two paid employees — the pastor and a halftime office secretary. Its volunteers go into both prisons and also work with inmates on their re-entry into society once released.
Two of the most rewarding programs conducted by the congregation are Brothers in Blue and Story Tellers. Brothers in Blue is a three-day spiritual renewal ministry retreat held twice a year with heavy interaction with inmates. In the story-telling program, donated children’s books are read aloud monthly by inmates and recorded on DVDs, and the DVDs are sent to their children who can hear and see their dad read a book, building a relationship with child and parent.
“The 11 ¢ years I served as pastor were probably the most fun and rewarding time in my career,” Lang said. “A lot of it is the fact they really appreciate someone who comes in regularly. Most are already people of faith, who went awry, and are seeking community and growth. And there are some who get religion.”
Topher McCoy, who was recently paroled after serving 13 years of a 50-year sentence for child endangerment resulting in death, said “getting to know this family of mine was a joy and blessing to help in every way for me to succeed. It helped me find a place to live, to help find a job. The biggest thing, they check in on me each and every day.”
McCoy was part of the congregation’s inside church council while serving his sentence and is now being shepherded by one of the 10 re-entry teams from the congregation that is working with him during his first year on the outside. One of the team members went with him when he first met his probation officer. “They’re interested in you as a person, you and your goals, in helping you succeed.” McCoy hopes to eventually join a re-entry team “to help other guys” in his situation.
The re-entry/reintegration teams “offer the basics, the nuts and bolts of life’s necessities — mentoring, counseling, getting into good groups,” Stone said. “They’ll make referrals whenever they can — finding out who’s hiring in the area. Now there are more jobs than there are people to fill them. They try to speak honestly. The U.S. government passed a second-chance act and a real tax benefit to hire guys out of prison. We appeal to their humanity, let’s give this guy another chance.”
Stone believes that inmates who take part in the congregation have a lower recidivism rate than those who do not. “Depending on who you ask and what criteria are used, recidivism is generally thought to be over 60 percent for all those released,” he said. “My estimate for recidivism for CoDR members is 30 – 40 percent.” That number has risen in the last few years, he said, due to the increased availability of meth and opioids, as well as increased gang activity in Iowa’s larger cities. “I get bummed when guys go back to prison,” Stone said. “It hurts.”
“When a guy relapses, it’s really tough on the team,” Lang said. “It’s like any parent whose kid messes up, we ask, ‘What did we do wrong?'”
Stone, who worked 15 years as a lay person in the Illinois Department of Corrections after graduating from seminary in Chicago, said he believes that “for guys to change their lives, they have to get in touch with God. That’s my bias, but I see it. Their chances are so much better. God is a tough sell for most — they get labeled Bible thumpers but if they’re really getting it, they don’t care. That’s why they get into church where they feel comfortable, they get help.”
Messenger Spotlight: November 11, 2018; Paul Stevens
Charles Clayton Shares His Lessons
Charles Clayton is the first to admit that he learned life’s lessons the hard way.
He was a member of the Dodgers’ 1988 state championship basketball team coached by Tom Goodman but his playing time was limited by an attitude problem, he said: “I thought I could buck the system and just be an ass.” He later played a year at Des Moines Area Community College but didn’t get invited back.
A couple years later, he was arrested for shooting a rifle into the air in a residential neighborhood on New Year’s Eve.
“I was young, dumb and careless,” he said. No one was hurt but it resulted in a conviction on a charge of nonforcible terrorism. He served a year of his five-year sentence in county jail and a residential facility.
“Here I was, a 21-year-old black male in Fort Dodge, Iowa, with a felony conviction for terrorism,” he recalled of the critical juncture of his life.
“It’s a teaching lesson I use with the kids,” he added, referring to the hundreds of young people and their families who have benefited from the nonprofit he founded in 2004, Athletics for Education and Success (AFES), which offers afterschool programs, sports teams and leagues, mentoring groups, drum-line groups, and educational and cultural opportunities.
“I kind of look at it as a blessing,” Clayton said. “At the same time a lot of guys I was hanging with got arrested for drugs, and all got 5 to 20 years. I looked at myself and thought, God looked after me, he gave me a slap on the wrist versus a punch in the face. I learned I needed to be accountable to myself. I can do better than this.”
In Jerry Patterson — who devoted six decades of his life to Fort Dodge youths — Clayton found a savior.
“I was having a hard time getting a job, and Jerry hired me to work at his baseball field and helped me get work at the YMCA. That really led to a domino effect of people seeing me work there, leading to other jobs because of that.”
Clayton found more people in his corner. While earning his bachelor’s degree from Buena Vista University, he worked as a teacher’s associate in the Fort Dodge school system. Clayton credits three school officials with helping get the position — then-Superintendent Dr. David Haggard, middle school Principal Dr. Phil Wormsley (whose son Scott was Clayton’s high school basketball teammate) and elementary school Principal Steve Harbaugh.
Clayton assisted in behavior disorder problems in the middle school.
“There weren’t a lot of things they could try that I had not already done,” he said.
After working five years at the middle school, Clayton joined the Rabiner Treatment Center as coordinator of residential services and worked there for seven years. Working at Rabiner is what gave him the idea for starting AFES, he said.
“I was working with kids who were court-ordered to be there,” he said. “I wanted to do something on the other end of this — instead of being there after they already made mistakes, I wanted to be more preventative, before they got into trouble. Sometimes it can be so engrained in their thinking, and by the time you get to them, it’s too late.”
AFES began with sports camps in 2005-06.
“We had 40 or more kids, from all economic and racial backgrounds, whoever showed up was more than welcome. That took us to forming teams and leagues. We paid for everything ourselves.
“We noticed that some kids were playing a lot of sports but their grades were bad or attitudes bad in school. So we started afterschool for fifth- and sixth-graders, to get grades up so they could play sports. And they were dragging along their first- and second-grade brothers or sisters with them. We were quickly getting 40 to 60 kids a day.”
Clayton rented out space in the Snell Building for the AFES after-school program.
“The kids knew behavior, attendance and grades in school would allow them to participate fully — or not.”
Today, AFES operates from the former Hillcrest Elementary School, purchased in 2010 from the school district for $1,000. Five years later, the Martin Luther King Recreation Center was built next door. Before construction began, AFES raised nearly half of the $1 million it cost to build.
Clayton’s father, Charles Butler, died about 10 years ago and his mother, Rebecca Fields, and her husband Terrence Fields, live in Fort Dodge. Clayton’s sister, Shirley Clayton, lives in Kansas City; another sister, Jackie Garcia, died a year ago.
“My dad was not a part of my life — as I got older he and I had a friendship bond but never a father-son thing,” Clayton said. “It impacted me. With three sons of my own, I made sure I was the best father I could be, raise them the right way, to be there no matter what.”
Clayton and Joy Schauper are parents of three sons: Nathaniel, 21; Solomon, 20; and Malcolm, 18. Solomon and Malcolm played basketball at FDSH and are now playing on scholarship at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville. Nathaniel works for his father at AFES.
Goodman recalls that Clayton missed the first part of the 1989 Dodgers’ season with a broken ankle in the opening game but persevered, rehabbed and played through the injury as the team won the conference title.
“Today, he has done the same thing,” Goodman said. “He was determined to build that gym for the youth of Fort Dodge and now it is a huge success and everyone in the Fort Dodge area should be proud of what Charles has done with nothing more than sheer determination to get this project completed for the kids of Fort Dodge. Charles turned out to be a ‘winner’ in my book, and his experience in high school basketball of being knocked down and getting up and trying again, I feel had something to do with his attitude to get this huge project completed. He went against a lot of odds and naysayers.”
Messenger Spotlight: October 7, 2018; Paul Stevens
Joey Coleman: Words of Wisdom
His grandfather was a stalwart of the Iowa Senate, representing northwest Iowa for 34 years. His father was a successful trial attorney in Fort Dodge for 35 years.
And now, Charles Joseph Coleman III is forging his own life’s path, one far different from that of the late Iowa Sen. C. Joseph Coleman, his grandfather, who died in 2002, and C. Joseph Coleman Jr., his father, who left his law practice to become a Catholic deacon.
Yet, he is drawing on lessons they taught him.
He’s known as Joey Coleman — named Joey from birth to avoid confusion with his grandfather and father who were known as Joe — and he travels far and wide as a motivational speaker to impart ideas — with a focus on how businesses can keep their customers.
Since leaving Fort Dodge for college in 1991 after graduating from St. Edmond High School, he has held internships with the CIA, Secret Service and the White House while in law school at George Washington University, practiced law in Fort Dodge with his father, taught university courses, founded a company aimed at helping businesses retain their customers particularly in the first 100 days, and has written a book, “Never Lose a Customer Again.”
From his home in Boulder, Colorado, where he lives with his wife, Berit, and their sons, Lochlan, 5, and Kjellen, 3, Joey Coleman travels the country — and sometimes beyond. His family often accompanies him on the trips.
This year, as in past ones, he plans 40 to 50 appearances as a keynote speaker — his speeches can range from 15 minutes to a three-day workshop. In February, he will fly to Brisbane to speak before the Volkswagen Australia group.
Coleman was teaching classes in business at Berkshire College in Massachusetts when in 2002 he returned to Washington to get involved in business and in short order started his own company focused on branding and marketing.
He founded Design Symphony — “if you hired me, you would get all the pieces of your business on the same sheet of music playing in harmony” in explaining the name — and the company became his primary focus for the next 15 years.
The genesis for his speaking career came when he was asked to speak to a conference for one of his clients, a tech company, that he was helping with its branding campaign.
“The crowd loved it,” he said. “So I started giving more of these speeches. It was all about personal branding. In 2015, I went all in and decided to become a full-time speaker about the customer experience.
“There’s an underlying principle that applies,” Coleman said. “Research shows 20 to 70 percent of customers leave in the first 100 days. Research also shows that if you can keep them beyond that time, they will be with you for life. So it’s a pivotal first three months. There are lots of speakers who speak about marketing and sales, but very few who speak about what happens after the sale.”
His customers run the full gamut, he said: “If you have human beings as customers, these principles apply to their business.” They include chambers of commerce, financial advisers, the auto industry, technology, entrepreneurial conferences, the food and wine industry, real estate, and salon and spa owners.
Before he speaks, Coleman said, “I spend time talking to companies and employees to learn about their business. Then I do my own independent research about the industry and competition. Depending on some clients, I also speak with their customers as well. It’s all about the First 100 Days.
“At a high level, every person in business has heard of buyer’s remorse, but if you go to any business, most do not have a system to counter it. There’s a structural issue — the person who buys the service is not responsible for using or executing it. The typical CEO doesn’t have background in post-sale experience. The voice of the customer gets diluted.
“The biggest purchase most of us make is our home — 86 to 92 percent of home buyers, when asked if they have a positive experience with real estate agent, say yes. The percentage who actually use that same agent when they buy their next home — 9 to 11 percent.”
Although companies are faced with economic pressure to reduce conferences for their employees, Coleman said he is finding the demand for speaking at conferences is growing: “Companies realize their employees are dying for human connection. They now stare at an electronic box all day. I think there’s opportunity for live events to help people think, feel and act differently. If they don’t act differently, I haven’t done my job.”
Most members of his audiences have a mobile phone in their purse or pocket, and that puts pressure on him to deliver a riveting speech, Coleman said. “That being said, more than once I’ve seen someone on their phone during my entire presentation, only to have the same person come up afterwards and share that (a) they were live tweeting, or (b) they were taking copious notes.”
Coleman is the second born of seven children of Sharon (Sam) and Joe Coleman. His siblings are Lori, of San Diego; Danielle, of San Diego; Tommy, of Fort Dodge; Chris, of Springfield, Illinois; K.C., of Fort Dodge; and Callaghan, of Omaha.
His life has taken him on a journey far beyond where he grew up, but Coleman says he still draws on lessons learned from his grandfather and his parents.
“From my grandfather, I learned the importance of giving back, of thinking of a life of service — What are you doing to make it a better place?” he said. “From my parents, I learned the importance of balancing work and family. Dad was an incredible attorney but he attended all the activities involved with their children. My mom was a great artist, and in the design business when I learned color theory, it dawned on me that I learned it from my mom, coloring with me at a very early age.
“We had favorite family mottos — and there’s one from my mom: If we knew the power of our words, we wouldn’t speak. For someone who’s a professional speaker, I take that to heart.”
Messenger Spotlight: January 6, 2019; Paul Stevens
Corpus Christi Parish Changes
For 136 years, Christmas services have been celebrated at Corpus Christi Church — through two world wars, the Great Depression and many other major events as Fort Dodge grew from a town of 2,500 residents when the church was founded to a city of 25,000.
This year’s services will be the last at the iconic Fort Dodge landmark, one of the oldest continuously operated churches in the United States and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the last of eight Catholic churches in Webster County to remain open.
“For most people, for myself, it’s a recognition that OK, we’re going to celebrate this marvelous feast of the Incarnation — but it is not the last time we celebrate that great feast,” said Monsignor Kevin McCoy, pastor of Holy Trinity Parish. “We very much look toward the hope, the excitement that something new brings.”
A year from now, Catholics of Webster County will celebrate Christmas in a brand-new church — Holy Trinity Catholic Church — at a location next to St. Edmond Catholic School that once was farmland when Corpus Christi was dedicated in 1883 and more recently was used as a football field and track.
That “excitement” McCoy speaks of is progressing day by day as construction workers have finished off the roof of the new church and are now doing brick and stonework outside while building out the inside area and laying surfaces for the parking lots next to it.
Corpus Christi will remain open until the long-awaited grand opening of Holy Trinity Church – expected in late June or early July of 2020.
A shortage of priests — part of a national phenomenon facing the U.S. Catholic Church — was the driving force in the consolidation of the Fort Dodge churches. McCoy and the Rev. Brian Feller are the only priests to serve the 2,435 households in Webster County, which at one time had 12 priests. The Sioux City Diocese covers 24 counties, but has only 47 priests. McCoy said that within 15 years, 33 priests — himself included — could retire and that there are only 12 men in seminary in the process of becoming priests.
“The parishioners involved have been wonderful and create an excitement that helps carry us on,” said McCoy, who came to Fort Dodge in 2008. “Personally, we face a real challenge with just two priests trying to stay abreast of the oversight of construction, fundraising and so on, while still providing the sacramentals of our parishioners’ lives. I may get a call, ‘the contactor needs to see you about a window’ and in the next moment hear from a family wanting to make funeral arrangements. There’s enough of me to be two but I don’t know how to do that.”
Four deacons are assigned to the parish. They are able to baptize and help preside at weddings and funerals that do not involve the Mass. Rick Salocker works with the parish food pantry, Dan Carney with the homebound, Ed Albright with the prison ministry and homebound, and Joe Coleman with the sick, and as a hospital chaplain.
Holy Trinity Parish was created in 2006 by a decree from Bishop R. Walker Nickless. At that time, there were three worship sites in Fort Dodge — Corpus Christi, Holy Rosary and Sacred Heart — and five others in the county: St. Joseph in Barnum, St. Matthew in Clare, Christ the King in Dayton, St, Joseph in Duncombe, and Our Lady of Good Counsel in Moorland. All but Corpus Christi are now closed as worship sites, the latest, Sacred Heart, occurring in September. (Weddings and funerals are still conducted at Moorland.)
Long-range planning for a single worship site began within a couple years and after extensive study, the parish got the go-ahead to proceed. In 2016, Holy Trinity launched a five-year fund drive to raise $12 million to build the church, and ground-breaking took place Aug. 1, 2018. Tom Miklo, St. Edmond development director, said $9.5 million in pledges has been received from 600-plus households and $8 million-plus of it is in hand. There have been a couple of large gifts, he said. “All things said, it is really remarkable where we are today, given that it’s been a long haul.”
It has not been easy for parishioners to lose their churches, a part of their family and their heritage from birth to death.
“Everybody hates to close any of the churches because they are beautiful things,” said J. Mick Flaherty, longtime member of Corpus Christi parish who is on the church planning committee. “We have two priests for the whole county. We’re lucky to keep two. I think it’s getting better because they can see the building — still, there are so many heartstrings, no one wants to close these churches.”
Hiedi Touney, Holy Trinity parish life director, agrees and believes that as the new structure has taken form, the sense of loss by some parishioners of their home parish is lessening.
“There’s a definite sense that no matter where you are, where you had once worshipped and the loss of that heritage, people are seeing it being built and are now experiencing one church,” she said. “We’re all starting to blend. We’re all going to have to learn new ways. We all will be in same boat when we go into the new church.”
Jonathan Flattery, who with his wife, Liz, were involved in fundraising and design work for the new church, was a member of Sacred Heart parish and believes “the pockets of resentment” held by some over losing their own church are easing. He said he is thankful for those who are “doing heavy lifting financially and building our faith here in our town.”
The 26,000-square-foot church will have seating for 1,000 — and if needed, temporary seating in the narthex area. It will be totally accessible, invaluable to those who because of disability or age have found access to the worship centers too challenging to attend Mass. Steps had to be climbed at both Corpus Christi and Sacred Heart, and an elevator installed at Sacred Heart was not dependable.
“The fact that the physical barriers are removed will make the new site more inviting,” McCoy said. “I also think that having one site will help in terms of the quality of the liturgy — already there is a new men’s choral group experimenting with what music they might be able to provide.”
In an effort to preserve some of the history of the churches being replaced, key elements from some of those worship centers are being incorporated into the new church.
Examples include: the 14 Stations of the Cross at Corpus Christi, hand-carved in Oberammergau, Germany, age unknown; the hand-carved red-oak pew ends at Sacred Heart Church to be used as the pew ends for pews in the new church and the marble top of its altar that will be reworked into the new church’s altar; a statue of Mary and Joseph, hand-carved in Italy, from St. Joseph Church in Barnum that will be used in the day chapel of the new church.
Touney said an attempt will be made to move the Grotto next to Corpus Christi Church over to the Holy Trinity Catholic Church property when the new church is completed.
“The design team and others tried to find ways artifacts from the eight worship centers could be used in the new church, without making it seem like Grandma’s Attic,” McCoy said. “Many of these artifacts are being reutilized so that a piece of our history is still very much in our worship.”
The school building across the street from Corpus Christi Church, known as the Corpus Christi Center, will remain open for such uses as funeral luncheons, Knights of Columbus fish fries and the like for the next couple years, Touney said, until the next phase of development would bring a social hall close by to the new church. Also in future plans is an enclosed walkway between St. Edmond school and the new church.
Will the new church build attendance? McCoy responds:
“Of course, the reality is that the demographic of rural America continues to shift. I know when I was ordained almost 40 years ago, there were 120,000 Catholics in Northwest Iowa; now the number is around 80,000. Even the city of Fort Dodge is working on efforts to encourage former residents (younger graduates of our schools) to return to make Fort Dodge home – so it is not just a matter impacting churches. Our pastoral planning focuses on promoting more opportunities to gather to discuss and share their faith; and new initiatives are being worked on that the new church facility will help to foster. There is a need for a renewed evangelization in this age; to awaken people to their spiritual side and a need to interact as a community. Certain technologies discourage that; virtual communities online just don’t meet our human social needs.”
A major question facing McCoy and church leaders will come after the new church is opened: What to do with the old churches?
The Holy Rosary church building has been sold to Community Christian School. The church at Barnum has been sold and the church at Duncombe torn down and the land sold, Touney said. The parish still owns the facilities at Clare, Dayton and Moorland, as well as Sacred Heart and Corpus Christi.
“The parish council will be looking at all options to repurpose these worship centers with certain entities and in the case of Sacred Heart and Corpus Christi, the city of Fort Dodge,” she said. “There’s some growing interest in repurposing Sacred Heart — it’s great for music, the acoustics incredible. Is there any way to use it for the performing arts? The city is looking at different things.
“There will not be a rush to do something. The centers will be winterized while these efforts go on. There won’t be wrecking cranes and bulldozers anytime soon.”
Prospects for a new purpose for the venerable Corpus Christi Church are slim. Its brick is soft and porous and is wearing out, allowing water to come into the structure, Touney said.
“It’s unlikely it can ever be repurposed. There’s been discussion on whether it can remain standing because of its historic value. Perhaps. But there is nothing definitive at this time.”
Flaherty said he prays every day “for the church and for wisdom in running it. In the end, a church is the people. It’s not the brick and mortar.”
Messenger Spotlight: December 1, 2019; Paul Stevens
Maureen Crisick: Poetry and Morocco
A love of poetry and literature is a generational thing for Maureen Micus Crisick — a love inherited from her grandmother and mother, shared with her brother Ed and extended to her own two daughters.
“Writing for me is hearing the sounds and the rhythm of the words,” she said. “I just fell in love with the language. It’s in my DNA.”
Crisick has combined her love of poetry with a second passion — the north African country of Morocco, where a collection of her poems was published in 2018 in a book printed in both English and Arabic and where she founded the Moroccan Angels Project that helps further the education of girls in need. She lives in Walnut Creek, California, with her husband William.
The seeds of her life’s passions were planted at the Micus home, a “little green house” on Second Avenue South, since demolished, across the street from Sacred Heart Catholic Church, where her mother Ruth Flattery Micus raised five children — Annamarie, twin brothers Ed and Bill, Maureen, and Mary Beth. Four were born in Chicago and Mary Beth was born in Fort Dodge. As a single mother, Ruth supported the family working as a secretary at Fort Dodge Laboratories. Her brother was District Court Judge Edward J. Flattery, who died in 1999.
The parents and grandparents of Ruth Flattery were pioneer farmers in the Fort Dodge area. She attended a two-room country school and was exposed to poetry when her mother Anna (who married Michael Flattery at Sacred Heart Church in 1905) would clip poems published in the Fort Dodge Messenger and put them into a booklet.
“My mother was from the old school, the old days of recitation,” Crisick said. “She had memorized those poems — Tennyson, Edgar Allen Poe and others — while on the farm. When she had her own family, she was always reciting those poems from memory. My brother Eddie said we grew up in iambic parameter. That was my mother’s style. ‘Oh mom,’ we’d say, ‘stop that, we’re on the 40th verse’.”
When she was a sophomore at St. Edmond High School, Crisick wrote her first poem and it was published in the school newspaper. “I was all of 16 years old,” she said.
All five Micus children graduated from St. Edmond and three of them — Ed, Bill and Maureen — are graduates of Mankato State University (now Minnesota State University). Bill attended the school on a football scholarship and Ed returned to Mankato to serve 20 years as assistant director of its Center for Academic Success. Ed, who Crisick said “had a great influence on my direction in life,” published a collection of his poems in 2009 in a book called The Infirmary that included stories from growing up in Fort Dodge and his U.S. Army service in Vietnam where he was wounded in combat.
When she graduated from Mankato State with a bachelor’s degree in English in 1969, Crisick said, a girlfriend suggested they move to California to look for jobs. “Off we went, I had $60 in my pocket,” she said. Crisick was a student teacher at the American School Foundation in Mexico City and in 1970 was hired to teach English and speech at Saint Vincent Ferrer High School in Vallejo, California. She later earned a master’s degree in creative writing from San Francisco State University and taught at the University of Phoenix Northern California campus.
Crisick introduced her daughters Rachel and Rebecca to poetry and, just as her own mother had done for her, she made it an everyday part of their lives growing up.
“We read poetry at the kitchen table. We would have this little ritual when they were 8 or 9 and we were going to school. I would throw out a line, say from T.S. Eliot, ‘Let us go then you and I’ — and they would give the next line, ‘As the evening is set against the sky.'”
Rachel, who has worked as a freelance writer, is married to Chris Hopkins and they have two daughters, Mae and Camille. Rebecca is an instructor at the San Francisco Art Institute.
Rachel had a hand in introducing her mother to Morocco while studying journalism in Spain.
“I came for a visit, and there was an opportunity to hop-skip to Morocco, only seven miles across the Strait of Gibraltar to Tangier,” Crisick said. “I thought, Why not? I booked a seven-day tour of Morocco, and when the time came to leave the country, I said to Morocco, ‘I’ll be back some day.’ So 20 years later when I applied for a Fulbright grant to teach American literature and poetry at a university near Rabat, I checked the little box on the form for Morocco and Voila! One click of the pen and a life changes.”
Crisick won a Fulbright Senior Scholar grant to Morocco in 2000-01 and was a professor of American Literature at the University of Kenitra. The experience spawned a love affair with Morocco — “full of kind people, gorgeous countryside, wonderful food, friendly people. If you invite a Moroccan to coffee at a cafe, plan on spending the whole afternoon!”
Her poetry work has been published in a variety of literary publications over the years and she has collaborated with other writers. Last year, she published her first solo book — “Going There” — that contains a collection of her poems — with subjects spanning Iowa to Morocco. The book was published in Casablanca — half in English, half in Arabic — and is being sold in Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia — and Morocco and the United States.
“I probably have written 200 to 300 poems over the years,” Crisick said. “But it’s not the quantity. I try to make each one good because they mean so much to me. I usually rewrite each 20 to 30 times.”
Her Moroccan Angels Project was started in 2015 as a way to help girls ranging in age from 13 to 17, many of them living in houses with dirt floors and no running water, to go on to high school in Foum Jamaa, 20 miles away. They live in a dormitory with bunk beds, running water and showers while attending classes during the school week and then return to their homes on weekends. The project covers the cost of room and board for a year.
“I spend a fair amount of time in the little Moroccan village, each spring and fall, so I know the 22 families, and all are in need,” she said. “Most live on the equivalent of 8 to 10 dollars per day. So it’s not difficult to find girls attending 8th grade (the last grade of primary school in the village), and who want to go on to high school. I stay in contact with the 8th grade teachers and find out which girls are motivated and the ones with the best grades.”
Crisick first covered the cost on her own but is now getting donations from family and from friends in the United States and Morocco. Tuition is provided by the Moroccan government.
“Last year, we had enough money for six angels (one in law school),” she said. “I paid their fees directly to the school, and had a little left over to take the kids tennis shoe shopping. Tennis shoes were required for their PE classes. They were thrilled. Later, their mothers left baskets of warm bread. Who could not love a woman who leaves fresh bread at your door?”
Messenger Spotlight: July 7, 2019; Paul Stevens
Evelyn Dalton: ‘Mom Friendly’
Her career in news and corporate communications took her from Iowa to Missouri to Virginia to Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, but throughout her journey, Evelyn Dalton kept strong ties to her roots of growing up on a farm near Emmetsburg — and she’s applied those roots to those she mentored.
Whether applied to a news story or corporate news release, that’s the teaching term she used in her work for The Associated Press, a worldwide newsgathering agency; for public relations and marketing giant FleishmanHillard, and for her own company, Dalton Media. “Mom” refers to her mother, Lois Quam, an avid newspaper reader and consumer of news through most of her 91 years, who died last Sept. 11.
“My mom loved news and up until the week before she died, she could tell you what happened in the last hour in national news. So tell me your story and why is it mom friendly?” she would ask those she mentored. “Why should they care? It was a good centering reminder that these are the people we are really trying to reach. When I was writing broadcast for the AP and then coaching other broadcast writers, the story had to be mom friendly — written in a way people could understand if they weren’t in a newsroom. My corporate clients would often get lost in industry verbiage that was not mom friendly. I would remind them they needed to think about a mom in Iowa who might be interested in a story — and that if she couldn’t understand their language, the industry jargon, then it doesn’t really matter.”
As a communications coach and public relations counselor, Dalton has worked with executives from dozens of companies, ranging from startups to the Fortune 50, as well as executives from associations and government agencies. Her training sessions include coaching in message delivery, media interview techniques, presentation skills and crisis communications.
She and her husband, Rob Dalton, make their home in the San Francisco Bay area.
Dalton is the oldest of four daughters of Lois and Norman Quam, both of Norwegian heritage, who harvested corn and soybeans and raised cattle and hogs on a farm five miles north of Emmetsburg. Her mother graduated from Emmetsburg Community High School in 1946 and attended teacher training in Spencer before teaching country school in Vernon Township. She stopped teaching when they were married in 1949.
All four girls grew up on the farm and graduated from high school in Emmetsburg. Today, they are scattered throughout the western half of the country: Evelyn in Danville, California; Norene in Wilsonville, Oregon; Diane in Silverdale, Washington; and Dori in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Their father died in 1985 at the age of 61, and her mother left the farm and moved into Emmetsburg.
Her parents were avid newspaper readers, subscribers to the Emmetsburg newspapers and the Des Moines Register from the time they were married, and listened daily to news on Spencer’s KICD radio station.
“My sisters and I knew conversation in the kitchen had to stop when the news, farm reports and weather forecasts came on,” she said. “Mom watched Sioux City and national TV newscasts every day, and CNN was usually on throughout the day.”
Dalton got a first taste of journalism as editor of her high school yearbook and member of the newspaper staff.
“At my high school, I had two really great English teachers — Leta Dinges and Kathryn Bailey — who influenced my career” she said. ”A small high school did not limit my opportunities. Mrs. Bailey was adviser to the yearbook and newspaper staff.
“I have loved the printed page forever, I loved to read. I attended Emmetsburg Junior College (now Iowa Lakes Community College) my first year, and then when I got to Northwest Missouri State, a journalism instructor helping people register, Opal Eckert, said, ‘Why not take a journalism course?’ And that was the beginning of my career.”
After graduating in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in English and journalism at Northwest Missouri State, Dalton returned to Emmetsburg and began her news career at the Reporter/Democrat, a twice-weekly newspaper. Her first position was as society editor – “my first assignment was to call families to see who they had as their guests at their graduation parties.” She still subscribes to both newspapers by mail, a gift from her parents.
From Emmetsburg, she moved to the Spencer Daily Reporter as a general assignment reporter and photographer. She left the paper to teach English and journalism at Spencer High School and a course at Iowa Lakes for five years, then moved to the St. Louis area and taught at Ladue High School for five more years. She was the school newspaper adviser at both high schools. In 1985, “I decided to do what I was teaching my students to do. My fingers were itching to get back in the business.”
She applied for a position with AP and was hired in Richmond, Virginia., where she was named broadcast editor. She then moved two years later to Williamsburg to become a public relations manager for Colonial Williamsburg, the world’s largest living history museum, and its hotels, restaurants and golf courses.
Dalton returned to the AP in its Washington-based Broadcast News Center, where she was director of station services and then assistant managing editor. There, she met her future husband, Rob Dalton, who was in sales after earlier work as an AP bureau chief. When he left AP to work for the Reuters news agency in northern California, AP allowed her to relocate to its San Francisco bureau where she supervised staff in Washington and became a broadcast writing coach for bureaus around the country.
She moved to Fleishman Hillard’s San Francisco office in 1998 and was named a vice president.
“It was a great time in the public relations business with the explosion of the number of tech companies. My job was media training, coaching executives on how to be interviewed and tell their story in a succinct way for someone outside the business to understand,” she said.
When her husband retired in 2000, she decided to start her own business and took on clients that included Owens Corning, Yahoo!, AT&T, Kellogg, Cargill, Clorox, Ancestry.com, the 49ers, McAfee, Intel, Nestle, UPS and Special Olympics.
“The focus — all media training, helping them learn how to deliver the company message, how to handle different messages. The people who are best interviewees will get back to their company story. I would prepare for a session by writing a list of 50 questions, having trainees rehearse how they would answer, so on camera or in a live interview, they could articulate the company’s message.”
Dalton closed her business in 2018 and today she is involved in pro bono work with nonprofit organizations. She enjoys gardening, yoga and international travel with her husband, who are in a statewide stay-at-home order in their home due to the coronavirus pandemic. Asked the advice she’d give on how to react to the pandemic, she said “stay informed but choose your news sources carefully. Look to experts who provide clear, concise information supported by facts and statistics. Trust those who have the courage to tell the truth, the humility to say they don’t know when they don’t know, and the ability to show genuine empathy.”
And make what they say is Mom Friendly.
“My advice to corporate clients and AP broadcast writers was to visualize who they were talking to — a neighbor, a friend who doesn’t work in the same industry, a family member,” she said. “For me, that was mom. People want to know what’s new, why they should care, and where’s the proof. Using everyday language even to explain complicated things helps people understand and keeps them engaged.
“I’m proud of my Iowa roots. When I experienced ‘pinch me’ moments in my career, my grandmother’s compliment was always ‘not bad for a little farm girl from Iowa.’ I attribute my success to the Norwegian work ethic I inherited and the luck of the Irish from growing up in Emmetsburg. To this day, when I spot someone wearing an Iowa T-shirt anywhere in the world, I often walk right up and ask where they’re from. I once left an “I’m from Iowa too” note on the windshield of a car parked in Rosarito, Mexico, because it had an Iowa license plate.”
Messenger Spotlight: April 5, 2020
Steve Dapper: Career in Advertising
August is a big month for Dallas advertising executive Steve Dapper.
With the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro just under way, his Publicis Hawkeye agency has produced commercials for one of the official Olympic partners – Bridgestone, the world’s largest manufacturer of tire and rubber products.
And with the 2016-17 school year at Iowa State University, his alma mater, about to begin, a professor in the College of Business will become the first recipient of a fellowship Dapper created and funded.
Dapper – who was raised in Fort Dodge and graduated from St. Edmond High School in 1964 – reached a pinnacle of his 47-year career with the birthing and nurturing of his own advertising business that he named Hawkeye.
The irony of a faculty fellowship funded by the CEO of a company carrying the name of “that other school” in eastern Iowa is not lost on David Spalding, dean of the ISU College of Business. To him, Steve is a gift that keeps on giving.
“We compete in a global market for faculty,” Spalding said. “The Dapper Fellowship and others like it are critical to attracting and keeping great faculty members.
“Steve brings cutting edge advice to projecting and marketing the school. We need to appeal to the 16- to 20-year-olds who are prospective students, the way Steve is able to do with his company.”
Dapper has been a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council of the business college since 1987. He’s the second-longest serving member of the group of 22.
“I may be the only C student serving on the advisory council,” Dapper said with a laugh, in a recent interview.
The first faculty member to be named a Dapper Fellow is Sridhar Ramaswami, professor of marketing, and it takes effect when classes begin August 15. The fellowship is a stipend that adds to the salary of the professor, who works primarily in the field of marketing strategy, and is endowed for 10 years. Ramaswami said he has known Dapper’s “entrepreneurial work over the years and have been impressed with his ingenuity and creativity.”
Dapper is chairman and CEO of Publicis Hawkeye, based in Dallas, after a career that included CEO positions at the nation’s two largest direct marketing companies, Wunderman and Rapp Collins Worldwide in New York City, where he climbed the corporate advertising ladder straight out of Ames. He founded Hawkeye in 1999 above his garage in Bronxville, New York, with his beloved golden lab, Jessie, and moved it to Dallas in 2004.
Looking for a way to expand Hawkeye’s horizons, Dapper sold the agency to Publicis Groupe of Paris in 2014. The global advertising giant merged the company with its Dallas agency to form Publicis Hawkeye and asked Dapper to stay on as chairman and CEO. It has about 220 employees in Dallas and 100 in Hawkeye’s offices in Charlotte, Buffalo, Minneapolis and Vail, Colorado.
Dapper was born in Cedar Rapids to Helen and Gordon Dapper. After living in Faribault, Minnesota, for three years, the family moved into the Dodger Apartments at Sixth Avenue and 24th Street in Fort Dodge and Steve, then 9, started fourth grade at Corpus Christi School.
His father was a World War II Navy veteran who served on the USS Hornet when it was sunk by the Japanese in 1942, claiming 140 lives. In Fort Dodge, he was manager of the Sport Bowl but one day left the family – “dad disappeared out of everyone’s life,” Steve said – and his mother was left to raise Steve and his sister Mary Jo on her own. Steve spent a lot of time with the family of his best friend, then and now, Greg Sells – “they kind of adopted me” he said of Greg’s parents Lyle and Louise Sells.
Dapper channeled his energy toward sports. “I was no great athlete, but I played basketball and was a hurdler in track at St. Edmond. I knew how to jump over things,” he said. “Mom was awesome, a single woman in Fort Dodge trying to support two kids. It wasn’t easy.”
Sells, a track and basketball teammate, points out that Dapper set school records in the low and high hurdles.
“Steve and I considered ourselves ‘sprinters’ – didn’t really want to run out to the turkey farm and back each day (four miles roundtrip),” Sells recalled. “We did everything we could (e.g. tie and retie our shoes) to be the last to leave the school grounds for the run. The route went right by Steve’s apartment in the Dodger Apartments. We would detour at that point. Watch Bandstand and Johnny Carson (“Who Do You Trust”) and we’d keep one eye out for the team as they ran back to the school. After they passed we’d sneak out and then try and look exhausted as we returned to the school grounds. I hope the statute of limitations has passed so we don’t retroactively get in trouble.”
Growing up in Fort Dodge, Dapper said, “Somehow I always strived to succeed. It instilled the idea of friendship and family, good Midwestern values, that have driven everything I have done. Live your life well, care for other people.”
Both of Dapper’s parents have passed away – he got to say goodbye to his father at a VA Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota, on the day he died in 1996. His mother died eight years ago. His sister lives in Marion, Iowa.
Dapper and his wife Phyllis, also an Iowa State graduate who he met when they worked at the Nugget Lodge in Aspen, Colorado, were married in 1968. After Steve graduated from Iowa State in 1969, he had two job offers. Neither appealed, so he decided to aim high and go to the world’s largest stage for advertising – New York City – to begin his career.
Nothing in the “How to Apply for Your First Job” textbook recommends the way he applied at the Dancer Fitzgerald and Sample agency: He sent a telegram out of the blue announcing when he would be there to interview.
“I sent a telegram to Dancer Fitzgerald saying I would be there on June 10 and that I would stop in and see you at 10 a.m.,” Dapper recalled. “So I arrived at their offices at 347 Madison Avenue. I said, ‘I’m Mr. Dapper, here to see Holly Smith.’ She came out of her office and replied, very facetiously, ‘Oh, we’ve been expecting you.'”
He was hired anyway – and in the “small world” department – got a chance to meet the chairman, Gordon Johnson, soon after starting work. The chairman, he learned, had played football at Cornell College in Iowa with Fort Dodger Lyle Sells.
Along the path of his corporate climb in New York ad agencies, Dapper detoured to start his own ad agency with friend Frank Henderson. They sold it to a Pittsburgh company in the late 1970s.
In 1999, he decided again to go out on his own – founding Hawkeye over his garage at his home in Bronxville, New York.
“I was working at Rapp Collins and everyone knew I loved Iowa, the Hawkeye State,” he said. “We needed a name, and Hawkeye made sense – the vision and velocity, making our mark on marketing by being more perceptive in what we saw. Hawkeye was the scout in The Last of the Mohicans – we were going to take our clients out of the morass.”
He bought a sales promotion company in Dallas in 2000 and moved the agency there in 2004. It grew to a company of more than 700 people when Dapper decided in 2014 to sell it – half to a software company in India and the other half to the global advertising giant Publicis Groupe of Paris.
Publicis Groupe merged the company with its Dallas agency to form Publicis Hawkeye. Eight years before the sale, Hawkeye did nothing in digital. Today, 65 percent of what it creates has a digital component such as building websites, creating mobile applications and targeted emails.
Publicis Hawkeye counts as clients such companies as Bridgestone, BASF, Cargill, T-Mobile, Tru Green, The North Face, American Airlines, Allstate, Peterbilt Trucks and Anheuser Busch.
Most of what Dapper did in the early stages of his career involved print and direct marketing advertising. Both remain important parts of his business today, but there’s increasing focus on digital and video – “we’re creating websites, and are doing films that run on YouTube and Facebook,” he said. “That’s what keeps me interested. We try to leverage creativity, data and technology – the trilogy of those coming together is the future of marketing.”
Dapper served for 15 years on the board of Direct Marketing Association, which represents 15,000 member companies, and was its chairman of the board two years. He is a frequent speaker on the future of direct marketing and technology’s effect on today’s consumers. Dallas Magazine named him one of the 500 top business executives in Dallas in 2015.
When he’s not working, Dapper collects coins, and any baseball cards that have Duke Snider on them; he has a whole set of cards from 1955.
His daughter, Amanda, 39, is married to Teo Ferreira and they have a daughter, Raquel, who is 4. They live in Miami Beach, Florida. Dapper’s daughter, Elizabeth, 36, is now working for Publicis Hawkeye in experiential sports marketing group on accounts such as The North Face and Anheuser Busch. His wife Phyllis’ mother, Dorothy Carlson, is 102 and lives in a retirement home in Omaha.
Dapper was one of 10 advertising leaders nationwide who contributed a chapter to the book, “Inside the Minds: The Art of Advertising.” His message was simple: “A Few True Golden Rules – Be current, be curious and never stop listening.”
“I am still curious – curiosity has always driven me, why people buy things and why people react,” he said. “At Hawkeye, everyone is treated as family. We try to have good communications. We stress the value of friendship, the value of team.”
Messenger Spotlight: August 7, 2016
Decker Truck Line Represent Fort Dodge on Nation’s Highways
Decker Truck Line Inc. is Fort Dodge’s ambassador to travelers on the nation’s highways.
Along the millions of miles of U.S. interstates and roadways, the bright red-and-gold semi-trailer trucks operated by its drivers make no secret that they’re from Fort Dodge. The city’s name is emblazoned on the sides of the cabs and the back of the trailers.
And people notice, said Topeka, Kansas-based driver Chad Hazelton, who operates his Decker rig through Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, New Mexico and Texas, hauling bakery products from the Pepperidge Farms factory in Downers Grove, Illinois.
“I see Iowa-plated cars and pickups every week,” he said. “With a lot of them, the passenger will look up and smile and wave like they know me. I’m sure it’s because of the name.”
Steve Alliger, who has driven out of the Fort Dodge facility for 22 years, has a sister who lives in the Wichita area.
“I’ve got some relatives who when they travel and see a Decker truck, they always want to see if it’s me,” he said. ”I’ve had some Iowa-plated cars wave at us when they pass on the interstate. It’s the coloring of the cabs, the striping on the side of the trailer.”
The same holds true at Decker’s headquarters in Fort Dodge where Don Decker, president and chairman of the nearly 90-year-old company, said he sometimes receives emails from people who spot Decker trucks – from California to Texas to New York.
“We quietly like to be out there getting the job done,” he said, calling the visibility “gratifying.”
“I got an email from a guy in Queens, New York, who said, ‘I never thought Decker would be seen in New York City’,” he added.
The eye-catching red-and-yellow color scheme has existed since the company’s founding in the early 1930s. Starting with a single Model B Ford truck, Loren Decker and his younger brother, Dale, realized their dream of owning a trucking company. It was involved in those early days with the transportation of canned goods, plumbing fixtures, gypsum products and windmills between Iowa and adjacent states. Don Decker, the son of Dale Decker, said the founders even copyrighted the yellow color – as Decker cream.
Dale Decker served with the Marine Corps during World War II, earning a Purple Heart, and in 1945 rejoined Loren in the business. Those Decker colors, not surprisingly, are similar to the scarlet and gold of the Marines, noted Don Decker, who added, “At one time, we had stickers on the back of every truck – ‘Proud to be a Marine.'” In 1976, Loren retired and sold his interest in the company to Dale and Dale’s two sons, Don and Duane.
The brothers set out to expand the company’s operations, both in size of territory and in the types of commodities transported. In the 10 years that followed, Decker’s revenues increased tenfold and its operations extended to a nationwide system of carrying all types of products under both its nationwide common and contract carrier authority.
In 1993, Don Decker acquired sole ownership of the company. Its management team consists primarily of individuals who have grown within the company as some began their career as drivers. Don Decker is among them: he learned to drive Decker trucks at age 17 while at Fort Dodge Senior High School and continued working there while attending Iowa Central Community College in 1966-68 before going on to Drake.
“I would take a load of meat from IBP, deliver it to Raft Packing Co. in Waterloo and return home at 8 in the morning, in time to get to class at Iowa Central,” he said.
Decker, which employs about 1,050 people, 350 of them based in Fort Dodge, transports flatbed, refrigerated and dry van freight throughout North America. Currently Decker owns about 800 tractors and 1,700 trailers. Corporate offices are located in Fort Dodge, with additional terminals in Davenport; LeMars; Mediapolis; Hammond, Indiana; Bessemer, Alabama; and Missoula, Montana. It also has logistics centers in Des Moines, Missoula and a third set to open Oct. 1 in Nashville.
The privately held company ranks 66th on the 2019 Fleet Owner 500 list of the largest for-hire carriers and is ranked fifth among Iowa carriers. It operates in all 48 contiguous states and in five provinces of Canada. Due to a driver shortage that plagues most trucking companies, Decker has about 55 trucks that are idle.
One truck that is never idle in the fall is a fixture for Iowa State University’s football program. For more than 25 years, a Decker truck – decked out in Iowa State colors – has transported football equipment to all of the Cyclones’ road games. When the Cyclones are playing in Ames, the tractor-trailer sits prominently near the stadium in the parking lot for all to see.
“We do have customers who are loyal University of Iowa fans and I get some static for that,” said Don Decker, who is a graduate of Drake University as is his son Dale, executive vice president and the third generation to be involved in the company.
Dale, 33, is one of two children of Don and his wife Dianne. Daughter Ashley, 30, lives in Nashville where she does styling work for entertainers and is involved in creating the newest Decker logistics office – for moving freight and locating trucks to transport freight.
Decker said the company’s biggest challenge is “attracting and keeping quality truck drivers” – with obstacles that include government regulations on working hours and a lifestyle that some would not enjoy. “It’s hard work – the hours on the road and dealing with traffic, the demands placed on carriers by shippers…The salary? It depends on how hard they want to work – it can be around $70,000 a year, and some can make over $100,000 a year.”
“I just like driving trucks, I go wherever they send me,” said Steve Falliger, who has logged 3 million miles in 22 years as a Decker driver – accident-free and without a traffic ticket – and normally is on the road for two to three weeks at a time. He was named the company’s 2018 Grand Champion Driver and the truck he drives is a Peterbilt cab that was the 2,500thpurchased by Decker from Peterbilt, in July.
Eric Jorgensen, president of JX Enterprises in Hartland, Wisconsin, was the dealership that sold Decker the truck. “We’ve sold more to Decker than any other truck line,” Jorgensen said. He loves the color scheme used. “They’re awesome to see on the road,” he said. “There are other lines that use red and yellow, but they don’t look as good as these Peterbilts.”
Messenger Spotlight: September 1, 2019; Paul Stevens
Dodger Stadium: If Bricks Could Talk
Oh, if those old bricks at Dodger Stadium could talk. Think of the history they’ve seen, the people they’ve touched, the memories they evoke — and the lives they continue to impact today.
Think of the stories they could tell. Perhaps just as many stories as there are bricks — some half-million of them, first cemented together by mortar and hard labor nearly 80 years ago. Since that time, the 22 acres where the iconic Fort Dodge stadium and surrounding grounds sit have impacted hundreds of thousands of residents.
“People are in awe when they first see the stadium,” said Travis Filloon, director of buildings and grounds for the past 12 years with the Fort Dodge Community School District, which owns the facility. “You just can’t build character from scratch. I’m proud of the things we’ve done over the years to maintain and showcase Dodger Stadium. It’s a privilege of my job.”
First and foremost, Dodger Stadium was intended for athletics when it was built in 1939-40 as part of FDR’s Works Progress Administration that put millions to work in the wake of the Great Depression, constructing public buildings and roads.
The total cost: $150,000. Workers used 385,000 bricks from the old junior high building at the corner of First Avenue North and North 10th Street, torn down as part of the stadium project, to form the outside-wall structure. Another 60,000 bricks were added to complete the project. The stadium itself was built to hold 4,500 to 5,000 people in two concrete bleacher sections.
Today, athletics still play the major role in the stadium’s use — the football field on which Fort Dodge Senior High, St. Edmond High School and Iowa Central Community College play, as well as the Dodgers’ boys and girls soccer teams; the Ed McNeil baseball field where the Dodgers play, with its ivy-covered brick outfield walls that evoke memories of Chicago’s Wrigley Field; the J.H. Nitzke track that hosts the Dodger Relays and other boys and girls track and field meets. (Both the baseball field and track were named after legendary Dodger coaches.)
Athletes who starred in Dodger Stadium and went on to excel at higher levels include Sherwyn Thorson, a Dodger football lineman who played professionally in the Canadian Football League; Billy Goodman, a four-sport Dodger star who played in the minor leagues with the Reds and Twins organizations; John Matuszak, who played football at Iowa Central one year and later was the overall No. 1 selection in the 1973 National Football League draft; and Dodger track star Lisa (Koll) Uhl, a 2005 grad who competed in the 10,000-meter run at the 2012 Olympics in London.
But there’s much more to Dodger Stadium than footballs, baseballs, soccer balls and track cleats used by thousands of athletes over the years.
Each May since shortly after the stadium was built, Fort Dodge Senior High has held graduation ceremonies for its seniors and their families inside the stadium. An estimated 25,000 seniors have taken part over those years.
“My daughter had her graduation ceremony there,” recalled Cindy Herrin. “A big event in our family’s history.”
Dodger Stadium “is a great venue to hold this significant event in the lives of our students,” said Doug Van Zyl, superintendent of the Fort Dodge Community School District. “The stadium itself has so much history and so many stories that can be told about it. It is a great place for them to end one chapter of their lives and to begin another.”
The FDSH band holds an invitational there and then hosts the state band tournament in the fall, Filloon said. Cheerleaders make use of it to practice and train. The North Central Area for Special Olympics Iowa is held there. The National Guard, State Patrol and Fort Dodge Police Department use it for physical training testing. All grade levels in the school district come to the stadium in early May for fun and games. Youth tackle football is held in the fall. Outside the stadium walls, the tennis courts host meets for both high schools’ boys and girls teams; youth flag football is played; the football practice field gets use.
“Seldom do we have any down times,” said Filloon.
Memories of the stadium run deep. And they include events held at the stadium in the past, but have been discontinued — the Harvest Festival, the drum-and-bugle corps competition that featured the Fort Dodge Lanciers, the pep rally and bonfire outside the stadium before the Dodgers’ homecoming game.
“My first recollection of the stadium is attending a football game there in the fall of 1943. I was six,” said Tom Schwieger, who lives in Florida. “I became a ‘stadium rat.’ I attended track and football practices as well as games and meets on a somewhat regular basis when I was at Duncombe school. I set up hurdles, would sneak into the fieldhouse after games and would line up to pat all my heroes on the butt or back after a football game. This was on a regular basis from age 10 (1947) on. I loved that place.”
If those old bricks could talk — Harvest Festival
The Harvest Festival was held in the stadium for only 13 years — from 1946 to 1959 — but the event that led off with performances by the Karl King Band and featured circus-like acts over a three-day period still sparks vivid memories for those lucky enough to experience it. In 1947, 35,000 people attended the festival over three days.
Rosemary Kolacia grew up across the street from Dodger Stadium when North 22nd Street was a gravel road and recalls the Harvest Festival was “a big deal for us as we parked cars in our yard for free. My brother and sister and I were in charge and the families usually gave us a nickel tip. The Harvest Festival was very popular and ran two or three nights. My older siblings generously shared the tips and we each had more than $3 to spend. Candy bars and ice cream cones cost 5 cents then. That was a lot of nickels.”
“I lived near Dodger Stadium and as soon as I heard the sound of hammers building the stage I was over there every day to watch,” said former resident Greg Sells, now of Sacramento, California. “I would go to the show each night — trying to sneak in if possible. The next morning, I would go to the stadium and walk around the stands trying to find any loose change that fell out of pockets. I loved the different acts — motorcycles racing around in a cage, horses diving into a small pool of water, comedians with terrible jokes — and especially the fireworks at the end of the evening.”
David Powell, who lived just south of Fort Dodge, recalled that farmers and rural residents got free tickets — “otherwise, we wouldn’t have been able to go.” He said the festival was just like a circus, without the tent.
If those old bricks could talk — Bob Brown Press Box
Renee Brown is confident few people spent more time at Dodger Stadium than her father, Bob Brown, Messenger sports editor for 37 years — whose name graces the two-level press box overlooking the football field. The Bob Brown Press Box was dedicated in 2015, three years after Brown’s death.
“I can still hear the booming broadcaster’s voice from my bedroom, announcing the players’ names,” she said. “My entire family spent an impressive amount of time there, but no one held a candle to the number of hours my dad clocked in as executive sports editor for The Messenger. He covered all the FDSH football and baseball games; from JV to varsity.
“I loved the quick walk to the stadium — the red brick structure with that beautiful ivy all along the walls. The concession stand with its irresistible smell of popcorn. The peppy band with its infectious spirited tunes and of course, the thrill of singing along when they played ‘Up Fort Dodgers’.”
If those old bricks could talk — the Lanciers’ Music Festival
The Fort Dodge Lanciers drum and bugle corps hosted American Legion and VFW competitions in Dodger Stadium — the Lanciers Music Festival — that drew up to eight contestants from around the country.
The west side of Dodger Stadium would fill up for the competition, recalled Jim Tarbox of St. Paul, Minnesota, who was a drummer and drum major for the Lanciers. “It was one of the best places to put on a show. The sun was behind the audience, the seating was higher. I still have to this day people from the St. Paul Scouts telling me how much they enjoyed playing at the stadium.
If those old bricks could talk — a bit of chicanery
Let’s just call him John. He has asked to remain anonymous, in case the statute of limitations may not have expired, as he shares a story from summer of 1965 when he and a group of friends lacked the cash to buy gas so they could shag the drag on Central Avenue, a mandatory activity back then.
The Fort Dodge school bus fleet was housed under the east stands of the stadium, so one weekend, the group scaled the stadium wall loaded with coolers, empty jugs and a siphoning hose.
“After taking turns sucking on the hose and inhaling sufficient mouthfuls of fuel, all were on the ground gagging profusely,” he said. The group scaled back over the wall with a few jugs of fuel in hand, “Now ready to reap their rewards, they began the process of transference from the jugs to one of their vehicles. Just then an older brother of one of the delinquents showed up and after learning of their escapade, told them that he was quite certain that the buses used diesel fuel and that it would ruin their car engine. It was another wasted summer day in Dodge.”
If those old brick walls could talk — the baseball field
The baseball field, with its brick ivy-covered outfield walls, resembles a miniature version of the Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field. It was dedicated in 1942 by none other than the Cubs, who came to town for an exhibition game against the Chicago White Sox on April 9 that drew 8,500 fans — from five states and 75 Iowa counties. That still stands as the largest crowd for an athletic event in Fort Dodge history.
A newspaper account of the game noted that the Cubs had used 40 dozen new baseballs in exhibition games that spring, prior to the Fort Dodge game — and that “Several dozen more must have gone to the spectators as souvenirs at Fort Dodge.”
Jerry Russell said his father Emmett Russell used to tell the story that the Cubs knocked almost every pitch over the wall. The Cubs won the game, 16-14.
Like Wrigley Field, Dodger Stadium did not have lights for much of its history — until 2015 when a fundraising project gathered more than $135,000 to install lighting. A fundraising drive is underway for the addition of a permanent grandstand with seating for up to 300 people, a new concession stand and press box improvements.
If those old bricks could talk — umpire dies on the job
On May 8, 1945 — Victory in Europe Day — a veteran Webster County umpire died of a heart attack while sweeping off home plate at Dodger Stadium during a sectional tournament game between Eagle Grove and Fort Dodge Senior High.
Elmer Curtis was felled just after the Dodgers had completed a big inning and were headed to their positions in the field. Curtis stooped to dust off home plate, straightened up, collapsed and fell backward without a word. He was unable to be revived. The game, in the final round of the sectional, continued after a half hour’s delay.
Always known for his kindness and fair play, one of Curtis’ last characteristic acts was to purchase game tickets for a group of Webster County boys who were standing outside the stadium.
Curtis was the grandfather of current Messenger editor Jane Curtis, whose father was also a baseball umpire.
In an essay titled “Why Do Old Places Matter?” Tom Mayes of the National Trust for Historic preservation notes: “Old places foster community by giving people a sense of shared identity through landmarks, history, memory, and stories, by having the attributes that foster community, such as distinctive character and walkability, and by serving as shared places where people meet and gather.”
District Superintendent Van Zyl would give an enthusiastic Amen to that.
He said Dodger Stadium was “one of the things that stood out” when he was considering the superintendent position seven years ago: “It was very impressive to walk into the stadium for the first time and get a sense of community pride in it.” Van Zyl took the job, and his son Parker played baseball for the Dodgers on Ed McNeil Field and now his daughter Liza competes in soccer for the Dodgers.
Filloon said that for the past decade, $30,000 to $60,000 has been invested yearly to make repairs and updates at the stadium. Van Zyl said the district feels strongly about continuing to invest in the stadium, for improvements in disabled access, restroom facilities and locker room spaces.
“At some point, renovations will be made to help the stadium continue through our lifetime on this earth,” he said. “I don’t see Dodger Stadium going away. I see it as needing some TLC.”
Said Filloon, “I’m confident to say my grandkids will see and enjoy it in their lifetimes.”
Messenger Spotlight: July 2, 2017
Kay Filice Builds Farming Success in California
Kay Filice faced a life-changing decision nearly 20 years ago when her husband died after a three-year battle with cancer.
Her husband, Chuck Filice, was a second-generation vegetable farmer in the Central California county of San Benito and Kay, his wife of 21 years, was immersed in raising their three boys and doing volunteer and fund-raising work. She had no experience in running a business. Her only hands-on experience on a farm came back in her teenage years in her hometown of Fort Dodge when, as Kay McTigue, she worked on a detasseling crew one summer.
A rare form of colon cancer claimed Chuck’s life in 1998 and left her with two choices: Sell the farm — she got plenty of good offers — and start a new life with her boys. Or continue what his parents had started back in the 1940s and what Chuck had passionately developed.
Her decision: Continue operating the now-70-year-old farm — thereby honoring the legacy of her husband and providing continued employment for the 20 men who worked at Filice Farms at the time.
“Without their knowledge and experience, we wouldn’t have been able to carry on like we did,” she said. “We were all determined to make it work. I didn’t know how long I would do it, but we would give it a good shot. That was 19 years ago. We’re still giving it our best shot.”
As president and owner of Filice Farms, of Hollister, California, Filice was a quick study and in 2007 was the first woman to head the nearly 80-year-old Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, a powerful agricultural trade organization and lobbying group that represents the interests of nearly 300 farms, processing companies and ag-related businesses.
Filice Farms grows on 2,200 acres of land on California’s central coast where its staff of 35 grows and harvests specialty row crops as well as a cherry orchard. The row crops include a variety of all the lettuces, as well as spinach, arugula and mixed greens. In addition, Filice has a reputation for its colored peppers and sweet red onions. Other crops that round out the rotation include broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes and celery.
More than three million packages of Filice Farms’ crops — in cartons, sacks or clamshells — are produced annually. Filice Farms supplies both conventional and organic crops to shippers and retailers throughout the United States. About 15 to 20 percent of the crop is exported to other countries.
Like any good CEO, Kay Filice believes in her product and has become “an evangelist for fresh vegetables” and noted: To quote the president of Safeway, “If people would only realize the best medicine cabinet they have is in the produce aisle.”
“I want to use my position to educate the public,” she said. “The whole time I was involved with Grower Shipper, it gave me opportunity for a platform to speak to groups about the benefit of fruits and vegetables and their nutritional value. We do ag in the classroom and with the kids. There’s such an epidemic of child obesity and diabetes. Eating healthy, especially fruits and vegetables, is such an easy solution to many of the medical problems. It is something that is a passion with me.”
Mary Kay McTigue was born in Emmetsburg to Kathryn and Jerry McTigue, both now deceased. The family moved shortly thereafter to Pocahontas and then to Fort Dodge, where Kay (she dropped the use of Mary early on) entered fourth grade at Corpus Christi School. Her father sold insurance for Northwestern Mutual Life and her mom raised Kay and her three brothers — Tom, of Honolulu; John, of Hinsdale, Illinois; and Pat, of Plymouth, Minnesota.
After graduation from St. Edmond High School in 1966, she attended Clarke College (now Clarke University) in Dubuque, then an all-women’s Catholic college. She stayed at Clarke after graduation to work as an admissions counselor and left her job after a few years, deciding that California was where she would like to live.
She moved to San Francisco without a job in hand — “like a crazy person, something I wouldn’t do now” — and landed a 100 percent-commission marketing job. International Business Machines was one of her clients and asked her to come to work for them during one of her marketing sessions. She joined the IBM offices in San Jose and worked as a recruiter, traveling to major universities around the United States to recruit engineers.
She met Chuck Filice in 1976 at the wedding in Hollister of a mutual friend. His mother and father, Rose and Peter Filice, had started a small farming business in the mid-1940s, growing apricots, prunes and walnuts. Kay and Chuck were married in 1977 and, for the next three years, she commuted 60 miles to her job with IBM in San Jose before they started a family — they had three boys in a three-and-a-half-year span.
She left IBM to raise their boys — Tony, Pat and Chris — and Kay became heavily involved in the community — working with nonprofits, church activities, agriculture in the classroom and at a center for abused and abandoned children, while Chuck concentrated on operating the farm.
Kay’s mother moved to California after Kay’s father died in 1986 to be closer to her grandchildren. “We were very close,” Kay said. “When my husband passed, she was a critical part of our lives with the kids, and became like another parent to them. Full circle of fulfillment.” Her mother died in 2014.
Chuck contracted a rare form of colon cancer and died in 1998 after a three-year struggle. “He tried very, very hard and was prescribed experimental drugs — he had a young family to live for and he was very determined,” Kay said.”
Filice turned down offers from neighboring companies and bigger produce firms interested in buying Filice Farms, which farmed about 1,700 acres and grew peppers, onions and tomatoes. “Since then, we diversified a great deal, adding more land and rotating the crops every year — to be good stewards of the land,” she said. They added lettuces, spinaches, mixed greens, cauliflower and broccoli to the crop list.
“There was real pressure to make it work,” she said. “Just assuming the risk and responsibility was a big thing. Prior to that time, my only real exposure to farming was detasseling corn in Iowa. I knew about the threat of droughts, weather, diseases, labor disputes, but only through the eyes of my husband and from a distance. Talk about a crash course, it was a crash course for years. The key to succeeding were our employees, that and my family and my faith.”
Filice learned about managing employees and the new technology constantly added to farming. Turnover among the farm’s employees is “absolutely zero,” she said. “We treat our employees well and they are part of a team, and they sense that.”
She credits her Midwest upbringing for much of her success.
“I think my values, my work ethic to work hard and treat people the way they want to be treated, come from growing up in Fort Dodge — a Midwest ethic that I’m very proud of. I think going to all-women’s college prepared me to be independent and teaches you to stand on your own two feet. Independence and confidence that I can do this.”
In 2002, Filice was honored with the Ag Against Hunger Agricultural Woman of the Year Award and, in 2010, she was selected for the Woman of the Year Award for the 28th Assembly District in California.
She has a management team of three key employees — Mark Wright, Joe Newman and her youngest son, Chris. “I love what I’m doing. It’s exciting to work with these young managers,” she said. “I love going to work every day with them. And now that I have grandchildren, I take more time to be with them. I’m very involved in the community — on the board of managers of the YMCA and a board member of the Community Foundation of San Benito County.”
Her son Tony works in San Jose for the County of Santa Clara and son Pat is an attorney in Chicago. She has three grandchildren — Tessa and Charlie in Chicago, children of Pat and his wife Marjorie, and Gianna in Gilroy, daughter of Chris and his wife Kristin — who are expecting a second child in August.
Traveling is a big part of her life’s enjoyment, she said, “but I have every intention to stay in the business because I enjoy it so much.”
Messenger Spotlight: August 6, 2017
Bill Goodman: Fort Dodge Athlete
Bill Goodman was just 7 years old when he moved into his step-grandmother’s home in Fort Dodge to live with her and 10 of her children.
His mother, Carrie, had died in an auto accident two years earlier. His father, Louis Goodman, who worked for a steel company, believed Fort Dodge would be a better place for his only son to grow up than the city where he was born, Chicago.
“It was very hard for me,” Goodman recalled. “The reality was that even with all those kids around, I felt alone. I was a lonely, quiet kid. It’s probably one of the reasons I got involved with athletics. They gave me something to grab on to, a feeling of belonging.”
Looking back from his home in Burnsville in suburban Minneapolis-St. Paul, Goodman appreciates that so much of what he has today — the love of a wife, four children and three grandchildren, a successful career in sports and the business world, and the ability at the age of 71 to still teach others — traces to participating in sports and the support of friends and coaches in Fort Dodge.
That shy, lonely kid, one of only two black students in his 1965 FDSH graduating class of 449, became one of the finest all-around athletes in Fort Dodge history. He signed a professional baseball contract and played seven years in the Reds and Twins organizations; joined the Twin Cities business community and excelled in human resources; and today is head baseball coach and a substitute teacher at a nearby high school while operating his own HR consulting business. And he’s watching his youngest son, Kris, forge a baseball career of his own.
Goodman lived in the household of Gracie Grady, who was the mother of Eloise, the woman his father remarried. His father met Eloise in Chicago and the couple lived in Fort Dodge for a short time, Goodman said, but his father believed he could earn more in Chicago and moved back. Bill stayed, and shared a room with three other boys in Gracie’s home in the Flats area of Fort Dodge, near the Des Moines River.
“I was withdrawn,” he said. “I spent a lot of time in books, building model planes, things I could do by myself. But those kind of things also teach you discipline.”
Bill was attending Pleasant Valley Elementary School when he latched onto a sport that would come to define his life — baseball — and found “I was a totally different person when I put a uniform on than when I didn’t have one on.”
Bill had learned to play catch with his dad, but a YMCA League team in Fort Dodge was his first exposure to organized baseball. His abilities were noted by Jerry Patterson, who invited him to join his Fort Dodge Demons 15-and-under baseball team that competed throughout Iowa and the Midwest. Goodman was a pitcher and outfielder for the Demons and until his senior year of high school, when Coach Ed McNeil moved him to center field.
At 5 foot, 11 inches, and 185 pounds, Goodman played football, basketball, baseball and track at Fort Dodge Senior High, where he was inducted in 2016 into the Dodger Hall of Fame. He was an 11-time varsity letter winner in the four sports and was selected first-team All-State as a football halfback. He considered McNeil as his second father — “I just loved the guy.”
McNeil died in 1991.
“I don’t know if I was that good an athlete,” he said, “but I was as mentally tough as anybody. I don’t know if I was good, but I loved what I was doing. There were people who were very good in helping me be confident in school work and athletics. One of them was Jake Townsend, who taught civics. He challenged me when I didn’t speak up: ‘Billy, you know the answer, now give me the answer!’ Those guys believed in me and I think that made me a better person and athlete.”
He was one of two blacks in his class — the other being Ernestine Benson, who is now deceased, his date to Senior Prom.
“Those were the best of times,” Goodman said. “I knew kids from Fort Dodge High and St. Edmond, and I don’t remember any of those people being biased because of the pigment of my skin.”
“Many a night at (classmate) Tom Bice’s house, if it snowed, they wouldn’t let me go home.When I was a sophomore playing varsity football, (Coach) Roger Higgins set up a situation where one of the seniors would give me a ride home after every varsity game. It showed me how decent people were. Larry Erickson and his girlfriend would give me a ride home before they went on their date. Growing up in Fort Dodge was not tough, it was different but not because of me being one of the few blacks in school.”
His dad visited from Chicago on holidays and saw Bill play on Dad’s Night at Dodger Stadium his senior year, when Bill ran back a punt for an 85-yard touchdown the first time he handled the ball. Bill treasures a photo of him with his dad from that football game.
Among the classmates he remains in touch with are Bice, a district court judge in Fort Dodge; Tom Goodman, an Iowa Basketball Hall of Fame player and coach who lives in suburban Des Moines, and Fred Moeller, owner of Moeller Furnace Co. in Fort Dodge. “I’m the godfather of Fred’s youngest son (Nate),” Goodman said.
“All of our parents were parent figures to Bill, our sisters and brothers were his sisters and brothers,” Moeller said. “Bill was always smart and took his education seriously, worked hard at everything but had fun along the way.”
Baseball was always his first love, Goodman said. “I loved baseball and football and basketball and track — I loved doing them all,” he said. “Baseball intrigues me. It’s kind of like a chess game. I loved the mind aspect that goes into baseball.”
After graduating from FDSH, Goodman got a scholarship offer to play football and baseball at the University of Arizona. He was spotted by Cincinnati at a tryout camp in Algona, was drafted, and selected by the Reds for a program paying a player to attend school while playing minor league baseball from June through September. He attended Morningside College in Sioux City, majoring in education with an emphasis on history and political science, and roomed with Paul Splittorff, who later played for the Kansas City Royals (and died in 2011).
Goodman was a member of the 1968 Northern League All-Star team while with the Reds. He was asked by the team to attend spring training in his senior year at Morningside or be released, and he chose to remain in school, graduating in 1969. He was signed as an outfielder by the Minnesota Twins and played at the AA level, leading Florida State League outfielders in 1970 in putouts and double plays. Reality set in when the Twins told him the highest he would likely play was AAA. They offered him an opportunity to be a coach of its Orlando team but he decided it was time “to get a real job.”
“I would have loved to have played in the big leagues,” he said, but armed with his degree from Morningside, with no regrets, he started a new career path. Goodman said he “made a lot of good friends” in his seven years of professional baseball, and was a teammate of Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Sr. in the minor leagues. “The whole foundation for me, baseball set it up,” he said. “I still know some people in the Twins organization, I still have guys who I stay in touch with going back to the Reds. When you’re 18 years old, playing baseball with these guys, they’re all brothers.”
Goodman taught and coached for five years in Buchanan, Michigan — where he met his first wife, Barb, and they had two children, Keisha and Torre. They divorced and in later years Goodman traveled countless times to see Keisha play softball and Torre play football and basketball. “To me, it was worth the drive to do that,’ he said. “Things happen, you look at it and learn. I tell my kids that a lot. I tell them, no matter what, you can’t get rid of me as a father. You’re stuck with me.”
Goodman returned to Fort Dodge in 1974 to teach and coach — he was sophomore football coach under Dave Cox, assistant basketball coach under Jim Friest and assistant baseball coach under McNeil. A defining life’s moment came one day when McNeil took him aside and said, “Take a look at me, is this what you want to be doing at my age?”
In 1977, Goodman moved to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and over the years worked in human resources for Land O’Lakes, Pillsbury, ITT (where he was a vice president), Aveda, Rollerblade USA, Moore Data Management Services and then Bethel University, where he was director of human resources. During his corporate life, Goodman found time to coach baseball at Macalester College, Augsburg University and Bethel — and to coach Kris’ Little League teams. He retired in 2012 to devote more time to seeing Kris play baseball at the University of Iowa.
“I loved the people contact,” Goodman said. “I had been in baseball and education and people said I have the gift of interacting with people. This is where my time in Fort Dodge was a great asset to me — treating people with respect. They all taught me I could interact with people with integrity and respect. Sometimes it was tough. But you treat everybody with dignity and respect, even with allegations against them.”
Goodman and his wife, Dianne, will celebrate their 35th anniversary on Feb. 12. They met while working at Land O’Lakes. She now works for NorthstarMLS in St. Paul as an HR coordinator and executive assistant.
His oldest, Keisha, is a registered nurse in Niles, Michigan, and she and her husband, Pete Byrd, have three children: Kennedy, Caleb and Karleigh. Next is Torre, an IT executive in Kalamazoo, Michigan (yes, Bill said, named for baseball legend Joe Torre). His two children with Dianne are Katie, a law graduate finishing her master’s degree in environmental law at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, and Kris, an Iowa graduate. All of the kids were involved with sports, as are his grandkids, Goodman said, “but we didn’t force them into it. Each one of them loved it to a point.”
Kris was drafted by the Miami Marlins after playing as a third baseman and outfielder for the Hawkeyes. He competed in the Marlins’ minor league system for two years and then played last summer with the Gary SouthShore RailCats of the American Association. He is working out at home now, seeking an invitation from a major league team to take part in spring training. He hopes one day to become a sports psychologist.
“I see a lot of myself in him,” Goodman said. “We both love history, both love the game of baseball, we both are driven, I mean driven, wanting to excel. He probably is much better than I was talentwise.”
This spring, Goodman will enter his second season as head baseball coach at Lakeville South High School, close by their home in Burnsville, and is a substitute teacher there and at two other area schools.
As a substitute teacher, he said, “I can be near the kids, day in and day out, and they can get to know me not just as a guy in uniform. I work some Twins camps during the summer and work with kids on how to play the game, have some fun with them. For me, I get to put on a Twins uniform again.”
“Life has been good,” Goodman said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything from the standpoint of growing up where I grew up. Life to me is all about the people you meet going through. I could run through a list of hundreds of people from my teachers and coaches and teammates and others who left an impression on me. The ripples we put into the water, they touch a lot of people.”
Messenger Spotlight: Febuary 4, 2018; Paul Stevens
Terry Goodman: The Biggest Stages
When Terry Goodman met a traveling puppeteer as a fourth-grader at Duncombe Elementary School in the late 1950s, he caught the show business fever that carried him from Fort Dodge to performing on the country’s biggest entertainment stages.
Getting to assist in shows by Lewis Parsons, a legendary puppeteer, and then starting his own puppet shows at an early age put Goodman on a career path to Broadway and to movie and television work in Los Angeles, being cast in national theater tours, and teaching his craft to college students in Iowa, Alaska and Utah.
“It was tremendous training for me as an actor,” Goodman said. “I did all the parts, all the voices, built the stage, and came up with the script and put music behind it. So when I got into theater, I had a pretty good idea of what I would like to do.
“I was very fortunate to have a talent that I was able to use that not many people have. I don’t know where I got it from, probably my dad — he was always a showman, trying to make somebody laugh. He wasn’t afraid to talk to anybody. I got that showmanship from him and what little brains I have, I got from my mother.”
He met Parsons when the puppeteer performed in Fort Dodge as part of his annual tours to grade schools from his native Michigan to the Mexican border, totting a trailer behind his car that held the puppets and a stage.
“He would come to Fort Dodge every fall and with 15 cents and a note from our parents, we could go to the assembly,” Goodman said. “It was my brother’s idea to go meet him and see if we could help him. During one of his shows, he would pick kids to come out of the audience and work the puppets behind stage on sticks, while he would play the piano. He picked me.
“I was kind of bit by it. I started my own show in the fourth grade, using a card table with a sheet over it. I built a bigger stage and when Mr. Parsons came to dinner at our house, for Halloween, he saw my puppet stage and bought me lighting. He also built me a giant Jack in the Beanstalk made of wood.”
Goodman’s neighborhood shows moved to a bigger stage — Uncle Dick’s Fun House on KVFD-TV — and he started doing puppet shows two or three times a week, first in Fort Dodge and then in surrounding communities. “I was pretty successful with it. But in the ninth grade, a girl told me, ‘Why don’t you go home and play with your dolls?’ I told my mom, that’s it, no more bookings.”
Goodman, 66, has lived for the past nine years in Park City, Utah — a resort town that is home to Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival. He lived for 18 years in Venice Beach, California, and 16 years in New York City — and three in Ames, where he taught acting at Iowa State. In his 43-year career, he has performed in 163 professional plays and musicals, 62 television shows, 41 national TV commercials, featured or starred in 12 motion pictures, and directed 22 plays and musicals.
Over the years, he has returned home to appear in three productions of the Comedia Musica Players of Fort Dodge — in “Camelot,” “Man of La Mancha,” and “Oliver.”
Goodman continues to perform, in local commercials and in movie roles. “It keeps me active, there’s a big acting community here,” he said. “I work 15 shows a year.”
Ames was where his son Jack, 13, was born. Terry delights in coaching him in flag football, baseball and basketball. “I coach all of his teams, that’s in the Goodman blood. We have a lot of fun. I see a lot of my dad and my brother in me when I coach. I’m a little more no nonsense about it, a little harder like they were in the ’50s and ’60s. The kids seem to respond well to it, the parents not as well.”
Goodman said Jack has no interest in following in his father’s career footsteps: “I discourage it whenever possible — it is such a difficult, difficult business. It is a one in million shot of making a living in this business. I’ve been extremely lucky I made a living at it. I’ve done OK. I never was a household name. I had good years financially but also had some really bad years.”
Sports played a large role in Goodman’s life growing up. His father Wayne A. “Connie” Goodman coached basketball for 27 years and is a member of the Iowa High School Basketball Hall of Fame. His mother Helen was a longtime elementary school teacher. His brother Tom, who played at Iowa State, entered the Hall of Fame as a player and coach, and Tom’s sons Jay and Tommy John are also in the Hall of Fame. Tom coached FDSH to the 1988 state championship with Jay as one of its stars. Connie Goodman died in 1993 and Helen Goodman died a week short of her 101st birthday in 2012.
While getting his masters at Utah State, Goodman said he sent tapes to Aggie basketball coaches of his nephew Jay, who wasn’t getting a scholarship under Johnny Orr at Iowa State after his freshman year despite playing well. They liked what they saw and Jay starred there as the starting point guard. “They were the greatest two years of my life, I was like a parent, more nervous than he was. He was like a son to me.”
Goodman competed in football, basketball, track and baseball at FDSH. Track was his favorite sport and after his senior year, he placed third in the state in the 880 and helped FDSH to a second-place finish in the state tournament.
In junior high, he joined Gail Nicewanger’s drama class in the summer and began to understand drama as a skill. Then Larry Mitchell came to Fort Dodge as FDSH choral director in his sophomore year and Goodman began taking part in school musicals and he was hooked. “I had an OK voice. I loved musicals and it was something I thought I could do well.”
After graduating in 1969, Goodman got a theater scholarship to Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. His sophomore year, he walked on to the track team and broke three records while there. He majored in theater and won the part of Stanley Kowalski in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” “I won some acting awards and thought I could do this professionally — and as soon as I graduated from Arkansas State, I was going to New York.”
Goodman — known professionally at Terence Goodman — did summer stock theater in Cortland, New York, and then joined four others in moving into New York City to rent an apartment and look for acting jobs. He earned his Actor’s Equity Card and was cast in “Jesus Christ Superstar” on Broadway and went on its first national tour. He also performed in the first Broadway revival of “Damn Yankees” with Gwen Verdon and Ray Walston.
His biggest movie role came when he answered an open casting call in 1975 for “Ode to Billy Joe,” inspired by the hit song by Bobbie Gentry. Goodman’s agent told him the producers were looking for “Southern types” and that since he went to college in Arkansas, he should take a shot. He tried out for the lead role, but it went to Robby Benson. Goodman landed the role of James Hartley — playing the brother of Bobbie Lee Hartley (Glynnis O’Connor). The movie came out in 1976.
“That was the springboard, I was bitten by the movie bug,” said Goodman, who was 25 at the time.
Goodman moved to Venice Beach and made a good living guest starring on such shows as “Laverne and Shirley” and “Three’s Company” and soap operas “Days of Our Lives” and “The Young and the Restless,” until a writers’ strike in 1988. Goodman then went back to theater at The Old Lyric Repertory Theater in Logan, affiliated with Utah State. At the end of the season he was offered the opportunity to finish his master’s degree in exchange for teaching acting and film studies.
There, Goodman met a woman who became his wife, Catherine Jackson. After they both graduated, they moved back to LA where he did television shows and small movies. Then it was on to New York in 1994 where he performed in “The Music Man” in Philadelphia and summer stock in upstate. He was on the first Broadway national tour of “Titanic” and after 18 months, returned to New York. He was in New York on 9/11 and watched in horror from the roof of his apartment building as the second plane went into the side of the World Trade Center.
Goodman and his wife moved to Iowa State in 2002 when he was hired as an assistant theater professor. They were there for three years before moving to Park City with their son Jack. Now divorced and a single parent, Goodman decided to put his professional career on hold and raise his son in Park City. He said he has no plans on leaving Park City until Jack goes off to college.
“I feel very fortunate — I’ve always said, being an actor is sure better than working. I saw a lot of the world, and every major city in the country. I’ve been lucky, it’s been my only job. I never got star status, but I’ve been a lot of characters and leading men and entertained a lot of people. That’s what it was about for me. Making people laugh and cry and make people maybe think about a subject in a different way. To leave the theater even slightly changed is what it’s about for me.”
Goodman remembers growing up in Fort Dodge in the family home on Eighth Avenue North — “a little kid laying at his bedroom window, thinking I’d love to be a movie star one day. Every dream I dreamed for myself, I got — and more. I had a good run.”
Messenger Spotlight: January 1, 2017
Connie and Helen Goodman: Basketball Legacy
On many a winter night, Connie and Helen Goodman would climb into their Chevrolet Caprice and start driving west out of Fort Dodge on U.S. 20 to begin their search for a radio signal.
Their objective: to tune into their car radio the frequency of the Sioux City station broadcasting the North High School basketball games of their grandson Tommy John Goodman – who played for his father Tom, their son, in the early 1980s.
“They’d sometimes drive as far as Sac City before getting a good signal,” said Tom. “They’d listen to the game and then drive back to their home in Fort Dodge.”
After all, it was about family — and basketball.
The Goodman family is “The First Family” of Iowa basketball with four in the Iowa High School Basketball Hall of Fame: Connie, who coached 27 years at seven different schools including 12 years at Fort Dodge Senior High; his son Tom, who was a two-time All-State guard at FDSH and played four years at Iowa State University before a coaching career of 31 years at eight different schools, and Tom’s two sons, Tommy John, a 5-foot-9 guard (like his father) who twice was a first-team All-Stater at Sioux City North, and Jay, a 6-foot first-team All-State guard for FDSH when the team, coached by his father, won the 1988 state championship.
On June 24, tragedy struck the family when Tommy John, who lived in Altoona with his wife Heidi and their three sons, died suddenly at home. He had been diagnosed with cancer less than two months earlier and had undergone surgery at the Mayo Clinic 11 days before his death — caused by a pulmonary embolism. He was 52. A year earlier, he had been named to the Des Moines Register’s list of the Top 50 greatest Iowa high school boys’ basketball players of all time.
“People say they’re sorry all the time, but nothing can really be said,” his father said. “When you lose a child, it’s devastating. Life is really short. You’ve got to take advantage of every day, whether it’s in the classroom or on a basketball court or wherever. You’ve got to stay positive in your life and make things happen.”
“Nobody is immune,” said Tom’s wife, Connie Davies Goodman, who was preparing that fateful morning to go to Tommy and Heidi’s house to watch their boys. “He had told me, ‘Tell the boys to text me when they need a ride to a workout.’ He was always taking care of his kids.”
At a celebration of life for Tommy, more than 600 people attended from 19 states. Among them were former Iowa quarterback Chuck Long and retired William Jewell College coach Larry Holley, who brought five players from Tommy’s 1987-88 team that went a school-record 32-2.
Flowers were sent by Carroll native Nick Nurse, who in his first year as head coach led the Toronto Raptors to the 2019 NBA championship in June. He recalled competing in high school against Tommy and North in a summer league tournament leading up to the 1984-85 season when Nurse led his Carroll Kuemper team to the 1985 3A state championship.
“I remember him being a scoring machine,” Nurse said, “fast and quick, sometimes getting up to the rim to take his shots. We had never seen North play — now we knew who everybody was talking about.” The two stayed in touch and until recent years enjoyed golfing together twice a year at The Harvester Golf Club northeast of Des Moines. “He was a good dude, we always had a lot of laughs when we were on the course.” Nurse was shocked when he learned of Tommy’s death and his thoughts immediately went to his family — “That’s the first thing you think about when things like this happen, the family and the kids.”
Fort Dodge and sports coursed through Tommy’s veins — from the families of both of his parents.
Connie’s father Glen Davies, who directed the Fort Dodge YMCA and gave Tommy his first Y membership card, was inducted into the International Volleyball Hall of Fame in 1989. He was regarded as one of the premier volleyball officials in the world, working the first four Olympics for the sport.
“My dad really treasured his friendships as Tommy did. They both made friends easily,” Connie Goodman said. “Tommy got his optimism from both grandmothers. Sports was everything to both our families. It taught a lot of life’s lessons. Sports and family were the most important things in Tommy’s life.
“Fort Dodge meant the world to Tommy because it meant so much to his dad. He always kind of considered himself a Dodger — he would have loved to play for Fort Dodge. We were always showing his boys things around town — Dodger Stadium, the apple orchard, the Fort Museum — things that make Fort Dodge unique. He never really lived there but he felt like he was a member of it. When he made sales calls, he would be asked, ‘Are you the Fort Dodge Goodman?’ He would say, ‘Yes I am.'”
North traveled to Fort Dodge to play the Dodgers during Tommy’s senior season, a chance for him to play in the same gymnasium where his dad once starred. Despite his 11 three-point goals and 37 points, the Dodgers won, 82-73.
Connie and Tom started dating in their junior year at FDSH and were married in 1966, Tom’s sophomore year at Iowa State. Thomas (Tommy) John Goodman was born in Ames on April 26, 1967, and his brother Jay was born 2 ¢ years later, in Tom’s senior year with the Cyclones.
Five months after Jay was born, Tom graduated and the young family of four was off on his coaching journey that began with three seasons at HLV of Victor, where his team was state runner-up in 1973, and one year at Emmetsburg before he landed the coaching job at Sioux City North.
“We competed every day growing up,” said Jay, who is an Iowa City Realtor and manages rental properties. “It could be whiffle ball, basketball, any sport — I learned how to compete from watching him play. He was a real competitor and the bigger the game, the better he played. He was my idol in basketball growing up. We became really best friends as adults, we talked all the time. We had three boys each, he was a great dad. I still find myself trying to text him even now.”
Tommy’s father was his coach at Sioux City North for his three varsity seasons. North went to the state tournament during Tommy’s sophomore season, and his 27-point-per-game scoring average his senior year was the best in Iowa that season. That scoring average remains the best in Sioux City history and his career total of 1,140 points was second highest in Sioux City history.
Tommy earned a scholarship to William Jewell College in suburban Kansas City and the NAIA team was 84-12 during his three seasons. He tore an ACL his sophomore year and later that season was injured in an automobile accident and played one more season before deciding not to go out for his senior year.
Tom Goodman coached Jay for his junior year at Sioux City East and his senior year at FDSH when the Dodgers, led by Wade Lookingbill and Jay, both All-Staters (with Lookingbill eventually moving on to play at Iowa) won the state title. Jay played at Utah State University, averaging 15 points a game over three seasons, and signed an NBA contract with the Golden State Warriors in 1993. He started an exhibition game against the Denver Nuggets at Veterans Auditorium in Des Moines, where he had last played in his state championship season, and was the last player cut from the 11-player team after that game.
After graduating from Jewell, Tommy began a career in sales that eventually took him to Denver where he met his wife Heidi Smith, who was from Altoona. Heidi played basketball at Southeast Polk and in her junior and senior years, her teams finished as state runner-up. Tom had coached her brother Tyler Smith at Southeast Polk.
“Tommy was so kind to others, especially kids,” Heidi said. “He was always looking out for the kid who couldn’t afford the tryout fee or needed a piece of equipment and he would see that he got it for them. Ironically, he always looked out for the ones without fathers. We have to carry on. Tommy would be disappointed if we didn’t.”
Tate, their oldest son at 16, will be a junior on the varsity basketball team at Southeast Polk; Quinn, 15, wrestles on the junior varsity team, and Bode, 12, plays baseball and basketball. All three of Jay’s sons are playing basketball: Joe, 17, is a point guard for Iowa City West and also competes in track; Ryan, 15, a freshman, is on the football, basketball and track teams, and Eric, 10, is playing fourth-grade basketball and football.
Connie’s grandmotherly advice to her sons and their families: “Remember they are only kids and it is a TEAM sport. They will make mistakes but enjoy it regardless.”
Tommy was “the kid who never grew up,” Tom said, and Connie added, “Tommy treasured his friendships and family. He never had really down times. One thing Heidi’s brother said, he had never met anybody who had an unlimited fun budget and a wife that let him spend it.”
Tommy and Heidi built a basketball court for their boys in their backyard — just as Tom’s dad did for him at their home on Eighth Avenue North in Fort Dodge, all those many years ago.
After all, it was about family — and basketball.
Messenger Spotlight: August 4, 2019
Fort Dodge and Gypsum
On the Earth’s surface, the community was formed from an abandoned Army fort along the Des Moines River amidst the fertile soil of northwest Iowa. Underneath that soil, deep underneath, workers mined gypsum from one of the purest deposits of the mineral in the world.
“Gypsum runs in our blood,” said Matt Bemrich, mayor of Fort Dodge since 2010 and owner of Bemrich Electric & Telephone. “Both the mining and processing of gypsum have generationally been a great economic benefit to our community. You have generational families that have all worked for this industry. In my electric business, I work with all four companies, just as my dad and my grandfather did. Other than our agriculture-based economy, the next most abundant resource is gypsum. For 100-plus years, we’ve found ways to capitalize on that.”
Three years after Fort Dodge was chartered in 1869, the production of gypsum in Iowa began when George Ringland, Webb Vincent and Stillman T. Meservey formed the Fort Dodge Plaster Mills to mine, grind and prepare gypsum for commercial use. The company constructed the first gypsum mill west of the Mississippi River, at the head of what is now known as Gypsum Creek. Gypsum formed in the area about 145 million years ago, during the Jurassic Period, and miners began extracting it for wall plaster, insulation and fertilizer.
Today, as an indication of the city’s importance in the industry, four of the major companies in the United States involved in gypsum mining have operations in Fort Dodge — CertainTeed (once known locally as Celotex), Georgia-Pacific, National Gypsum Co. and United States Gypsum Corporation (USG). As of last summer, based on surveys of each, the four companies had a total employment of 369 employees, according to Dennis Plautz, chief executive of the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance.
In 2020, the gypsum industry is expected to add $369 million to the Webster County economy, according to a study by Dr. Ernie Goss, an economist at Creighton University who works with the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance.
Furthermore, Goss’s study reported, “the gypsum industry in Webster County supports 976 jobs each year. Every 100 gypsum industry jobs support an additional 112 jobs in spillover or linked jobs. For example in 2020, the gypsum industry will support 44 jobs in truck transportation industry and 37 jobs in wholesale trade. A high proportion of the jobs supported are high-wage jobs. In 2020, each gypsum manufacturing job is paid an average $84,845, each gypsum extraction job earns $72,530 on average, each truck transportation job is paid an average $54,332 and each wholesale trade job is paid $57,528 on average. Additionally, the gypsum industry generates significant state and local tax revenues for the county and region. In 2020, the industry will produce $8.2 million in state and local taxes.”
Underground mining of gypsum has been replaced by quarry mining over thousands of acres. The four companies own the land itself or own the mineral rights on the land on which they operate. National’s quarry is located northeast of Fort Dodge while the quarries of the other three are in the southeast area of the city.
“The area itself is very friendly to the industry,” said Kevin Richardson, USG plant manager since 2006 who oversees a work force of 130. “It’s unique that there are four of the major building industries here. Obviously, there is competition here. We’re all looking to be the industry leader. We’ve been hiring on a regular basis. I think we’re a solid employer here in town.”
Richardson’s company, USG, was formed in 1902, when about 20 gypsum companies including the Carbon Plaster Co. of Fort Dodge came together. Twenty more companies joined the next year — including Duncombe Stucco Company, the Iowa Plaster Association, the Mineral City Plaster Co. and the Fort Dodge Plaster Co., all based in Fort Dodge. Soon, a network of gypsum mines, quarries and processing plants spread across the United States.
Gypsum products from the Fort Dodge plants are shipped throughout the United States and into Canada. The best-known use of gypsum (calcium sulfate) is as the principal ingredient in the manufacture of gypsum board, also referred to as wallboard or drywall. As an inert compound containing 21 percent by weight chemically combined water, it provides buildings and homes with passive fire resistance, according to the Gypsum Association.
Beyond board, gypsum has many uses. It is used as a soil additive to improve the soil’s workability and receptivity to moisture, and to overcome the corrosive effect of alkalinity; as an additive to turbid water, particularly ponds, to settle dirt and clay particles without injuring aquatic life; as a food additive recognized as acceptable for human consumption by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use as a dietary source of calcium, to condition water used in brewing beer, to control the tartness and clarity of wine, and as an ingredient in canned vegetables, flour, white bread, ice cream, blue cheese, and other foods; as a color additive for drugs and cosmetics, and as a primary ingredient in toothpaste. Before the era of computers and high-tech special effects, film and television producers would drop “showers” of gypsum in front of the cameras to simulate snow.
After gypsum companies have fully mined a quarry, the remaining soil is reconstructed into open fields, rolling hills and cliffs that are not always suitable for crops or development.
An old open pit mine just south of the city is used as a landfill owned by the North Central Iowa Regional Solid Waste Agency. The location handles solid waste from Fort Dodge, Humboldt, Webster City, Manson, Rockwell City and other communities.
Land once quarried primarily by USG, along with parcels from National and Georgia-Pacific, is home to the Gypsum City OHV (Off-Highway Vehicles) Park — a state park — located in the southeast corner of Fort Dodge. The park, opened in 2004, is approximately 800 acres in size and includes 70 miles of trails for use by ATV’s, side by sides and off-road motorcycles. The park also includes a 1.5-mile motocross track, a .4-mile kids’ track, and a beginner circle track. Trails within the park range from open prairie for novice riders to heavily timbered areas for more advanced riders and include water crossings and mudding areas. Plautz said usage has grown in the past four years and now includes a campground served with water, electricity, sewer, picnic tables and grills, along with men’s and women’s showers/restrooms. More recently, tiny houses have been added for rental by campers at the park. They are constructed through a program that pairs Iowa Central Community College instructors with inmates at the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility.
Said Bemrich, “It’s kind of an interesting segue that generations of Fort Dodgers once worked that land pulling minerals out of the ground. It’s a bittersweet revelation of what could have ended up as a wasteland.”
Gypsum from the Fort Dodge area was used to create one of the great hoaxes in U.S. history. In the 1860s, New England native George Hull traveled to Fort Dodge and purchased an acre of land along Gypsum Creek. He hired local quarrymen to excavate the largest block of gypsum possible (about 2 feet thick, 4 feet wide, and 12 feet long) and shipped it to Chicago where sculptors carved it into the form of a giant man. They scoured it to remove the chisel marks and “aged” the figure by pitting it with needle-tipped hammers and discoloring it with sulfuric acid. Now appearing very old, the sculpture was shipped to upstate New York and secretly buried on a farm near Cardiff. A year later, while digging a well, the “petrified man” was “discovered” and proclaimed the “eighth wonder of the world.” Despite being quickly identified as a hoax, the Cardiff Giant went on tour, earning Hull about $20,000. The giant came home to Fort Dodge for display between 1913 and 1923, and then was returned to New York where today it is on exhibit at the Farmers Museum in Cooperstown. Fort Dodge didn’t have the money to buy it, so sculptor Cliff Carlson was hired to carve an exact replica for $2,100. The replica is displayed at The Fort Museum and Frontier Village in Fort Dodge.
Last fall, the Fort Dodge Community School District unveiled a new Dodger mascot — a miner, to pay homage to the community’s deep roots in the mining industry.
“The student section at football and basketball and any home event is the ‘Mine Squad’ and that’s the kids sitting in the mine, basically,” said Eric Hoveland, student services liaison at Fort Dodge Senior High School.
“What’s a ‘Dodger’? — “A ‘dodger’ had to light the fuse of the dynamite and then dodge the explosion,” the district said. “He was the miner who was the last man out. He exemplified courage, toughness, grit and a will to survive and thrive by working hard to beat the odds. These characteristics continue to represent our Dodgers today.”
There are other gypsum and mining ties in the city. In the summer of 2019, Fort Dodge joined the local Pioneer Collegiate Baseball League with a team called the Gypsum Miners. Mineral City Mill and Grill is a Fort Dodge restaurant with a plethora of mining-related photos on its walls. And there’s the Mineral City Speedway Race Track. Gypsum was used for landscaping at the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance building, to “help us remember our heritage,” Plautz said, and PICA (Pride in Community Appearance) volunteers have used it as part of its landscaping on other public properties.
“The other day, I was out at Village Inn having breakfast with my oldest son,” Bemrich said, “and there was a table nearby with 20 men and women, all who once worked for Celotex, who meet once a month. It was not only a place where they once worked, but also where they built lifelong friendships. Gypsum may be a rock in the ground but it’s more than just a financial thing.”
How long will the supply of Fort Dodge gypsum last? When National Gypsum announced several years ago its move to a new, nearby location, then-plant manager Greg Berry said “we’re going to be set for the next 40 years on this land.”
Said USG’s Kevin Richardson, “We’re secure at the current extraction rate for many years moving forward. There are rumors around town that places are running out of gypsum. There is plenty.”
Messenger Spotlight: March 1, 2020; Paul Stevens
Al Habhab Has Lived A Life of Service
Al Habhab doesn’t believe in sitting on the sidelines.
The son of Lebanese immigrants, the Fort Dodge native has devoted a lifetime of service to his fellow man — as an Army private in World War II, as the city’s mayor for 14 years, and as a district court judge and state appellate court justice.
Few have played a larger role in the history of this city than the man born 91 years ago to Dea and Moses Habhab, who both entered the United States through Ellis Island as newly married teenagers and found their way to Fort Dodge to settle and raise a family.
Few are bigger cheerleaders than Habhab, who said, “I think Fort Dodge and Webster County are forging ahead. I think Fort Dodge has grown by people giving of their time and talents. Frankly, it has exceeded my expectations.”
Habhab admits to slowing down a bit in the past year, but he and his wife, Janet, whom he met while attending the University of Iowa, lead an active lifestyle with close friends and are proud of their two children (Robert and Mary Beth), two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. The Habhabs have lived in the same house overlooking Snell Park for 54 of their 63 years of marriage.
Much of the infrastructure that Fort Dodge and area residents value today had its formative roots during the span of Habhab’s career as the city’s mayor from 1960 to 1974 — the longest tenure of any mayor before or since.
He counts as his greatest accomplishment the urban renewal improvements made in the 1960s to address constant flooding from the Des Moines River, working with then-U.S.
Sen. Harold Hughes to secure the necessary federal funding. He supported during his term as mayor the building of both Williams Drive and Veterans Bridge (on First Avenue South and over the railroad tracks), creating more efficient traffic flows through Fort Dodge.
Harlan and Hazel Rogers Sports Complex had its roots during his tenure — thanks to land donated by the Rogers — and continues to bring recreational and financial (state girls softball championship) benefits to the city. As mayor, Habhab dug the first spade of dirt for the present site of Iowa Central Community College, which had been located in a wing of Fort Dodge Senior High, and which he considers one of northwest Iowa’s greatest assets. To expand the Fort Dodge Regional Airport, he worked through condemnation proceedings to double the size of the land on which the airport is located. Also during his mayoral tenure, the fire station was moved from the Fort Dodge Municipal Building to its present location, land was acquired for the present city landfill, the Airport Commission was created and the city limits were expanded to control and encourage home building.
All of these were a team effort with the city council and key Fort Dodge leaders, and couldn’t have been accomplished without them, Habhab is quick to point out — adding that one upon whom he relied heavily for many city projects was former City Clerk Dennis Milefchik.
Fate played a big role in how this all came about, beginning when his parents — who spoke very little English — found their way to Fort Dodge because his dad, while working the mines in Pennsylvania, knew a Ferris Daniel of Fort Dodge and when the train dropped him off at the wrong city in Iowa, he was able to communicate to the trainmaster where he wanted to go. The late Ferris Daniel’s grandson, John, owns Daniel Pharmacy and grandson, Steve, owns Daniel Tire Co.
The Habhabs had nine children — two of whom died at an early age. Al is the last to survive.
Two of Habhab’s brothers — Hassan and Oscar — joined the Navy after the United States entered World War II. And Al was 18 when he was drafted into the Army on Jan. 25, 1944, just after graduating early from Fort Dodge Senior High.
Nine months later, his unit of the 87th Infantry Division fought in the Battle of the Bulge and the date of Dec. 16, 1944, was indelibly seared forever in Habhab’s mind.
Facing intense German fire on that day, Habhab’s squad was ordered to take out a machine gun nest. One of the men, Arthur Kingsberry, was hit by bullets and, Habhab recalled, was lying in a field “yelling and screaming, ‘I don’t want to die’ and ‘help me, help me.'”
“I told the guys if they would cover me, I would go back and get Kingsberry. So I got rid of my pack but kept my rifle and ammunition belt and crawled on my belly to where Kingsberry was. He was shot up bad and was bleeding profusely. I had my first-aid packs, and I patched him up the best I could. The Germans kept shooting. We could hear the zing of bullets. Finally, the Germans stopped firing. Perhaps they thought we were both dead. There was indeed divine intervention. I threw Kingsberry’s arm over me. He was a big fellow and I was a little guy, I weighed 100-125 pounds. I then dragged him to where the other guys were.”
Some 40 years later, Habhab was able to track down Kingsberry, who was a jeweler who lived in Baltimore, and for years after they exchanged cards or phone calls each Dec. 16 until Kingsberry died. They never got the chance to meet. For his Army service, Habhab was awarded the Bronze Star, three battle stars and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
Habhab developed trench foot a week after rescuing Kingsberry in the frozen conditions of France and was evacuated to a hospital in Paris, and then to England, where doctors were able to save his feet from amputation.
“All I can tell you is that I went into the Army on Jan. 25, 1944. I was in Europe in November 1944. I was in the hospital just a few months later. I lived a lifetime in about 10 months. I was just a common ordinary guy. I never thought much about it until my later years.”
The war did not leave the Habhab family untouched. Navy Ensign Oscar Habhab was flying a Corsair off an aircraft carrier near Guam, on patrol looking for Japanese planes, when his aircraft went down on April 1, 1945. The plane exploded when it hit the water and his body was never recovered. “That was the most devastating thing that fell on our family,” Habhab said. “My parents never recovered from his loss. Our love for him has never closed.”
Al was in the barracks in England the day he received a letter from his sister Mary that Oscar had died. “I was in shock, I didn’t know which way to turn. I guess it’s another incident in my life that perhaps shaped my future.” Oscar is memorialized in the Philippines at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial.
Habhab was discharged from the Army in early 1946 and began classes at Fort Dodge Junior College that fall. After two years, he entered the University of Iowa and graduated with a law degree in 1952. It was at Iowa that he met and fell in love with Janet, the daughter of Robert and Grace Morse of Elkader. They were married in July 1953.
They returned to Fort Dodge where Habhab started his own practice — he said he grossed $800 in his first year — before attorney Alan Loth invited him to join his practice 10 years later.
Habhab was 34 years old when he was elected in 1960 to his first two-year term as mayor, deciding to run for the nonpartisan position because he thought there were “things that needed to be done” in Fort Dodge. Many thought he was too young; previous office-holders were much older. But he won election and then re-election six more terms.
Later, his long ambition to become a judge was fulfilled when he was appointed a judge in the Second Judicial District by then-Gov. Robert Ray in 1975 and served for 13 years.
Habhab was appointed to the Iowa Court of Appeals by then-Gov. Terry Branstad in 1988 and later was selected by his fellow judges as chief judge. He left the court in 1997 and served as a senior judge for eight more years. Habhab afterward did some limited law practice in Fort Dodge and today, while his attorney’s license is current, he no longer practices law.
Habhab, who serves on the board of Friendship Haven and is former commander of the Fort Dodge American Legion, believes in involvement. The list of other organizations he has served is long. And so, too, is his list of honors.
“If you don’t think things are going the way you should, get involved” he said. “If you really, truly believe in what you’re doing, that’s the major part. You’re going to be subject to criticism along the way, that’s true. But you need to be calm about the criticism. You need to believe in what you’re doing.”
When Habhab celebrated his 90th birthday in 2015 with a party at the Community Orchard, he told co-owner Bev Baedke to make a reservation for Sept. 6, 2025, for his 100th birthday party. He was joking, he said. Well, maybe.
“I enjoyed my 90th,” he said. “I think I’ve led a pretty good life.”
Messenger Spotlight: April 2, 2017; Paul Stevens
Jeff Hemann: Alaska Dream
The distance from Willow, Alaska, to Fort Dodge is 5,600 miles — a bit far for Jeff Hemann to mush his team of Alaskan huskies for a return to Iowa to visit his family and friends in his old hometown.
But there is little else that the 37-year-old Hemann hasn’t tried since moving in 2001 to Alaska, where he has forged a variety of careers — dog musher, log-cabin builder, bear spotter and more — and where his father and two sisters followed him and live close by.
First and foremost a dog musher, Hemann is comfortable directing a team of 6-8 Alaskan huskies for dogsled rides to tourists, carrying building supplies, food and gas from one location to another and, when racing, doubling the number of dogs pulling the sled. Meantime, he and his wife Heather are raising two sons along with a lively group of 25 huskies.
As a dog musher, he exercises the dogs to build up to a 50-mile run while holding a 10 mile per hour pace. “We get them to peak physical condition.”
Hemann considers himself an “old school musher” — starting fire with natural resources, blazing new trails, camping out with his dogs. “These days, there’s no stopping and smelling the roses, you’re just about speed and getting there in a designated amount of time,” he said. In 2014, Hemann, his wife, their son and his dad were featured in a nationally televised segment on dog mushing for National Geographic’s Dead End Express.
“There’s a constant rotation of age,” Hemann said, noting the huskies — who weigh 50 to 70 pounds — can race up to 12 years of age, some as many as 14, pulling twice their body weight at speeds of up to 25 mph in sub-zero conditions. “My oldest dogs are starting to hit that age (of retirement). There are no regrets. They get to run free a lot in their lives.
“Everything in Alaska goes with the seasons — you’re always trying to get ready for next season or cleaning up from the previous. It’s like a whole other world, never boring. You’re always getting ready for next season.”
To prepare for the Alaska winters, where temperatures can reach 40 below and sunlight can last for as little as five hours a day, Hemann uses his dogs to go deep into the woods to collect chaga — fungus that grows on the outside of trees that he grinds and mixes with coffee and tea to provide a high level of anti-oxidants. He hunts moose and caribou and fishes for salmon to store up for the long winter. No canned food for his dogs: they are highly trained athletes and he combines chaga with salmon and rice for a nutritional diet.
“We are outside a lot,” Hemann said. “We use headlamps in the winter. If you’re not doing stuff in Alaska, you’re not in Alaska.”
Hemann was born in Fort Dodge — the son of Sue Blanchet and Paul Hemann — and was raised by both after they divorced when he was 12. His mother later married Ron Blanchet and works as executive assistant at Friendship Haven. His father moved to Alaska not long after Jeff.
“I was always in tune with nature growing up, always wanting to be outside hiking, or fishing or hunting,” Hemann said. “When I wasn’t outside, I was training and teaching Tae Kwon Do with and under my dad.” His father was owner and operator of Hemann Tae Kwon Do in Fort Dodge for 30 years.
Hemann said the start of his passion for dogs and animals came from his grandmother, Charlotte PeCoy. She and her husband Burlyn, who now reside at Friendship Haven, owned a Siberian husky named Kota while he was growing up. “I spent a lot of time with the dog, walking her. It was my first job.”
Hemann credits his parents and his Midwest background for giving him foundation for his current lifestyle. After graduating from St. Edmond High School in 1998, he spotted a newspaper ad for a dog mushing guide at a lodge in Minnesota.
“I had never even seen a dog team in my life, but I was ready to step up and apply,” he said.
He spent three years in Ely, Minnesota, on the Canadian border. He first worked as a tow-boat driver and gear packer, and then got a job guiding at the Gunflint Lodge — where he learned to mush — and driving boats to take canoers deep into the lakes region. He also hired on as an activity assistant at a nursing home — “one of my most favorite jobs, hanging out with the elders of the community in their last legs of life. I enjoyed them as much as they enjoyed me. I guided for two winters in Ely while working at the nursing home. I was very busy with lots of names to remember, between the dogs and everyone at the nursing home.”
Hemann said he got “the Alaska bug” and spotted a newspaper ad from Alaska Heli-Mush to be a guide for tourists from cruise ships who are flown by helicopter from Juneau to the Taku Glazier where they are taken on sled dog rides. After that summer, he and his dad ran a remote trap line in interior Alaska — “We got dropped off by ski bush plane and we lived in a log cabin for the next two months with no electricity or generator or cook stove. Just lanterns and woodstove and quality father-son time.”
The owner of Alaska Heli-Mush, Linwood Fiedler, asked Hemann if he would train dogs with him in Willow “and I was definitely in.” He did that for the next few years before moving out on his own, buying 35 acres of remote land along the Big Susitna River in Willow.
There, he began raising and training 25 huskies — he and Heather involved in such duties as their feeding, cleaning, vaccinations and nail-clipping.
It was through teaching a class in Tae Kwon Do in Willow that Hemann — who has held a black belt for 23 years — met “the love of my life” — Heather, who had moved to Alaska from Montana with her son Dakota from her first marriage. Both her son, now 15, and then Heather took classes from Hemann. “We hit it off right away and never let up. We’ve been together for 10 years now, married for eight, and since then have had our son Granite who is 8 years old now.”
Heather is a Pilates instructor at a church in Willow and still does dog handling and mushing. Hemann’s father lives a few miles away from them and is now “a professional video guy — weddings, selling property, movie scenes, making a living capturing the beauty of Alaska,” Hemann said. His sisters live in Anchorage, 100 miles away — Emily and her husband Jacob Lyon have two children, Annie and her husband Jeff Brace have three.
Hemann works seasonally for surveyors from seismic gas companies in some of the most remote and bear-infested spots in Alaska. He said, “We go in front of them and are there to protect the wildlife, the bear and moose. Our job is to deflect any danger, let animals know we are there not to harm them. We’ve run into a thicket of bears but we were able to walk away just fine.” Such trips can last up to several weeks — ‘It’s a real fun job but it’s hard being away from family so long at a time.”
“When I first moved away,” he said, “I got a lot of my leads in Alaska from my Midwest work ethic. I started appreciating more and more, everything in life has its role and purpose. The people and family values that I got growing up in Fort Dodge, from my family, churches and schools, are solid as a rock. I take pride in the fact now.”
Messenger Spotlight: May 7, 2017; Paul Stevens
Honor Flights Have Been A Huge Success
With a military precision befitting their mission, volunteer organizers of the Brushy Creek Honor Flights have virtually every minute of a 19-hour day accounted for when they transport their precious cargo of area veterans to view national landmarks in Washington, D.C.
They’ve done it 14 times since the first flight in May 2010, carrying a total of about 1,900 veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam from Fort Dodge Regional Airport to Dulles International Airport, where waiting buses take them on a daylong journey to view the national memorials dedicated to their wars as well as other landmarks in the nation’s capitol.
What a day it is, seared in the memories of all the veterans and their families who are fortunate enough to experience it. And there may be no other event in Fort Dodge that bonds the community like the Honor Flights do.
For veterans chosen for the flight, the day begins at 5 a.m. with check-in at the airport hangar. The 150 veterans clear security and board a Boeing 737 operated by Sun Country Airlines, with Fort Dodge firemen carrying those needing help up the stairway to their seats.
Wheels up at 6:20 for the two-hour flight to Dulles International Airport where the plane taxis to the terminal. Lines of 500 to 600 greeters in the terminal applauding and shaking their hands as they move to the buses that take them to downtown Washington, escorted by motorcycle police with sirens blaring. Stops at the World War II, Korea and Vietnam memorials. Box lunches served on the buses while they tour the city. Stops at Arlington National Cemetery in time for the Changing of the Guard, and at the Iwo Jima Marine Corps monument and the new Air Force Memorial. Mail call during the return flight to Fort Dodge where each veteran receives notes of gratitude for his or her service. Arrival in Fort Dodge at 10:30 p.m. where 500 to 700 friends and family greet them, along with a band from Iowa Central Community College. And home with memories to last a lifetime.
A tried and true formula, but subject from time to time to improvements, noted Charles Walker, a Fort Dodge attorney who as a member of the original Brushy Creek board has traveled on all but one of the Honor Flights:
“Mail call has always been one of the flights’ most popular and moving features. We used to remind the veterans on the plane that when they served, they looked forward to two things — pay day and mail call — and that while we were not going to have a pay day on the flight, we would have mail call. But then, three flights ago, we found someone who donated Payday candy bars, the salted nut roll candy. And now we can say the veterans get both Payday and mail call.”
Curt Martins, a Callender resident who served as a Navy Seabee in Vietnam, said the police escort for the Honor Flight buses and the greetings he and fellow veterans received in Washington from “people of all walks of life” are memories lodged forever in his mind. “The showing of thoughtfulness was overwhelming. We were treated like royalty the whole trip.”
When the first Honor Flight was planned, organizers hoped they could raise enough money for at least one flight. Not only did they raise the needed $100,000, Brushy Creek director Ron Newsum recalled, but they set the tone for the 14 flights that have followed.
Veterans who have taken the flights include, roughly, 925 from the Army, 400 from the Navy, 250 from the Air Force, 250 from the Marine Corps and 25 from the Coast Guard.
Those first flights took only World War II veterans, but in 2013 expanded to include Korean War veterans and in 2015 to include Vietnam War veterans.
“I have been a volunteer all of my adult life for one project or another,” Newsum said. “The Honor Flight has been the most rewarding project I have been involved with. Each flight has been a ‘reward.’
“Veterans expect to see their memorials along with Arlington Cemetery and the changing of the guard. They do not expect the 500 to 700 Washington volunteers who greet them at Dulles Airport, nor the 500 to 700 people who greet them upon their return to Fort Dodge later that evening. I’m proud to have been a part of ‘Honoring’ those veterans who have given us the freedoms we have today, and I am looking forward to future flights.”
Dr. Paul Brown, 94, a World War II and Korean War veteran, took the Honor Flight several years ago and said “it was the best-planned and administered trip I have ever taken. Every moment was filled with something. I was amazed by the World War II monument — I had heard some criticism about it, but I thought it was magnificently planned and carried out to highlight the activities of all the armed services.”
The homecoming at the Fort Dodge airport stands out in the mind of Brown, who was a family practice physician in Maquoketa for 40 years before moving to Fort Dodge. “When we arrived back in Fort Dodge, there were a thousand people waiting for us.”
Jerry Thoma, who served two tours of Vietnam in 1966-67 with the Navy’s swift boats unit, was among the Vietnam veterans who took an Honor Flight in 2016. Thoma, a retired chief deputy with the Webster County Sheriff’s Department, said that “everything was well-organized every minute of our trip, from the people who met us at the airport in Washington to the crowd here at home who had to wait for an extra hour and half delay for our return arrival.
“The Vietnam wall was truly humbling. The visit to Arlington Cemetery and the Changing of the Guard were awesome. My wife said I didn’t stop talking about the trip for two days. Every chance I get, I talk to other vets to take the trip and some have thanked me for talking them into it. I will be forever grateful for the chance to go. My personal emotions will be forever changed after participating in this trip.”
Beyond the moving experience of the veterans themselves are their families, some of whom served as “guardians” assigned to each veteran and others who awaited their loved one’s arrival in Washington or back in Fort Dodge.
“Our whole family, children and their spouses were waiting in D.C. for the Brushy Creek Honor Flight to arrive,” recalled Barb Nolan Anderson of Shakopee, Minnesota, whose father, Gene Nolan, a World War II veteran, was on the first Honor Flight, accompanied on the flight by his son, John, and his granddaughter, Angela.
“The Honor Flight gave our family the opportunity to join others in honoring the men and women who served our great country so selflessly,” she said. “I think we all have had those times when ‘thank you just isn’t enough’ and when no matter how hard you try, the right words just won’t come.
“This is how I feel when I try to describe how grateful and thankful I am to Ron Newsum and the entire team of organizers for making the Honor Flights a reality. Clearly, it was Ron’s strong sense of leadership, focus to detail and commitment to excellence that provided the framework for a day that appeared seamless in its ability to meet the needs of the World War II Vets. Our family carries in our heart the precious memories of that day and how wonderful it was to share it together as a family. It is a time that we will always hold dear and cherish.”
Newsum, who accompanied his own World War II veteran father to Washington on that first flight on May 1, 2010, is quick to point out that the flights would not be possible without the “team effort” of dedicated volunteers, who include: Barb Schulze and Darrell and Phyllis Koester, responsible for all of the homecomings in Fort Dodge; Rhonda Chambers, Fort Dodge Regional Airport manager, who makes arrangements for the charter flights; Charles Walker and wife, Mary Lou, who, along with his staff, determine which veterans are eligible to go on the next flight; Lee Bailey, who makes all the arrangements for hats/shirts and helps Orene Cressler with the unloading of the veterans assigned to wheelchairs; Mel Schroeder, treasurer, who with Craig Malloy are in charge of loading the supplies needed on the aircraft the morning of the flight; Marlene Welander, Russ Naden, Walker and Malloy, who act as motor coach captains to make sure all the veterans get the needed wheelchairs, water, etc. while on the tour; Welander, Peggy Dettmann and Julie Reed, who make sure the loading/unloading of the aircraft go smoothly.
When the veterans have been notified of their invitation on the trip, all of the board members call veterans’ family members to arrange for the “mail call.”
Four of the first board of directors of Brushy Creek Honor Flight continue on today: Newsum, Schroeder, Walker and Naden. Others on that original board were Mike Kopp, Tom Dorsey and the late Dan Payne.
Albert Habhab, a World War II veteran and former Fort Dodge mayor and judge, was on an early Honor Flight and gives “special thanks to those who not only conceived the idea but also gave of their time, talent and personal funds to make it a reality. “My travels have taken me to distances far removed from Fort Dodge and I have never met men and women more determined and dedicated than this group to make a dream a reality.”
Schroeder said a reward for all the work “was to see the expressions on the faces of the veterans as they were greeted by hundreds of people of all ages as they arrived at the Dulles Airport. Several of the veterans — especially those who served during the Vietnam War — commented they didn’t get a warm reception when they came home. As the veterans toured the monuments erected in their honor, they were often stopped by complete strangers who greeted them and thanked them for their service.”
Each flight costs about $100,000 to accomplish. Newsum said that Brushy Creek has not had any corporate sponsors, but has received “several nice corporate donations. We have relied totally on the good will of many, many people and organizations. To date we have not had to ‘beg’ for dollars.”
When the flight was first organized, the intent was to take veterans from Webster County and its surrounding counties, Newsum said, but in short order organizers received applications from beyond those county lines so the board made the decision not to penalize veterans because they did not live in the “right” county. The Brushy Creek flights have carried veterans from 51 counties and 160 communities.
Walker said “people at The Messenger have been great” in publicizing the flights and in honoring the veterans aboard each flight with pictures of each in a special section that is published just before each flight. The newspaper also sends a reporter with each flight.
Two Brushy Creek Honor Flights are scheduled for 2018 — the first on May 12 and the second on Sept. 15 — and there are tentative plans for a flight in May of 2019.
“We have enough applications for the next three, maybe even more,” said Walker, a Vietnam veteran who noted there are several World War II veterans who have applied. “As long as we have veterans who want to go, we will keep raising the money and get it done.”
Messenger Spotlight: December 3, 2017; Paul Stevens
Uncle Dick’s Fun House
For years, Dick Johnson put smiles on the faces of hundreds of Fort Dodge girls and boys and helped many of them usher in another birthday — made all the more special by celebrating it on live television.
Those lucky kids who appeared on “Uncle Dick’s Fun House” are now in their 60s and 70s. And Johnson? He’s celebrating a special one of his own later this month when he marks his 90thbirthday on Christmas Day at his home in Great Falls, Montana.
“Those kids were the highlight of my whole life,” said Johnson. “The main focus of the whole show was kids who had a birthday. I was just there. The show wasn’t about me. It was about the kids.”
“Uncle Dick’s Fun House” was an idea conceived by Edward J. Breen, a Fort Dodge attorney and Democratic state legislator who owned KVFD radio and purchased KQTV Channel 21 in 1953. The TV station continued, with a name change to KVFD-TV, until 1977 when a tornado severely damaged its 600-foot tower. Breen planned to rebuild the transmission facilities but died in 1978 before any construction began.
Back in those early days of Breen’s ownership, Johnson recalled, KQTV was taking an “off-air’ feed from WHO-TV in Des Moines and received its NBC programming lineup, with some local time for news and its own programming. Eve Rubenstein filled an hour with her popular “Eve’s Kitchen” cooking show and a half hour opened up with nothing local to fill.
“Ed called me into his office and in his usual casual way, he said, ‘Starting next Monday, you’ll have the 5 to 5:30 slot after Eve to do a ‘kiddy’ show,” said Johnson, then a newscaster. Breen said he could get a contract for some cartoons and old “one-reelers” for such talents as Laurel and Hardy.
“We built a set, ran some promos to have parents write in to schedule a birthday party on the show which Ed named Uncle Dick’s Funhouse. We didn’t even have videotape at that time so we had to do all the promotions with slides and old fashioned ‘opaque’ cards.
Fortunately, I had frittered away way too much time in my high school history and English classes doodling caricatures and similar pencil drawings, so Ed suggested I draw pictures for the kids and fill the time between commercials and film.”
The show was televised from 5 to 5:30 p.m. five days a week and it ran for more than six years.
“My favorite part was interviewing the kids,” Johnson said. “There wasn’t a day gone by that didn’t have a guest group, a birthday party. Parents would call and schedule a birthday some months ahead. I interviewed the kids and asked what their interests were, names of their pets; that was fun. I will never forget one boy who told me he used to have a dog, but that the dog pooped on his mother’s dress and she made him get rid of it. I shared that with Art Linkletter’s ‘Kids Say The Darndest Things’ and he used it.
“I’d ask them what they’d like me to draw. When Eve did some cooking, we would let the kids sample it. It was one of the most-watched shows in the territory for all the time we did it.”
Johnson grew up in Eagle Grove, where he attended high school and junior college. Blessed with a good voice, he was doing broadcasting and commercials while attending Drake University in Des Moines. He left college for a job as a disc jockey and later news director at a Spencer radio station, then worked at a Carroll radio station before coming to KVFD radio in 1953.
He married Gladys Wilson in Harcourt and they had four daughters: Karen, who died in 2015; Donna, who lives in Fort Dodge; Joan, who lives in West Babylon, New York, and with husband Bill Drewes have two girls, Grace and Amalia; and Martha, who lives in Fort Dodge with her husband Bob Kersbergen. Martha and her former husband Jim McColley had four children: Rose, Scott, Rachel and Matthew. Johnson and Gladys divorced in 1970 and she lives at Friendship Haven. He has been married to Billie Ann Johnson since 1994.
Martha recalls being on the show once: “It was NOT my birthday. As my Dad ‘interviewed’ each child asking their name, favorite subject, etc., he got to me and I said, ‘You know who I am Dad!’ Well, he was supposed to be everyone’s UNCLE and not a Dad … I blew his cover! It was fun growing up with a father who was a local celebrity!”
Johnson has been a barbershopper for 72 years, singing in such quartets as the “Chordhuskers” and the “Bunkhouse Bums.” He joined the Society for Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America while attending Drake and his 72-year tenure ranks him in the top .05 percent of the society’s 20,000 members.
Johnson moved to Great Falls when he took a job as a television newsman “and I fell in love with Montana – the fishing, the hunting, the outdoors. I had been in Montana all my life and I just didn’t know it until I got there.”
Aging has forced him to give up hunting and to sell his fishing boat and fish from shore. “The only thing I got that works anymore is my voice,” he said with a laugh. For years after he quit being on the air, he did commercials and voiceovers.
“If the truth be known, I have been the best and worst of people, the kindest and the orneriest,” he said. “I have enjoyed every damn minute of it. I hope people who know me enjoyed their time with me too.”
Messenger Spotlight: December 2, 2018; Paul Stevens
Fort Dodge Lanciers
Their drums and their bugles have been silent now for nearly 50 years. Teenagers when they marched together as one, these Baby Boomers are now in their 60s and 70s.
But for the many alumni of the Fort Dodge Lanciers who are spread throughout the country, the memories of marching in the drum and bugle corps as ambassadors of Fort Dodge in the 1950s and 1960s will never completely fade away. Nor will their appreciation for what the experience meant to their lives.
“The work ethic, teamwork, is a given, but the enduring friendships are priceless,” said Paulette Harris, who played the baritone bugle from 1965-69 and now lives in Greene, Iowa. “I have friends that go back over 50 years from the Lanciers. I know that no matter how many years pass without being in touch, if I needed help, they would be there for me.
As I would for them. Unconditionally, sometimes even more than a family.”
Kay Hughes Reed, of Grand Junction, Colorado, said her years as a member of the corps’ color guard from 1964-68 were “some of the best years of my life.”
“I can’t begin to tell you what the Lanciers meant to me — my escape for much of the summer,” she said. “All of the adults, whatever their role with the corps happened to be, treated all of us like their own kids. When I say we were a family, I MEAN we were a family. We were taught discipline and respect and pride in ourselves and each other. It changed my whole outlook on life. It is definitely responsible for the person I am today.”
The Fort Dodge Lanciers Drum and Bugle Corps — Reed calls them “Fort Dodge’s Young Ambassadors” – was formed in 1955. During its 15 years of existence, hundreds of young people and their adult sponsors took part in the corps — competing in state and national competitions and marching in parades that included President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural parade in Washington, D.C.
The Lanciers’ early predecessors were the Fort Dodge American Legion Post 130 Drum and Bugle Corps, which was founded in 1923, and the Fort Dodge Drum and Bugle Corps, which was founded as a Boy Scout activity, sponsored by Post 130, open to boys age 9 to 15. Two years later, the Legion assumed full sponsorship of the corps and opened membership to all interested, allowing them to perform until they were 21. In 1959, the all-girl color guard was added to the corps, performing both with the larger corps, and competing as an independent unit that won eight consecutive state titles.
The founder and manager of the Lanciers until the late 1960s was El Presley. His grandson, Wade Presley, who today is band director at Nevada High School, said his grandfather was an award-winning tuba player from Sac City who in high school won a regional music competition in Omaha that landed him a scholarship to Coe College. “But in the Depression Era he didn’t have the bus fare and instead he served in the Navy in World War II,” Wade said. “The pay to be a radio operator was better than the pay for a band member, so he did that instead of continuing his music career. But his love for music stayed and turned into forming the Lanciers.”
“My grandfather wrote some of the music the Lanciers played, and he would go to (Fort Dodge bandmaster) Karl King and say, ‘Hey, can you look at this and help me out?'”
The Lanciers won the Iowa American Legion state championships in 1966 and 1967, and the Iowa VFW state championship in 1968. Dodger Stadium was their home venue, and former Fort Dodge resident Greg Sells, of Carmichael, California, remembers vividly his first experience in seeing them compete, in the summer of 1959 when he was 12 years old.
“Within 10 minutes of the start of the competition I was hooked,” Sells said. “Each team was dressed in beautiful uniforms, large colorful flags were waving in unison, the marching was quick and precise, drums and horns were seemingly everywhere, and the music was not only fun to hear but you literally felt it. Everyone sat on one side of the field. As each group performed and turned to face the opposite side, the sound was muffled a bit, but when they turned and marched toward the audience it was like a freight train went by in front of you. Loud, powerful music. What an experience. Almost 59 years later and I can still recall that evening.”
Most will say that by far the highlight of their Lanciers’ history was being selected with the Coe College ROTC Band to represent Iowa in JFK’s Inaugural Parade in Washington on Jan. 20, 1961. In just several days, the Drum Corps Boosters and the Lanciers raised the $5,500 needed to make the trip.
Bob Dunker, of Dakota Dunes, South Dakota, played soprano bugle for the corps and recalls, “it was a snowy day, which was very unusual for D.C. and all of the buses had a hard time getting around. All of us kids also got to see the historical sites in D.C., which was REALLY a BIG DEAL for a bunch of kids from Fort Dodge, Iowa. That was the farthest I had ever been from home at that time.” Dunker is retired after serving 20 years as president of Western Iowa Tech Community College in Sioux City.
Doug Kozell, an architect in Madison, Wisconsin, who played the snare drum for the Lanciers from 1959-62, said the trip to Washington “was an epic journey for us, though we had no idea at the time of the cultural significance of an event related to a president who would be assassinated. I have many memories from that trip, including the bus ride when we gazed out the windows at the fiery steel mills we could see from the Chicago Skyway. It was an early experience of racial discrimination when we found segregated facilities in the bus terminals along the way. Our stop at Gettysburg introduced us to the Civil War. The parade itself was brutal: 13-degree weather with strong winds, and much time outside in the lineup waiting for our turn in the parade.”
The biggest downer, recalled former Lancier Steve Ryan: NBC, the television network covering the parade nationally, cut to a commercial just as the Lanciers got into camera range.
The trophies and accolades were treasured by members of the corps, when they competed at home and at venues across the country and in Canada (including performing at the World’s Fair in Montreal in 1967). They were the result of hours upon hours of weekly practice, throughout the year, during the summer at the old South Junior High School grounds and Crossroads Mall, and twice a week in the winter at the American Legion Hall.
“The Lanciers was a part of our lives all year around,” said Pam Osmanson Moeller, a flag bearer in the color guard from 1963-69. “We started in the fall and winter learning new routines and music, the color guard competed in Winter Guard in Minnesota, spring we put our routine together, and summer was practicing at the Penney’s parking lot, traveling, and performing all over. When we were getting close to competitions, we would practice after dark; when the lights shut off in the parking lot, our parents would shine their head lights on us so we could continue to perfect our routines.”
What they remember most is the camaraderie from being a member of the corps, friendships formed that last a lifetime and the life’s lessons learned as a result of being a Lancier. There was even at least one marriage that resulted.
“Some of my closest lifelong friendships came out of being part of the Lanciers,” said Mike Schlesinger, publisher of the Marshalltown Times Republican, “including my best friend — my wife, Julie (Fletcher). I marched with Julie for four years and then marched with her down the aisle — and that was almost 47 years ago!
“Julie and I actually knew each other from growing up together in St. Olaf Lutheran Church. In the Lanciers, I played the baritone bugle, and Julie was in the color guard,” Mike continued. “She started out as a flag carrier, later carried the American flag and ultimately became Color Guard Sergeant. Julie was a good friend of my sister, Ruth, who was also in the drum corps and who also played the baritone bugle. Julie spent a lot of time with my sister at our house, and my family loved her and always encouraged me to date her. I ignored them — until they quit suggesting it and that’s when I asked her out. We dated for five years and then got married in 1971. Most of the Lanciers attended our wedding. There was no Lancier music, but John Zuerrer, who was in the drum corps with us, sang at our wedding.”
Jim Tarbox, a retired newspaper and magazine reporter/editor in Maplewood, Minnesota, said the experience of being a Lancier “taught me a lot about teamwork, how to deal with both elation and disappointment in the pursuit of excellence, offered opportunities to travel that likely otherwise would not have been available, and developed life-long friendships.
“It also introduced me to a wide variety of musical styles, and largely steered my interest in pursuing a career in the newspaper business and writing about entertainment, especially music (though a couple of friends from the corps will tell you I was the only ‘tone-deaf’ music reviewer in the country. And it’s true that one of the appeals of being a bass drummer was that I had to learn only a single note). Today I remain involved in ‘the activity’ as both a board member of Minnesota Brass and as announcer for a variety of drum-corps and marching-band contests in the Twin Cities area. It also, however improbably, led to my participation with the Brian Boru Irish Pipe Band of St. Paul, of which I am currently drum major.”
Participation in the Lanciers led to a life’s career in music for Tom Ryan, of Whitewater, Wisconsin, who was a drummer in the corps from 1956-61. (His brother Steve also took part in the corps and marched in the Kennedy inaugural parade.) Tom played in the Fort Dodge Senior High band and orchestra, took part in A Cappella Choir and high school musicals, and played in the orchestra for the Men’s Civic Glee Club, the City Band under Karl King and the circus band.
“It was being in the corps and the choir that were the deciding factors in my choice of a career path,” he said. “The corps provided excitement, pageantry, drama, as did the choral setting with the addition of the beauty and passion of the human voice. (No wonder I love opera.) I wanted to continue to be a part of that and to impart these things to others at whatever level.
“I went to Cornell College for a degree in music education and continued to the University of Illinois for a master’s degree in choral music. For nearly 40 years, I taught vocal and instrumental music at all educational levels, including at the college level, my favorite level being elementary vocal music.”
Mike Tracy, who played tenor drum, believes his four years as a Lancier helped provide learning tools that translated to his participation in football and basketball at St. Edmond High School and when he later coached at a high school in Minnesota.
“We were instilled with the value of practice, when there was little margin for error in our drum and bugle corps competition,” said Tracy, who lives in Cherokee. “We were taught to be prepared, to compete hard, and to enjoy our victories as well as be gracious when we didn’t win. We learned to work together as a team. All of these experiences paid off in sports — and in my life in general.”
Mark Swedlund, who played the baritone bugle, followed his sister Nancy and brother Curt in taking part in the Lanciers, from 1964-69, and recalls their first trip to Chicago in 1965 where the Lanciers stayed in a National Guard Armory in Humboldt Park. The Guard was called up due to race riots, and the Lanciers’ buses had a police escort everywhere they went. Swedlund ended up returning to work in Chicago and staying for 30 years. “I now live in more sedate Sonoma County (California) and see my old buddies about once a year.
“I would say it impacted my life, because I have always loved to travel since, and ended up in a career in marketing and advertising that put me on the road a least once a month for 30 years. I have done business in all 48 contiguous states, Mexico and Japan and the U.K. Sometimes not as fun as taking a bus trip 10,000 miles a year with the Lanciers, but still OK. I had a partner in my ad agency who said he always liked to hire former band members — good team players who know how to solo when needed.”
Woody Wolfe, who retired from the Fort Dodge Fire Department as an assistant chief after 38 years and lives with his wife Laura in Spirit Lake, played a soprano bugle during his two years with the Lanciers. “Even though I was a member for a relatively short period of time,” he said, “the discipline that we learned, the friendships that I made and the memories that were created have lasted a lifetime. We traveled quite extensively. A couple of my favorites were a trip to South Milwaukee, where some of us swam in Lake Michigan, and a trip to Casper, Wyoming, even though a bunch of us caught food poisoning on the way back and had to be hospitalized. I also remembered that my late father absolutely loved watching the shows and chaperoned some of our trips. I have always been thankful for that. I think being in the Lanciers gave me a lifelong appreciation of music that I could have never otherwise have had.”
Roger Dunker, of Castle Rock, Colorado, played the bugle for the Lanciers from 1956-61 — including the JFK inaugural parade with his brother Bob — and was active in music until after college, when he began what would be a 42-year career as an executive in the financial-services industry.
Among his highlight memories: Every Monday evening after dinner having two hours of demanding marching and musical practice at the South Junior High athletic field, and the anticipation at the conclusion of a competition where all the participating drum and bugle corps would march back onto the field and stand at attention while the public address announcer would read the scores of each group, with the last one to be announced being the grand winner.
Dunker learned many lessons from his Lanciers days that applied to his professional life, including the value of leadership and coaching, keeping score to attain a target for success, discipline and teamwork from top to bottom, and having consistency and intensity of performance. “In my opinion, there is a very measurable correlation between those early formative years as an impressionable young member of the Fort Dodge Lanciers and my later years as a corporate executive.”
Schlesinger said that when he looks back at his Lanciers days, it is with appreciation to the “many adults who really made it possible for the drum corps to even exist. There were so many who gave countless hours to help the Lanciers become the best in the state and able to compete among the top corps in the country. That group included so many but the ones I remember most included Mitch and Gloria Hart, Joan and Gill Fletcher, Ernie Zuerrer, Bud Jergens, Ozzie Osmundson, George and LaDonna Savery and Denny Sweeney.”
Playing all types of horn and sharing drum-major duties with Ron Sell, J.R. Mater was a member of the corps for 10 years, until 1964 when he joined another corps, the U.S. Marine Corps.
In basic training, he said, the military bearing and marching skills from the Lanciers “really helped me. I was far ahead of the average recruit — standing at attention, keeping my eyes forward. I wasn’t getting yelled at as much as the others.” During his four years in airborne radar, he served two tours in Vietnam. He suffered a stroke 10 years ago, tied to the effects of exposure to Agent Orange, and today lives with his wife Linda in Silverton, Texas. He is proud to have served as the bugler playing “Taps” for the funeral services of more than 100 veterans during his time with the Lanciers.
Many factors led to the demise of the Lanciers in 1970, Tarbox said — dwindling resources, dwindling interest in participating, the military draft, among the major ones. The corps disbanded after a year-end competition in Dubuque.
“Somewhere I have the judges’ score sheets from that last show in Dubuque,” Tarbox said. “One of them wrote on his, ‘Good luck next year.’ Alas, there never was a next year…“
Messenger Spotlight: April 1, 2018; Paul Stevens
For most of its 115 years, this joint was jumpin’ — as it was 60 years ago today when the Winter Dance Party and its headliners — Buddy Holly and the Crickets, the Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens, and Dion and the Belmonts — performed on its stage on a cold, snowy night in Fort Dodge.
It was the Laramar Ballroom, and some 1,000 fans crowded into the downtown building at 710 First Avenue North to watch, dance and sing along as the musicians played their hit songs — never imagining that a few days later, in the early hours of Feb. 3, 1959, three of them — Holly, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson Jr. and Valens — would die in a plane crash after performing at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake.
“The whole show was great. Little did we know that this was the last time we would see them,” said Wes Trickel, of Fort Dodge, who was at the Laramar with his wife, Bertha, that night and got to meet Richardson and Valens. “We were so sad when we heard the news that we all never wanted to believe what had happened.”
That tragic moment on a wintry night in a cornfield north of Clear Lake was “the day the music died” as Don McLean would sing in his 1971 classic “American Pie.”
But until the last few years, there was still plenty of music left to play at the Laramar — later known as the Plamor and then the Twilight Ballroom before becoming the Laramar again.
The old brick building that started as the Fort Dodge Armory in 1904 is now vacant, up for sale. Asking price, $169,000.
“We’ve had lookers but no buyers,” said Jim Kesterson, of Kesterson Realty, the listing agent for the building’s owner, Anhelo Inc.
“Some of them were members of bands who played there. There have been family members who reminisce and think, wouldn’t it be great to bring it back? But it can’t be a pipe dream. It’s got to be a business you spend money on. It’s a big building to have dance lessons once a week. To get it going again, you need something that would pay the bills six days a week.”
For the thousands who frequented the ballroom over the years, the brick building with loft seating that rings the wooden dance floor holds many special memories. For some, like Joan and Harold Horn, or Moe and Ray Pickett, it was where they met their future spouse.
Jayne Manchester Cassidy recalls first meeting her husband, Mike, there in 1989. “He was new to town and decided he would ask three women he didn’t know to dance with him that night. I was lucky number 3. I’m sure that’s where many couples met over the years.”
Many of the top performers of the day — playing all genre of music — mesmerized their audiences. And newbies to the dance floor were introduced to the “trap.” Today, the kids and grandkids of those who lived through that era might roll their eyes in disbelief on the trap, perhaps unique to Fort Dodge?
A trap would be set up by three or more girls or three or more boys, who would wander through the dance floor and surround a dancing couple. If it was a guy trap, the girl dancing would choose one of those in the trap or stay with her partner. If it was a girl trap, the guy dancing would choose one of those in trap or stay with his partner. “Loved the traps,” said Penny Miller. “The girls had a code if they were dancing with someone and wanted a different partner. When a girls’ trap passed by, you would say to one of the girls, ‘How is your mother?’ That meant come back and circle us. Hopefully the guy would then pick someone else. So did the guys have a similar code? I hope so. Otherwise this sounds a little mean now. Or maybe the guy was thankful too.”
Some remember a Laramar bouncer of the late 1960s — John Matuszak, a football player at Fort Dodge Junior College for one season who later became the No. 1 pick in the 1973 NFL draft and went on to appear on television and in movies. (He died in 1989 at age 38.)
In recent years, as the Laramar struggled for an identity, it has been used for a variety of purposes: as a site for weddings, mixed martial arts bouts and as a Spanish bar with music and dancing.
Music was part of the building’s DNA from the outset, when it was built after $8,000 was raised so that Company G, 56th Infantry would have a place for a regimental band under the direction of Carl Quist to rehearse and perform.
The end of World War I marked an upswing across the country in ballrooms where people would gather to dance to the new music of the times. The Jazz Era was where they got their start and the 1930s and 40s were the highpoint of the ballroom era. Ballrooms, some elegant and some plain, could be found in the biggest cities or smallest rural areas. All shared a common denominator of music and dancing.
During the two World Wars, soldiers were drafted at the armory and ration books were issued there to Fort Dodge residents. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, many were worried that armories would be attacked so soldiers were stationed around the building. Over the years, the ballroom was the scene of many charity balls, police and firemen’s balls, craft shows, reunions, banquets and much more.
The armory was purchased by Larry and Margaret Geer from the Chamber of Commerce around the time they were married in 1938, said their son, Bob Geer, of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. His father had operated the ballroom at the armory since the 1920s, possibly before. Their first names — Larry and Margaret — were merged to create the name Laramar. They sold the business, but not the name, around 1964, when it became the Plamor for the next eight years.
Among the artists who performed at the Laramar were Johnny Cash, Duke Ellington, the Glenn Miller orchestra, Guy Lombardo, Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong and Lawrence Welk. Geer said that on one of Welk’s appearances, his father had to gift Welk enough money for gas for him and his five-piece band to get to their next stop.
In the ’50s-’60s teen era, performers included Bobby Vee, Tommy James and the Shondells, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, the Four Preps, Freddie Cannon, Jimmy Clanton, the Crew Cuts, the Everly Brothers, the Diamonds, the Fabulous Flippers — and more.
“In those days,” Geer said, “they could fill the house. Costs were significantly less to travel on bus to Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and other Midwest states. It was all about getting publicity and getting their records exposed.”
Jack Grandgeorge, of Fort Dodge, recalls watching the Everly Brothers perform at the Laramar and then going to the Green Garter restaurant afterward. “I was surprised when the brothers and eight or so others walked in to dine. Caused quite a stir in the building.
The Green Garter was located on Old U.S. Highway 20, Fifth Ave South, south side of the road perhaps where the Ford dealership is currently located. It was rather novel for the time — each table had a phone which you used to place your order.”
Geer was 15 at the time of the Winter Dance Party performance in 1959 and as the son of the owners, it was not his first chance to be around big stars. One of his lasting memories: “I helped Johnny Cash climb through a back window and back stairway to his dressing room one night, to get through the crowds.”
About 1,000 people were on hand that night 60 years ago, with the balcony reserved for adult spectators and the dance floor for teens only, Geer said. The 11 performers arrived late on an old bus that didn’t have a heater that worked. One of the members of Holly’s Crickets band was future country star Waylon Jennings.
The book, “The Day the Music Died: The Last Tour of Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens — and the Fatal Air Crash That Took Their Lives” detailed the musicians’ appearance at the Laramar. Here is part of the entry:
“Fort Dodge (pop. 28,000) had come under the intense scrutiny of health officials after a mysterious virus spread rapidly through the city in November. As many as two thousand Fort Dodge residents had been stricken with the virus, which caused nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. A team of federal health officials descended on the city in January in an all-out effort to determine the source of the virus.
“When it was discovered that the pet dog in many families was stricken with similar symptoms, the Iowa state veterinarian was dispatched to the city to take case histories of the sick dogs.
“The Winter Dance Party bus with its balky heater slipped through the winter darkness in temperatures in the low teens and with two inches of freshly fallen snow on the ground, en route to a concert in a city full of sick people and dogs.”
A child of the ballroom’s next owners, Sheri Derrig, of Council Bluffs, said the ballroom “was almost like a second home for me” when her parents, Lee and Dick Derrig, purchased the Laramar in 1972 and owned and operated it as the Twilight Ballroom for the next 13 years.
Sheri’s sister, Cyndee Carlson, a Fort Dodge realtor, doesn’t want the period of their parents’ ownership of the Twilight to be overlooked. “Please don’t forget it was the Twilight Ballroom for 13 years. I know that the ballroom’s ‘claim to fame’ is the Buddy Holly appearance. But music-wise and contribution to Fort Dodge-wise, the Twilight was such a popular place during its years as well. Many artists from the ’50s and ’60s played there during my parents’ ownership as well. … Bobby Vee, Tommy James, The Coasters and some others I don’t remember.”
Sheri worked the coat check in her junior high years, later waitressed and helped setting up and serving at wedding receptions and other events. Her mother was also a cake decorator “so they had like a one-stop shop for receptions.
“I remember helping my parents clean the ballroom on Sundays after the Saturday night dances and my dad would always run down the street to Amos & Andy’s (another old Fort Dodge favorite) and get us coneys. Sometimes if my parents were running behind I got to go to the ballroom and let the bands in so they could set up for the dance and do sound checks and such. I always liked doing that.
“On occasion, after a dance we would go out to breakfast. I remember one time, when the Cleavettes were in town, there was a big snowstorm so the band ended up sleeping the night at the ballroom. The Cleavettes were always my personal favorite. They were kind of like big brothers to me. They played there nearly every month for most of the years my parents owned the ballroom so they were pretty good friends and some still are to this day even.”
Rock n’ Roll wasn’t all the Laramar offered. Recalled Alice Johnson of Fort Dodge: “I remember distinctly all the old-time dances on Thursday nights. We ‘regular’ ones had a ball. Loved the Circle Two dances as well as the polkas and waltzes. We made a lot of friends there from the surrounding area. One of our favorite polka bands was Kenny Hofer, another was the Malek Fisherman. Oh yes, we also enjoyed the square dances. Have many good memories!”
Jorge Blanco, whose family owns Blanco roofing business in Fort Dodge, purchased the Laramar 6-8 years ago, “more as a hobby for him,” said one of his sons, Daniel. “He loved music and he liked being in the mix of things. … Whoever buys it may change it completely or try to keep the nostalgia going. But artists don’t come cheap. A comedy club might be great. But whatever the use, it’s going to take money to renovate it. We know it’s not going to be sold in a hurry.”
It has been vacant for the past 14 months, since it was a venue for Spanish music and dancing, Daniel Blanco said.
Sheri Derrig wishes she was able to continue her family’s ownership.
“I wish I were rich and could buy it and restore it,” she said. “I loved that place!”
Messenger Spotlight: January 30, 2019; Paul Stevens
Rich Lennon: A Lifetime of Service
Rich Lennon bleeds Army green.
The U.S. Army has been a part of the Fort Dodge man’s life for 48 of his 66 years — and the retired colonel has no plans for that to end anytime soon — continuing to serve his country as commander of a rifle squad for military funerals and as a driver to take veterans to VA hospital appointments.
“My dad served in World War II and my grandpa is a veteran as well. Like them, I felt an obligation to serve my country and perform my duty,” said Lennon, who served a three-year enlistment, six years in the National Guard, 28 years in the Army Reserve and nine years as an Army contractor. “Over the years, I averaged 100 days a year with the military. I always tried to do above and beyond.”
Lennon was awarded Bronze Stars for his service in Vietnam and Iraq and had a variety of assignments — Germany and Korea among them — throughout those Army years. But he said the pinnacle was serving as commander of troops for the retirement ceremony of 5th U.S. Corps commander Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez in Heidelberg, Germany, in 2006.
“I commanded 1,200 troops on the field,” he said. “There were 30-35 generals in attendance. I was a colonel giving commands to two-star generals. Here’s a guy from Fort Dodge, Iowa, supposedly a Reserve officer. It was pretty good – it shows what you can do when you put your mind to it. But I lost a lot of sleep.”
Lennon grew up in Fort Dodge, the son of Richard and Rosalie Lennon. His father worked for U.S. Gypsum for 27 years and farmed near Clare and his mother worked as a nurse at Lutheran Hospital. He has a sister, Anna Jackowell, of Fort Dodge, and three brothers — Keith, of West Des Moines; Brad, of Fort Dodge, and Greg, of Olathe, Kansas. Steve served with the Marines for seven years and was in Vietnam at the same time as Rich. Greg served two years in the Army.
The Vietnam War was in its height when Lennon graduated from Fort Dodge Senior High in 1969. Lennon had a high draft lottery number and his friend and classmate Bill Logue had a low one, so they enlisted in summer 1970 in the Army’s buddy program in which they were ensured of staying together through basic and advanced individual training.
Lennon’s interest in mechanics as a teenager — “I had a ’59 Pontiac Catalina, 389 cubic-inch engine with three deuces…muscle cars were big back then” – led to his Army assignment in turbine engine mechanics, working on helicopters.
He soon got orders for Vietnam and his first assignment was with the First Cavalry Division outside of Long Binh at a small airfield where he worked on Cobra helicopter gunships that were constantly under enemy fire. “We always had the birds ready to go,” he said. He maintained helicopters at several other locations before his 13-month assignment came to an end in December 1972. The last five months of his three-year enlistment were as an Army recruiter in Fort Dodge.
Lennon joined the Army National Guard while working as a mechanic for Shimkat Motors and was hired by Iowa Central Community College to teach in its automotive technology program — a career of 31 years that lasted until 2008 when he retired as coordinator of the program.
He was mostly in the Army Reserve during that time and was deployed to Kuwait in 2003 in advance of the invasion of Iraq by a U.S.-led coalition that overthrew the government of Saddam Hussein. His unit of 27,000 soldiers was charged with making preparations — setting up tents, offloading helicopters and tanks from ships — and providing ammunition, fuel, transportation and aviation support for the invasion and conduct of operations in Iraq. Once the invasion began, he moved to an air base at Balad, Iraq, and remained until 2004. He was deployed a second time to Iraq and then assigned for 18 months in Heidelberg, West Germany.
Lennon stayed in the Reserves until his retirement in 2007 at Fort Des Moines when he received the Legion of Merit – adding to his two Bronze Stars, four Meritorious Service Medals, the Air Medal for Vietnam service and seven Army Commendation Medals.
But he wasn’t yet through with the Army. For the next nine years, he worked as a contractor in emergency management at the Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois. He participated in emergency management exercises in multiple Army installations throughout the country. Lennon kept an apartment in Rock Island and commuted back to Fort Dodge on weekends.
Lennon’s wife Joyce served as a captain in the Army Reserve – they’ll celebrate 25 years of marriage this November. He has a son by a previous marriage, Richard Lennon, who with his wife Tonya live in Boone and are raising three children: RJ, 8; Maggie, 6, and Daisy, 4.
Lennon is commander of the Fort Dodge VFW rifle squad that performs military honors at funeral services for 4-6 veterans a week. Once or twice a week, he drives the Disabled American Veterans van to take veterans to the VA hospital in Des Moines for medical treatment.
On his funeral service duty, he said, “You feel good on doing that — you were always told as a veteran that you will get a military funeral if you want one. It’s good to be out there and let that serviceman’s family know that we really appreciated their service.”
At home, Lennon continues his love of auto mechanics with 20 cars to restore. His restored 1954 Army jeep has been in a number of parades around the Fort Dodge area and on this Fourth of July, he will be driving it in the Gowrie Fourth of July parade.
Messenger Spotlight: July 1, 2018; Paul Stevens
Lionel Bridge Caper
What started as a high school prank nearly 50 years ago has remained a landmark of Fort Dodge for years — and now the perpetrators are ready to come forth and “fess up” to their deed.
The six teenage boys who stole into Crawford Park in the middle of the night in 1969 and painted “LIONEL” on the side of a Chicago & North Western Railway bridge are now 67 years old. They figure the statute of limitations on the white lettering they painted on the bridge has long passed.
The 72-foot bridge over Soldier Creek was erected in 1901. It has long been abandoned by the railroad, the rails removed and replaced by a 2.9-mile pedestrian and bicycling pathway called the Fort Dodge Nature Trails. But one wonders how many of those who walk or ride the trail through Snell-Crawford Park know what or who Lionel is.
“At a camp in Fort Dodge during RAGBRAI,” said one of the instigators, Scott Swinney, “we told the story of the bridge. We were pretty proud of ourselves. We said, we are the guys who did it! A much younger woman who was listening said, ‘Maybe you can find the answer for me. Who’s Lionel?'”
Owning a Lionel train set was a rite of passage for the Baby Boomer generation.
The Lionel Corp. is an American toy manufacturer best known for its toy trains and model railroads. Lionel trains was founded in 1900 by Joshua Lionel Cowen and during its peak years in the 1950s, the company sold $25 million worth of trains per year as one of the leading toy manufacturers in the world. Lionel Electric Trains continues to this day, based in New York City.
“I owned a Lionel train my whole life and now my son, Michael, who is 39, does,” said Swinney, who stayed in the Minneapolis area after retiring four years ago from a career in surgical medical sales. “If you had a bike, you wanted it to be a Schwinn. If you had a train, you wanted it to be Lionel.”
The Lionel Six “wanted it to be a double-take thing — to give people a chuckle as they drive through the park,” Swinney said. “Seriously, at the age of 67 my friends and I have been in awe of its continuing existence all these years later. And we are reaching an age where its impact is diminishing with the younger generations.”
Lori Branderhorst, director of Fort Dodge’s Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department, which owns and maintains the bridge, believes it is a real treasure to citizens of the city — regardless of their age. The city purchased the bridge from Chicago and North Western in 1984.
“It’s a great talking point for the city,” she said. “We cleared the creek bed away and it’s just a beautiful focal point. The name ‘Lionel’ evokes lots of memories from all of the generations.”
How did it all come about, you ask?
Ron Schrader, who earned a Ph.D. in statistics, taught at the University of New Mexico for 30 years and chaired its Department of Mathematics and Statistics, recounts the story of what he calls the “Lionel Bridge Caper.”
The Lionel Six comprised five members of the Fort Dodge Senior High School Class of 1968. Besides Swinney and Schrader, they were Mark Scott, who lives in the Minneapolis area; Stan Baker, who lives in the Washington, D.C., area; and Duane Lindner, who lives in the San Francisco area. One other who joined them was not part of their class and chose to remain anonymous.
The bridge had been a target of graffiti and one of the six snuck down to the bridge one night with black paint and replaced X-rated words with G-rated ones, Swinney said. But then came the thought, “Wouldn’t it be funny with that old bridge with nothing on it that we put Lionel on it and make the lettering size-correct?”
It was supposed to be a graduation prank, Schrader said, but their first attempt in summer of 1968 failed when they didn’t do their homework on logistics of proper stencils and underestimated the skill needed to negotiate painting in a harness while holding a stencil and can of spray paint. When an unexpected gust of wind shredded the stencil he was holding, it was back to the drawing boards — and the six were off for the first year of college.
Undaunted, they returned in the summer of 1969 while home from college and vowed to do the job correctly. Schrader’s parents were gone on vacation so they set up shop in the garage and made the stencils out of sturdy cardboard and put on side and bottom braces so that the Lionel letters would be perfectly placed. Schrader was the lightest of the six and was chosen to go over the top of the bridge in a sling, with rope knots taught by a Scout leader. To keep Schrader from spinning around at the end of a rope, they got a ladder he could stand on and chose a night when the creek was flooding and the road through Crawford Park was closed.
They stacked the 6-foot-high stencils on the top of a car and drove to the park. “The stencils were secured with the braces from the top of the bridge and from the bottom."
“With two guys in the creek holding the ladder, and the top belay,” Schrader said, “I was able to work pretty effectively with two hands. The stencils slammed into place easily, and painting was not too hard after that — except for it being the middle of the night.”
The group then headed out to celebrate with an early morning breakfast at a truck stop with white paint all over their hands.
“This was the most euphoric group I’ve ever been with — we had pulled it off!” Schrader said. “We were sure the police were going to be on our tails, and hoped we’d covered our tracks. We waited for the story to hit the newspaper. Nothing. Finally, and I don’t know if we waited a week, we phoned in a tip to the Messenger. A few days later a big picture by Messenger photographer Fred Larson of our handiwork appeared in the paper — I’m sure we all still have a clipping of that.
“We’ve joked over the years that this is the most significant thing any of us ever did. We were sure we’d be in big trouble, but there never seemed to be an investigation. This was as much fun as I’ve ever had, and it bonded a bunch of us together for life. The bridge had been a place for kids to write obscene graffiti before our caper — it seems like that completely ended afterwards and everybody respected the quality of our work. I couldn’t be happier that it now is a community landmark!”
When the group returned to Fort Dodge for their FDSH 20th class reunion, it was obvious that someone had touched up their work, repainting LIONEL in white lettering. “That is when I knew that it was not our project, but it now belonged to the city,” Swinney said.
Messenger Spotlight: October 1, 2017
Larry Mitchell: ‘Music Man’
Larry Mitchell has the opening role in Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man” that will be performed this week at Decker Auditorium by the Comedia Musica Players.
“Board, all aboard!” he will call out as conductor of the train entering River City Junction. A fitting line, considering that for the past 51 years in Fort Dodge, he has welcomed aboard a thousand or more to take part in musical performances that have enriched their lives and those of the theater-goers who come to view their work.
You might consider Mitchell to be Fort Dodge’s “Music Man” in the world of musical theater — just as another of the city’s beloved musical figures, Karl King, is to the world of bands and marching music. It would be hard to argue otherwise. As a producer, director and theater consultant, Mitchell directed more than 80 productions of more than 60 musicals over the years at the junior high, senior high, college and semi-professional levels in the United States and England.
Mitchell and Scott Griffith co-founded Comedia — a nonprofit volunteer organization — in 1968, so this week’s performance at Decker will be its 50th annual production of a Broadway musical — a run that would be the envy of cities much larger.
Mitchell served as the choral director at Fort Dodge Senior High for 31 years, retiring in 1997 after directing annual performances that introduced hundreds upon hundreds of young people to showcasing their musical talents for the first time. FDSH has performed musical theater continuously since 1928.
“We’re a blue-collar town,” he said. “We’re not like Ankeny or Ames. It takes people to perform. We’re all volunteers. These musical groups have flourished and continued on. By golly, it’s working. It’s been really exciting.”
“The Fantasticks” was Comedia’s first performance, staged at the Best Western Starlight Village in a dinner-theater format before moving to the Elks Club and then to its present home on the campus of Iowa Central Community College.
“It didn’t take many people to perform,” Mitchell recalled. “Starting it was one thing, but keeping it going was entirely different. Some years, we thought we might have to skip a year, not enough people, and then something happens and we go on. And the next year, we have more people than we knew what to do with.”
Some of his alumni of Comedia and FDSH went on to professional careers. Terry Goodman is one — performing in more than 200 professional plays, musicals, television shows and motion pictures. John Hagen is another — a member of the Texas Tenors, three-time Emmy Award winners who perform all over the world.
But the vast majority of performers coached by Mitchell went on to work in different professions outside the musical realm.
“You don’t gear yourself to create professionals,” he said. “What I wanted was people who would enjoy performing and they would participate when they graduated from high school and enjoy performing. Basically, what the goal is, is to find what they love doing and keep on doing it.”
Sports was a big part of Mitchell’s early years, and Fort Dodge attorney Jerry Schnurr III, who performed under Mitchell’s direction in high school and with Comedia, thinks it shows through in his approach to teaching music.
“I was an athlete in high school — in football and wrestling,” Schnurr said, “and the way Larry approached choir was how he approached basketball when he played in high school. Both call on the same principles for success — dedication, hard work, practice, rehearsal.”
There also is confidence that comes from getting up and speaking (and singing) in front of people, and the Comedia experience has aided him greatly in his courtroom work, added Schnurr, who has practiced law in Fort Dodge since 1986.
Rachel Bell was 11 years old when her father performed in the second musical Comedia did, “Paint Your Wagon.” She joined the troupe a year later with “Carousel.”
“We took the show to Leadville, Colorado, that summer and performed both ‘Paint Your Wagon’ and ‘Carousel’ in the historic Tabor Opera House,” she said. “I will always be grateful to Larry for having given me that opportunity. It is a memory that I cherish to this day.”
So, apparently, did the owners of the Tabor Opera House. Bell said she was watching “American Pickers” a couple years ago when it was taping at the opera house and the camera caught an enclosed glass case with flyers from Comedia performances of the two shows. “That would have been about 50 years old, so you might say that his impact was far spreading and lasting,” she said.
Today, she pursues her love as a choreographer with Comedia, the Fort Dodge Civic Glee Club, both of the city’s high schools and many other music organizations that has spanned several decades and more than 100 musicals.
Mitchell was born in Cherokee to Leon and Beulah Mitchell. His father farmed near Craighorn and his mother was a teacher who loved to sing and was active in her church choir. It rubbed off on Mitchell: “I’ve always enjoyed music; I took voice lessons and went to contests.”
When his family moved to Paullina, Mitchell was the 6-foot-2 center on Paullina High School’s basketball team that advanced to the Final Four of the Iowa State Basketball Tournament in 1954. They lost in the semifinals to Des Moines Roosevelt, led by point guard Randy Duncan, who starred as quarterback at the University of Iowa.
Mitchell attended Iowa State University with plans to be a veterinarian. “I loved animals,” he said, but he was exposed to music through choral director Robert McCowen and found he preferred music to science. ISU did not offer a theater major at the time, so Mitchell transferred to Iowa State Teachers College (now University of Northern Iowa) for his junior year and earned his degree there.
His first job was in the Orange Township School District outside of Waterloo, where he was choral director for the junior high and senior high schools. There, he started doing musicals on his own. Mitchell was hired at Fort Dodge Senior High School in 1966 by personnel director Swede Simonson, replacing Don Walker. In his early years in Fort Dodge, Mitchell directed the Fort Dodge Civic Glee Club for five years.
Scott Griffith was a senior at FDSH during Mitchell’s first year there and was attending Drake University when they combined to form Comedia. “Scolar Productions presents Comedia Musica Players” was the original name, Scolar formed by the first three letters of each’s first name.
“He provided money for technical lighting and sound and was with us for three summers,” Mitchell said. “He went out East and did some professional work and bought a dinner theater. He’s retired now and lives in Palm Springs, California. His brother Stan Griffith lives in Fort Dodge.”
“It just kind of started and grew like top-seed,” Mitchell said. “Dinner theater was a new thing back then. We went out and talked to Jim Ackerman, then the owner of Starlite, and that’s how it got started. Our stage was borrowed from the high school. We had a simple set, simple props, kind of a simple production — not as big and flamboyant as we are now.
“For the first dozen or so years, we had Richard Denny, a former Broadway singer/dancer who had a studio and choreographed for the Colorado Concert Ballet of Denver, fly into Fort Dodge for a weekend prior to our production and choreograph the entire show. We would then rehearse and adapt his choreography. He was so valuable to give us the professional touch to get us going. Richard, now deceased, became a very good and trusted lifelong friend.”
Larry Colois was in the lead role for Comedia’s first production, “The Fantasticks,” and went on to New York City where he taught at the American Academy of Performing Arts. Mitchell’s first wife, Leslie Ann Grove, was the leading lady and Mitchell played a role. Colois returned for Comedia’s 40th production, performing “Try to Remember” and “They Call the Wind Mariah” from the musical “Paint Your Wagon.”
The last Comedia performance directed by Mitchell was that 40th annual concert in 2007, when original performers from various shows of the past came from as far away as New York, Utah and Arizona to take part.
His book, “A Practical Handbook for Musical Theater,” has sold more than 1,000 copies throughout the United States.
Mitchell is grateful for the life he chose. “I wouldn’t have been very good at anything else. I would have been a very average vet. This is my true calling.”
Said Bell, “I think we would be blown away if we knew the number of people who have been affected by Larry and the opportunities he created in Fort Dodge over the years. He may no longer be directing, but his legacy is alive and kicking.”
Mitchell and his wife, Donni, who works for Kesterson Realty in Fort Dodge, have been married 21 years. Donni has taken part in the last 10 Comedia productions in a variety of duties including scenic artist, sponsorship/ticket chair and production assistant.
Mitchell said the choice of “The Music Man” for the 50th anniversary performance is perfect.
“The board decided to go with all local talent. It is very Iowa, very festive, lots of room for kids and a big cast — about 80 people. It’s very celebratory,” he said.
Once his cameo appearance is finished, Mitchell said, “Then I am done. That’s it. Then I come out for the curtain call at the end. So, I am going to sit unobtrusively in the audience until then.”
Messenger Spotlight: November 5, 2017
Their lives began minutes apart in 1946 at Mercy Hospital in Fort Dodge and were intertwined through their first 22 years.
Jim and Bill O’Leary grew up on Fourth Avenue North where they ran a neighborhood candy store and enjoyed the outdoors, shared a Messenger paper route, attended the same grade school and high school, and went off to the same small Catholic college in Kansas.
Then the Vietnam War intervened in their lives, as it did in for millions of other young men, and the parallels came to an end. The twins received their draft notices in 1968. Each was left with a decision to make.
In the end, Jim chose to be drafted and serve: “The reason I decided not to fight the draft, I couldn’t stand the thought that someone who took my place would get killed.” Within a year, he had his Army orders for Vietnam and while he was not wounded, he suffers from the effects of exposure to Agent Orange.
Bill said he was a “refusenick” who opposed the war and believed that “it wouldn’t stop unless other people say no.” When he took his draft physical, he said, the doctor had concerns and gave him a year’s deferment but he was never asked to retake the physical. He went on to graduate school at the nearby University of Kansas and took part in anti-war demonstrations, “leading marches and carrying on.”
The O’Leary twins continued on separate paths but both became attorneys, like their older brothers Pat and Tom. Today, Jim works in Cleveland, Ohio, as a federal appellate judge for the Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals and Bill has a private practice in Lansing, Michigan.
“We still talk on a regular basis and laugh a lot,” Jim said.
The twins are among five sons of Bill and Helen O’Leary. Jim was delivered 16 minutes before Bill. Their father was a delivery driver for Sunbeam Bakery before working for Farner Bocken and their mother taught eighth-grade history at Corpus Christi School. Oldest brother Ed, an Air Force veteran, is a retired U.S. Postal Service carrier who lives in Fort Dodge; Pat is in Grand Beach, Michigan; and Tom, an Army veteran, lives in southern Florida.
Growing up, the twins were good friends with Jim Bocken, whose family ran Farner Bocken. In fourth grade, the three created “The Store,” made from a piano crate and stocked with penny candy they bought wholesale from Farner Bocken. “We’d buy $12 worth of candy, run home from school and put The Store on the sidewalk, and sell the candy to other kids,” Jim said.
The twins were 10 when they got a Messenger paper route, delivering papers in the downtown area. “Jim and I did the deliveries, Tom did the collections and we split profits three ways,” Bill said, adding that he saved enough to pay a third of his college tuition.
Both were members of the St. Edmond High School track team and took part in school plays. After graduating in 1964, they chose St. Benedict’s, then an all-boys school, where brothers Tom and Pat also attended. Bill started in the seminary but left after his first year. Jim met the woman who would become his wife of now 47 years, Eileen, who attended the all-girls school in Atchison — Mount St. Scholastica.
Jim went to Vietnam with the 4th Infantry Division in the Central Highlands but thanks to “some dumb luck,” he was assigned from patrols to division operations and served 13 months, 22 days.
“Agent Orange got into our drinking water,” he said, resulting in numerous bouts with cancer and he has diabetes. He has another surgery scheduled early this month.
“I didn’t know I would be poisoned by my own country,” he said.
Jim attended the Detroit College of Law and after graduation joined the Plunkett, Cooney, Ritt and Peacock law firm in downtown Detroit where his brothers Pat and Tom also worked. Today, he enjoys painting and writing short stories.
His wife, Eileen, is a playwright and fiction writer. Their daughter, Oona, is also a playwright and one of her shows was performed off-Broadway in New York. She is married to Maciej Kaczynski and they live in Chicago.
Retirement? “I’ve always got plans. It’s got to end sometime but I’m not going to worry about it. The two smartest things I ever did were to marry Eileen and get into law. And I’ve done well in both.”
Bill, after graduation from St. Benedict’s and earning a master’s in teaching from Kansas, worked as a high school English teacher on Long Island, New York, before moving to Africa to work at a mission school in Mansa. While there he met Geraldine, a native of Ireland who was teaching at a mission school nearby. They were married in 1976 and later returned with their daughter Emmeline to the United States to teach in Kimball, South Dakota.
Bill attended law school at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and then joined a Detroit firm before going out on his own in 1996.
“I’m a store-front lawyer,” Bill said. “I’m not retiring for a few years yet. Like (high school classmate) Maureen Micus, I do write poetry and won an award in the Foley Prize last year.”
His wife is retired after teaching 25 years at Finney High School in Detroit and they live in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Daughter Emmeline practices medicine in Milwaukee where she lives with her husband, a radiology oncologist, and their three sons. Son, Conor, is a Detroit policeman who is also a lawyer considering a move to criminal defense.
Messenger Spotlight: September 2, 2018; Paul Stevens
Dayle Olson’s Harp Music Brings Comfort
Plucking the strings of his harp, a musical instrument that is one of the oldest known to man, Dayle Olson brings peace and comfort to the bedsides of those who are in their final stage of life. His music is often the last sound they will hear.
Olson is a harp therapist – trained to memorize and effectively improvise music and how to find each person’s resonant tone, a frequency that feels most comfortable to us. He is certified as a practitioner after completing a 28-month International Harp Therapy Program.
He lives in Merritt Island, Florida — best known as home of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center – and estimates that over the past 11 years, he has played at the bedsides of more than 2,500 people at two local hospice houses and a hospital oncology unit.
Olson draws on his experiences growing up in Fort Dodge. Some were tragic — the deaths of his brother and sister at young ages — and others uplifting. All were life-changing and contributed to his volunteer avocation that started in full after Olson retired in 2012 as president and CEO of the Brevard Achievement Center, one of Florida’s largest non-profit facilities providing services to children and adults with disabilities.
“I am asked frequently about playing music for persons who are in the process of making their final transition,” Olson said. “I realize this is not something everyone is comfortable with. Death is not a comfortable topic for many or a subject for a party conversation. I see it differently. My thinking about death and its impact on a person goes back to when I was a young Fort Dodger. When I was a high school sophomore, my brother, Roger, stepped on a land mine while serving in Vietnam. Then, less than five years later my sister, Marilyn, was hit by a car while walking with her friend north of town. Unfortunately, I learned about death and its emotional and physical effects on the survivors. As an adult I realized there must be ways to provide comfort to those who are dying – and also for those who are living.”
When his mother was stricken with cancer, Olson said that “during her treatments and times of discomfort, I noticed she became more relaxed and didn’t use her pain medication when she was listening to music.” He found articles discussing the benefits of the harp and ordered a do-it-yourself harp kit. Once built, he started taking lessons. “My life of playing music at the bedside just started to fall into place. Today, I own 11 harps. The harp I take to hospice has 36 strings and weighs 17 pounds so it’s easy for me to get in and out of a patient’s room.”
The earliest harps were developed from the hunting bow. Wall paintings of ancient Egyptian tombs dating from as early as 3000 B.C. show an instrument that closely resembles the hunter’s bow, without the pillar found in modern harps. The specter of angels playing harps apparently originates in the Bible’s Book of Revelations.
“I think that in general we see angels as providing comfort and security,” Olson said. “We hope that angels are watching over us and making sure ‘all is good.’ To me, the calming music of a harp can do the same thing. When you pull the strings on a harp and hear the overtones — the other strings that vibrate along with the string you just played — an environment of calm and comfort is created. Listening to harp music that is improvised to meet the needs of an individual creates an environment we call a cradle of sound. It’s that environment where ‘all is good’. When I am playing for a patient, it is always my goal to create that cradle of sound that allows for physical, emotional and spiritual calm — like an angel does.”
Olson prepares carefully for each patient and family for whom he plays, usually in a session lasting 40 minutes to an hour.
“Before I enter a patient’s room or their home, I have been briefed by the hospice or hospital staff on the patient’s diagnosis, current situation and who may currently be with the patient. As I prepare to meet the patient and others, I clear my head as I have no idea of the current situation with the patient and family. Entering the room, I focus on the patient — are they alert, asleep, resting quietly, showing signs of anxiety or being uncomfortable?
Are there others in the room with the patient? I introduce myself to anyone in the room and explain who I am and what I will be doing. I want to be sure those in the room realize this is not a bedside concert – it is a bedside vigil, a time for calm, comfort, reflection and for some a time of prayer. It is a time to quiet the surroundings.
“I walk to the bed, touch the patient and introduce myself. I know the patient hears me, no matter their current situation. I ask visitors to find a comfortable place to sit. Frequently the family will gather around the patient’s bed. I position myself with the harp where I can see the patient’s face and their breathing. I slowly pluck harp strings looking for the signs that tell me I have found that patient’s resonant tone. I will now play music most appropriate to meet the patient’s resonant tone. I frequently start with the slow Gregorian chant, music those in the room will not recognize. I will then start to improvise a piece of music that will be unique to the patient. I focus on the patient’s level of anxiety and/or discomfort all while I use the patient’s breathing as my tempo of music. As I improvise a piece of music, I will gradually take the tempo of the music to a regular tempo and slow the music. The patient’s breathing will entrain, or follow the tempo of the music (much like when we find ourselves tapping our foot to music without realizing we are doing it). With entrainment the patient calms, blood pressure will frequently stabilize and the level of anxiety leaves the room. I continue to play as the family frequently has eyes filled with tears — realizing their loved one has now entered a calm and sacred space. For many patients, they have relaxed and found a period of time of sleep with reduced pain and anxiety. For other patients, this is a time when they take their last breath.”
Siobhan Masterson, a psychotherapist from Congers, New York, witnessed OIson’s talent last June when he played the harp for her dying mother at a hospice house in Florida. “He came into her room, sat down and started tuning his harp, trying to find her resonant tone.
He played in the key of C for my mom 20 to 30 minutes because he said that was her resonant tone. It was so reassuring that she heard such beautiful music. It was a concert for one. She died within three hours of him playing. He helped her die with peace, I really believe that.”
Olson’s love of music came at an early age and was developed during his years growing up in Fort Dodge. Born in Boone to Raymond and Joyce Olson, he was only 12 days old when the family moved to Fort Dodge. His father worked for the phone company and his mother was a licensed practical nurse.
Olson was a sophomore at Fort Dodge Senior High when his older brother Roger, a hospital corpsman with the U.S. Navy, was killed in Vietnam in March 1968 at the age of 20. Fewer than five years later, when Dayle was in college, his 14-year-old sister Marilyn was killed when she was struck by a car while walking alongside a road with a girlfriend.
“When I think of Fort Dodge my head fills with memories,” he said. “Of course, my greatest memories are of my family — my parents and Roger and Marilyn. I was fortunate to be a part of a family where people cared greatly for each other and the importance of good work and the value of all people was taught. … Some of my fondest memories are standing around a tree in Duncombe School singing Christmas songs, high school friends from band and choir — many who I still have contact with today.
“There are people who helped shape my life and are a significant part of my past. Sondra Thorson, Judy Payne and Gail Niceswanger all played a role in my life. They each showed their belief in people and demonstrated that personal hard work will result in good.”
Olson graduated from FDSH in 1970 and attended Augustana University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where he started as a music major but finished with a degree in special education, with a minor in biology. After graduation, he returned to Fort Dodge where he worked as a special education teacher in elementary, junior high and high school settings.
He worked part-time at the psychiatric unit at Trinity Regional Medical Center where Thorson was a head nurse. Payne was an English teacher at FDSH and Niceswanger taught drama and directed community plays in which Olson performed. “I learned so much about life just by watching them,” he said. “Everyone had teachers that shaped them and they were two of them.”
Olson moved to Florida in 1982 but retains ties to Fort Dodge through online classes — The Exceptional Learner and Introduction to Human Disability Services — that he has taught at Iowa Central Community College for the past 10 years.
Besides his work as a harp therapist, Olson has completed study to become a Death Doula, someone who provides non-medical assistance to individuals (and their family) who are in final stages of life. “So, this is how the death of my siblings became a part of my life,” he said. “I think if you ‘peel back the onion,” each of us who suffered a sibling death incur long-term effects that are a major part of our life.”
Messenger Spotlight: January 5, 2020; Paul Stevens
Dave Prelip: Keeping Fort Dodge History Alive
Shagging the drag. Dining at Treloars Inn, Constantines, Tony’s. Movies at the Strand, Rialto, Dodge and Iowa movie theaters on Central Avenue. The Lancers Drum and Bugle Corps. The Harvest Festival at Dodger Stadium. Buddy Holly performing at the Laramar.
All are among the rich history of Fort Dodge — and while no longer with us, their memories are kept alive on the internet, for perpetuity, thanks to Facebook pages devoted to the city and Webster County — and to the photographic work of 86-year-old Dave Prelip.
Prelip’s photos — ones he takes today and historic pictures he finds — are viewed and commented upon by thousands of former and present-day Fort Dodgers on such sites as:
“Fort Dodge Iowa: The Best Hometown in America”
“Shagging the Drag”
“You Might Be from Fort Dodge If …”
“One of my hobbies is using Photoshop, and I touch up the historic photos that I am able to find and that people have given to me. I have quite a few pictures that I still haven’t gotten to yet,” Prelip said. “But I also take a lot of pictures that show Fort Dodge buildings and scenes as they are today.”
Prelip is armed with an arsenal of six high-end cameras, and the photographs that he regularly contributes to all three sites — and others — draw many Facebook “Likes” and comments from viewers who hail from all around the world, but who also live in Fort Dodge and the surrounding area.
“I love coming back to Fort Dodge,” said Jolyn Magnusson-Cataldo, who grew up in Fort Dodge from 1951 to 1968 and now lives in Des Moines. “I love the old pictures that bring back so many good memories. I’m cheering Fort Dodge on as all the new industry is coming to town. It’s exciting to see it come back to that time when I was growing up there.
I love coming back and showing the grandkids where I lived, went to school.”
Always popular are photos of downtown Fort Dodge from the days when Central Avenue was teaming with businesses such as Gates, Fantles, Model Clothing, Lilians Fashions, The Boston Store, Welch’s Shoes, Charles A. Brown clothing, Sears and more.
Restaurant menus published on the sites always ring a bell. And oh, the prices back then.
On the menu at Constantines, which was on the corner of Ninth and Central, a menu item: “Bacon Sandwich on Toast, with a chocolate malted milk. 25 cents.” Treloars Inn on the north side — where the Village Inn is located today — commands tremendous nostalgia — for its ribs, its fried chicken and its baked beans. And the carhops who tended to customers on roller skates.
For Jim Rodenborn, whose father started Hawkeye Glove Manufacturing in 1970, there is enjoyment in “the photos that show my family’s manufacturing business from times gone by. Then, as now, the manufacturing business in the U.S. was difficult.”
On the “Shagging the Drag” site, “The majority of the people who go on the site are in the 35- to 60-year-old range,” said Bill Shimkat, its administrator. “They are people from all over the world. But they also live in Fort Dodge. I think there’s still a number of people who like to know the history of where they are living, seeing things from the past — how things have changed.”
The site formed by Shimkat, who with his brother Ed and his uncle Bruce own Shimkat Motor Company, notes: “If you grew up in Fort Dodge, Iowa prior to the ’90s, at some point you shagged the drag or cruised Central. This is all about teenage angst and car culture.”
Shagging the drag was the practice of teens starting in the 1950s who drove up and down Central Avenue and around the City Square on Friday and Saturday nights, as a social gathering place, said Shimkat, father of sons 15 and 12 who himself shagged the drag.
“It was good for the soul,” said Tom Ryan, formerly of Fort Dodge, now living in Portland, Oregon. “I used to shag the drag in my ’51 Chevy truck. Nowadays kids get hauled off to jail for that kind of thing. Where’s a kid show off his wheels nowadays … “
Said Tom Koch, of Glen Ellyn, Illinois: “Shagging the drag was a rite of passage in 1971. I was on it with a full car the night I got my license. ‘American Graffiti’ could have been filmed in Fort Dodge. I grew up in Fort Dodge, but rarely make it back. Dave’s photos and all the comments bring good memories back and make me realize that I am proud to be a product of Corpus Christi School, St. Ed’s, and Fort Dodge.”
By the early ’90s, the practice had pretty much stopped: “Kids today, there are so many other things they do,” Shimkat said. “They’re not looking for this kind of entertainment — every Friday and Saturday night, burning gas downtown. There was a lot stronger car culture then. That’s gone away. It’s a generational thing.”
Neil Olson, founder of “Fort Dodge Iowa: Best Hometown in America,” grew up in Fort Dodge and for 41 years has operated a heating and air conditioning business in Minneapolis, where his granddaughter introduced him to Facebook in 2009. He also started a Facebook page for his Fort Dodge Senior High School Class of 1961.
“My roots are in Fort Dodge and I always believed Fort Dodge was the best town in America, the best town to grow up in,” Olson said. “So my goal was to create a group of decent people who like to talk about their hometown. Our basic criteria for membership: They have to have lived in Fort Dodge at one time or another.
“To me, Facebook is more than just a social media site — it’s a place that allows us to express our point of view, to share our opinion, to meet up with old friends and meet new ones, and to start new adventures.”
If members post material that is objectionable, including advertising for products or services or making critical remarks, they are removed from the site, Olson said.
Joe Canavan started the “You might be from Fort Dodge if…” site five years ago. “It started as kind of a joke, but it grew quickly from there — to more than 5,000 members today,” he said. “I have lived most of my life here and I love Fort Dodge. So many good memories.”
Among favorite sights among his viewers are early pictures of the Crossroads Mall before it was enclosed, older buildings such as the downtown Sears store, restaurants like Sylvia’s, the gazebo in the City Square and Christmas lighting on Central Avenue.
Canavan, 41, works for the DART (Dodger Area Rapid Transit) system and lives in Eagle Grove. He, too, has little tolerance for negativity on the Facebook site.
“This group is about fun. Please if you want to bash Fort Dodge, go to another site. This is a place where you come to just share memories of Fort Dodge. It’s enjoyable to see old pictures of the city.”
None of the Fort Dodge administrators believes that their sites compete with one another, and many of their followers are on multiple sites.
The websites are gratifying to all three administrators.
“I’ve been a history buff my entire life,” Shimkat said, “I started out as a history major at the University of Iowa, but ended up with a marketing degree … I’ve always found our local history fascinating. My gratification comes from sharing memories with others that grew up here. I frequently have people that grew up here and moved away many, many years ago, that have found my Facebook page and have told me thanks for bringing back some old memories. Often, it’s a comment about how they had forgotten about a specific event or place until a picture brings it back. I get the enjoyment of reading people’s memories of Fort Dodge. My family has been here a long time. I love the community, the people of Fort Dodge. I love the architecture.”
Olson said he derives great pleasure from “knowing that a lot of people from Fort Dodge are able to connect with friends, meet new friends, reminisce about what is was like growing up and living in Fort Dodge, and learning about fact and fun things that they never knew about their home town. There is personal satisfaction that I was able to create a group that has brought thousands of people to together that are having a good time!”
The largest challenge for all three sites is finding high-quality photos to post, and that’s where contributors like Prelip come in.
“In the summer, I’ll go up and down the streets of the city taking pictures,” said Prelip, an Army veteran of the Korean War who worked 27 years as a service technician for Sears before retiring in 1990.
Prelip was part of the Brushy Creek Honor Flight two years ago that took veterans to see monuments in Washington, D.C., and traveled with his cameras, naturally — feeding some of the photos to the Fort Dodge Facebook sites.
He plans to keep on posting photos — to the delight of his many followers, like Dean Peterson, who said:
“I’m a ’58 grad of Ft. Dodge High … my father was president of Fort Dodge Lab … my brother an employee of Union Trust Bank. Those are my roots. My parents now have passed. My brother moved and is now retired. And now I must rely upon the wonderful pics to recall my early life’s history. Shagging the drag stands at the top apart from playing baseball in the Dodger stadium. Thanks for keeping these memories alive.”
Messenger Spotlight: February 5 , 2017; Paul Stevens
Gary Ray: Part of the Hormel Story
Working the night security shift at the old Hormel meat-packing plant in Fort Dodge, Gary Ray would have been hard-pressed to imagine that one day he would:
Work through four more positions in the Fort Dodge plant, before it closed in 1981, transfer to Hormel corporate offices in Austin, Minnesota, and work in five more positions before retiring in 2008 as the No. 2 executive in the 126-year-old company, now called Hormel Foods;
Move into chairmanship of the $8.5 billion Hormel Foundation, which owns 48 percent of the shares of Hormel Foods and contributes mightily to the well-being of residents of Mower County and Austin, a city of 25,000 in southern Minnesota;
And be in a position with his wife of 45 years, Pat, to make what he calls “a worthwhile contribution” to the Hormel Institute, a leading cancer research institution located in Austin and operated by the University of Minnesota, with significant support from the Mayo Clinic.
The Ray Live Learning Center, a $4.5 million facility, was dedicated in 2016. It is a place, Ray said, “where institute scientists can conference worldwide and share their research with sister labs in China and South Korea, so they can collaborate worldwide.”
The Rays were reticent for their names to denote their many contributions to parts of the Hormel Institute’s latest expansion, spokeswoman Gail Dennison said at the time of the dedication, but Institute staff convinced them otherwise. “We convinced them that not only was it a good idea, but that we needed their support … the Institute is looking at what it is that can stop and prevent cancer that is healthier than chemotherapy and radiation.”
The center’s 250-seat auditorium provides state-of-the-art communications technology and a large multipurpose center outside the theater. It also provided needed space for Institute staff to meet in one location. The Institute staff numbers about 120 but is expected to grow to about 250 in future years.
The Rays also donated a sculpture added to the front lawn as part of the expansion, named “Ray of Hope.” Said Pat at the time of the donation, “The sculpture is our way of highlighting the unique work of The Hormel Institute, in looking for natural compounds to prevent and treat cancer. This indeed is a gift of hope that answers to cancer will be found through the dedicated research of Institute scientists.”
“I’ve always had an interest to help find a cure for cancer,” Ray said, “and I am convinced it has to be a worldwide effort to find the answer.”
Ray was born in Atlantic and moved to Fort Dodge with his parents, Ivan and Cleone Ray, in 1958 when Ivan was named sales manager of Pan O Gold Baking Co., later purchased by Metz Baking Co. He retired as an area sales manager when he was in his 70s. Ivan, who served with the Marines in World War II, died in 2010, two years after Cleone passed away.
Cleone was known to many in Fort Dodge for her work as a hostess and waitress at the Elks Club, a job she held into her 80s.
“The work ethic I learned in Fort Dodge has carried me through my whole career,” Ray said. “It comes by example. People working downright hard. My mom and dad were workaholics. My mom loved being around people.”
Ray attended Corpus Christi School and St. Edmond High School, where he excelled in football and played other sports. He graduated from St. Edmond in 1964.
“One of my favorite memories of growing up in Fort Dodge was going to Dodger Stadium — the atmosphere and the surroundings,” he said. “I just loved that. I still remember the baseball field and the brick wall in the outfield with ivy growing on the walls. Just like Wrigley Field.”
Through high school and after attending Wayne State (Nebraska) College, Ray worked part-time jobs at Gus Glaser’s Meats, Lehigh Brick and Tile, and Iowa Beef. He applied for work at Hormel’s Fort Dodge plant in 1968 and was hired to work on the night security force, responsible for the security of the plant and checking in all visitors into the plant for clearance.
He moved into supervisory jobs — night sanitation, grocery products, smoked meats department, and cut and kill. All along, Ray said, he had a goal of working in the corporate offices.
“I was able to work all different facets of the operation before moving into the corporate office,” he said. “I was bound and determined to be in the corporate office to seek new roles in the company. I recognized the stability of the company. It’s a company that promotes from within — and it still does that today.”
Not long after starting work in Fort Dodge, Ray drove to Cedar Falls for a weekend visit with Kent Osboe, a Fort Dodge friend who was attending the University of Northern Iowa. There, Ray met Pat Streit, a student from Sheldon on a blind date and in 1972 they were married in Sheldon.
While Gary worked nights at the Fort Dodge Hormel plant, Pat first taught in the Rockwell City school system and then taught at North Junior High and Fort Dodge Senior High. Her brother, Dan Streit, who works in financial services in Fort Dodge, is currently the boys golf coach at St. Edmond. When the Rays moved to Austin, Pat taught in nearby Lyle, Minnesota.
In the corporate offices, Ray oversaw operations for the grocery products division, manufacturing operations for the entire company, marketing and sales functions for retail and fresh pork, processed pork and food-service sales and marketing, and was responsible for Jennie-O turkey company, in addition to hog procurement and refrigerated processing.
Ray said that then-Hormel president and Chief Executive Officer Dick Knowlton, whose career paralleled his own in climbing the ladder from the bottom up, told him, “I’m going to cross pollinate you, put you in as many divisions as I can, because I think you have some potential for the future.”
“Being from a small town,” Ray said, “I learned how to make relationships with people and to be able to communicate with people. Working in the Fort Dodge plant, it was a team effort. That carried over to corporate. I recognized it really takes a team effort of all employees to make things successful. I still believe that today. Integrity is really an important thing in today’s lifestyle.”
“One of favorite experiences, looking back on my career, was going over to China to help start two manufacturing plants, in the early ’90s. All you saw was bicycles on the street. I watched China grow during the years until now. Another was in 1994 when I was selected by President George H.W. Bush as one of 10 to go with the Secretary of Agriculture to Russia. I spent three weeks in Russia, learning ways we might help Russians in agriculture.”
Ray was 62 when he retired from Hormel Foods in 2008. At the time, he was president of Hormel Foods’ protein division, including refrigerated products.
Today, at the top of the Rays’ list is making frequent visits to the homes of their children, Conrad and McKenzie, and their six granddaughters.
Conrad has been the head golf coach for 13 years at Stanford University, where his teams have won one NCAA national title and six Pac-12 Conference titles. He was a standout athlete in football, hockey and golf in high school and was a member of the Stanford University golf team that included PGA legend Tiger Woods, Golf Channel analyst Notah Begay and Casey Martin, now golf coach at the University of Oregon. Conrad and his wife Jennifer live in Redwood City, California, with their daughters Ella, Emerson and Jullian.
Asked if he could compete in golf with his son, Ray said, “He went by me in the eighth grade.”
McKenzie and her husband Jeff Sloan live in Decatur, Illinois, with their three daughters — Lulla, Phoebe and Greta. Like her mother, McKenzie is a school teacher, a graduate of the University of Colorado. She competed in volleyball and basketball in high school.
Ray spends two days a week at the Hormel Foundation, which he has chaired for six years. Representatives of 12 nonprofit organizations — the YMCA, Salvation Army, Austin public school system, to name a few — sit on the foundation board and allocate $8 million to $25 million a year to the Austin and Mower County area. Austin is in the midst of building a $35 million community center – to which the Hormel Foundation has pledged $25 million, Ray said.
The foundation was founded in 1941 by George A. Hormel and his son Jay C. Hormel, Ray said at the time of the foundation’s 75th anniversary in 2016. “There were five board members and the first donation was $10. Since then we’ve grown far beyond what even the Hormels probably imagined, but in some ways we do things just like we did 75 years ago. We invest in projects and programs that deliver real benefits, that help real people, and that make a real impact in our community. The people who make those decisions live and work here, have their roots here, and share the same commitment to Austin that the Hormels demonstrated.”
Ray said his advice to younger people in today’s job market: “Honesty and integrity are two key elements that you need to possess.”
Messenger Spotlight: June 4, 2017; Paul Stevens
Al Redenius Makes a Life Change
Allan Redenius has experienced three careers in his 67 years — starting out as an X-ray technician, operating his own accounting business and now engaged in what he believes is his final calling — as a pastor.
“I loved being a CPA and doing tax returns,” he said of his nearly 40 years in the financial business in Fort Dodge, concentrating on handling individuals’ and companies’ taxes.
“You get to hear people’s stories, you get to be pretty close. Every year, however, I had to do their tax return again. Now what I do lasts forever.
“I love evangelizing and telling people about Christ. I encourage my membership to do that.
In the business world, we call it marketing. In church, we call it evangelism. What’s your product? Your product in business might be selling widgets. In church, you’re selling Jesus. You package it a little different, but you go out and sell it.”
Redenius is pastor of First Covenant Church, on the southwest edge of Fort Dodge next door to Iowa Central Community College and Friendship Haven. It is part of the Evangelical Covenant Church denomination of 900 churches nationwide. The church had about 40 members when he was appointed pastor, and in the past five years it has grown to 175.
His wife, Armona, is director of its 30-member choir and he just hired a pastor to administer to youth and young families. In the past two years Sunday school attendance has grown from two to 30 children.
“My financial background is valuable with the church,” he said. “I understand money … and the lack thereof. I recently preached on tithing and had some worldly examples from my experience as an accountant.
“I always called my accounting practice my ‘marketplace ministry.’ Often I was able to witness with people and pray with people. One gentleman in financial trouble told me, ‘I don’t know what to do.’ I do, I told him. I will pray for you. He started crying in my office. No one had ever prayed for him before. He still calls me his pastor, but has not come to my church.”
Redenius grew up in Titonka, a small town of 450 residents in Kossuth County, where his mother and father, Marleta and Alfred Redenius, first worked as tenant farmers before his dad experienced back problems that spurred them to move into town, where he became a crop hail adjuster.
After graduating in 1967 from Titonka Consolidated High School, Redenius enrolled at the University of Iowa in a two-year X-ray technician program. There, he met Armona Frank, who grew up in Pioneer, and was in the same program. They graduated and moved to Fort Dodge where she worked at the Kersten Clinic and he at Lutheran Hospital (now Trinity Regional Medical Center). They were married in 1970.
Redenius took classes at Iowa Central to get an associate’s deree with the idea of going into hospital administration. He credits getting the accounting bug from Iowa Central instructor Bob Dunsmoor and he returned to Iowa City to enroll in the business college.
Redenius graduated from Iowa in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance and returned to Fort Dodge to start his new career.
Redenius joined the accounting firm of Gene Gutknecht and in 1975 left to start up his own accounting practice.
Back in his younger days in Titonka, at age 10 or 11, his grandfather told him he should be a pastor. “I never forgot that,” Redenius said. “It echoed in my heart from then on.”
As time went along, he said, “I was making a comfortable living and enjoyed my work. But the calling in my heart began to materialize.”
Redenius attended a Methodist school for lay ministry in Indianola and after graduating in 2002 started as weekends in pulpit supply — “I was the substitute preacher when the regular preacher was gone.” He preached at Methodist churches in Humboldt, Rutland, Gilmore City, Lehigh, Otho and Fort Dodge.
He had grown up as a Lutheran but joined the Methodist Church when he and Armona were married. First Covenant Church was part of his pulpit experience when its pastor at the time, Chuck Johnson, was away. Johnson was a regular participant in RAGBRAI on the Sunday before and Sunday of the bike race.
“The first time I preached at First Covenant Church, I told my wife that, you know, there is something very special about this church. John Wesley (founder of Methodism) had a great way of putting things — ‘When he found the Lord, I felt my heart strangely warmed.’ That’s the way I felt.”
At the time, Redenius was 55 and seriously considered going to a seminary. “But we wanted to stay in Fort Dodge, this was our home. We decided to stay here and see what God had in store for us. As I drove by First Covenant Church, I said, God, I don’t know how this could ever happen but I sure would like to pastor this church.”
When Johnson left the church as pastor, someone else was chosen to succeed him “but it didn’t stop me from praying that prayer,” Redenius said. That pastor left and Redenius was chosen as interim pastor in 2009 while a search was conducted — continuing with his accounting practice, but he soon found he was getting physically run down doing both jobs.
Finally, on Tax Deadline Day, April 15, 2012, he was named full-time pastor at the age of 60.
He preaches a sermon each Sunday that is put up on the church’s website in audio form and draws on his past career in composing them. “I’m often using my CPA experiences in my sermons. Slogans I go by in my life. I’m more pragmatic, you have to live your life in a sin-filled world. Sometimes it isn’t so easy.”
On Sundays on the website — http://www.firstcovfortdodge.org/ — which he started in 2009, Redenius also posts “Reflections from the Heart of Pastor Allan Redenius.”
“When I first got there, there was nothing in the church web mailbox and from my college days, nothing speaks louder than an empty mailbox,” he said. “Reflections are sometimes spiritual things, sometimes things that happened in my life.”
Redenius and his wife have two children — Todd, who works at Iowa Central as a full-time instructor and men’s and women’s tennis coach, programs that he started last year; and Lisa, a pharmacist at Daniel Pharmacy who is married to Ryan Flaherty. Ryan has started his first year as principal at Fort Dodge Middle School. They have two children, Micah, 10, and Noah, 5.
Armona worked for Allan for 30-plus years as the practice’s secretary and partner. Now she is leading the church choir and working with the Sonshine Singers — an ecumenical choir she started 18 years ago that now numbers 125 members. They do events throughout the city, but the volunteer group’s major event is at First United Methodist Church in three nights of singing performances in March.
“People ask me when I’m going to retire,” Redenius said. “I keep looking through the Bible to see where Jesus says you can retire. I haven’t found it yet. I’ll keep doing this until the Lord finds a different field, and that field may be a cemetery.”
Messenger Spotlight: September 3, 2017
The School Patrol
Wearing distinctive shoulder harnesses, bright yellow helmets and shiny badges, Fort Dodge school patrol boys and girls once were responsible for the safety of their fellow students crossing streets at the beginning and the end of each school day.
Hundreds of youngsters — chosen by teachers and the principal at their school — served to protect their fellow students. They were stationed on the corners of the city’s public and parochial schools beginning in 1947 and continuing until sometime in the 1970s.
“I remember how we took that responsibility really seriously in guarding those streets around the school,” recalled Tom Goodman, a patrol boy at Lincoln and Duncombe elementary schools who has saved his lieutenant patrol badge to this day.
The patrol work was overseen for many years by Officer Joe Koll, a Fort Dodge policeman who rode his three-wheel motorcycle from school to school, checking on the young volunteers. The program was sponsored by the AAA Motor Club of Iowa, which contributed the belts and badges. The Lions Club furnished raincoats and the Junior Chamber of Commerce the helmets.
“He loved it,” said Koll’s son Jim Koll of his father, who died in 2006. “It was something he thought was important, and he and my mom went out of their way to try to improve.
“It was his official police duty. He handled outreach between the department and the children in schools. Nowadays they’re called resource officers. He would stop at corners and talk with kids when they passed. Back then, there wasn’t as much emphasis on community relations with police as there is now. My dad wanted students not to be afraid of talking to police officers, that they were there to help you. He always had a big smile on.”
When the student patrol system ended in Fort Dodge, sometime in the 1970s, at about the time sixth- and fifth-graders were moved from elementary to middle school, the school district took responsibility for assigning crossing guards where needed. They were — and still are — adults who are paid for their work, said Carla Filloon, district human resources director who herself once was a school patrol girl in Webster City.
Police outreach to schools continues — with two resource officers, Joelyn Johnson and Bryce Presswood, who are assigned to the district’s four elementary schools, middle school and high school. They will sometimes assist adult crossing guards before and after school, Officer Johnson said. (The AAA continues the school safety patrol program at 34,500 schools nationwide.)
Each patrol unit had a captain, a lieutenant and privates, and were selected on criteria that included leadership, reliability, good attendance record and respect of classmates. They were mostly sixth- and fifth-graders at elementary schools.
At Arey School, Vern Foughty said the captain and lieutenants had whistles. “Kids stood behind the flag until the captain blew the whistle for the boys to extend the flags out so traffic would stop and then the whistle again to have them brought back to a position that would stop kids from going into the street. The number of tweets from the whistle determined what action the boys were to take.”
At patrol meetings, said Jim Koll, “dad would remind them they were not here to order people around, they were here to make sure they were safe. They were never to step out in front of traffic. Once traffic cleared, they’d hold their sign out before students walked across the street.”
Only boys were initially part of the school patrol system and it wasn’t until sometime in the 1960s that girls were included — to the chagrin of many, including Sondra Anderson Price, who attended Lincoln School until 1952.
“Our sixth-grade year, several of us girls made up a song and acted out motions to: ‘here come the Patrol boys, Patrol boys, Patrol boys; here come the Patrol boys of Lincoln School.’ Repeat of above 3 lines. Then… ‘Oh see them there standing on the corner. Oh, see them there with their bright gold badge.’ As girls we just understood and didn’t question that they would always be boys. As far as I know choosing boys lasted into the ’60s.”
There were rewards for being a patrol boy and girl — among them, summer parties and tickets donated by Fort Dodge movie theaters. And more lasting rewards continued into the lives and careers of many who served.
“I remember feeling really important and responsible,” said Missy Sheker Travis, who served as a patrol girl at Feelhaver Elementary. “I have fond memories of being a patrol. I would think that was one of many great school experiences they lead me to become a teacher. I teach fifth- to eighth-grade science in Wisconsin now. I have always been responsible and dependable like I was back in fifth grade so there are things that have shaped me into the person I am today.”
Foughty — who was a patrol boy, lieutenant and captain in 1954-56, said: “I guess something in that duty stuck with me. I went on to have a successful career with the Iowa State Patrol from 1968 to 1993.”
He said the responsibility and other lessons learned from the experience helped “as one grows and matures. People depend on you. In this case it was the students’ parents having faith that we would do the best we could to help insure their child’s safety.”
Messenger Spotlight: August 5, 2018; Paul Stevens
Greg Sells: Giving Thanks
Thanksgiving is more than just a holiday for Greg Sells.
Giving thanks is a lifelong process for the Fort Dodge native – giving thanks to family and friends who lifted him from the depths and helped him to a life well lived after he was involved in a tragic auto accident 50 years ago.
Sells was a passenger in a car driven by a fellow University of Iowa student on Oct. 7, 1966, that veered off a Dubuque street, killing the driver and leaving the four-sport athlete at St. Edmond High School paralyzed from the chest down and confined to a wheelchair.
“From that day forward my life would never be the same. And yet today I live a happy, interesting and fulfilling life,” he said. “The reason for the happy ending, and I’m convinced of this, is because of the love and support of my family and my very good friends in and of Fort Dodge.”
Sells remembers Thanksgiving Day 1966 – six weeks after the accident – when he was undergoing treatment at Younkers Rehabilitation Center in Des Moines and his father, Lyle Sells, had picked a nearby restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner.
“It was the first time I was allowed to leave the hospital – for a few hours,” Sells recalled. “I was young (20 years old) and very self-conscious about being in a wheelchair and wanted to go somewhere where I could ‘hide’ from the general public.
“When we got there we found out the dining area was in the lower level only served by a long flight of stairs. I had to be carried down and back up with what seemed like everybody staring at me. In addition, it was packed with people and was a buffet-style meal.
Somebody had to get the food for me. A worse spot could not have been selected. We were all naive about functioning in the wheelchair in the beginning. Later we laughed about it … I still laugh about it.”
Today, Sells is winding down a career in Sacramento, California, where since 1983 he and his brother Tim have operated Sells and Associates Inc., which provides services to injured workers and consultation on legal matters involving personal injury, medical malpractice and employment discrimination matters.
Sells moved to California after graduate school at the University of Arizona, working initially at a medical rehabilitation center in Fresno. He became active in advocacy issues for the disabled, taught two courses in vocational rehabilitation at Fresno State and was appointed by Govs. Ronald Reagan and Jerry Brown to a state board dealing with issues of employment for the disabled.
His job initially involved considerable travel – and he logged many miles in a car equipped with hand controls, with his wheelchair in the back seat, and a dozen airline flights each year.
It was in Sacramento that he met his wife Barbara – “the woman of my dreams” and his stepson Marcel, and later a daughter-in-law, Beth, and two grandchildren, Nya, 5, and Nash, 3, who live in Eden Prairie, a suburb of Minneapolis. Greg and Barbara have been married since 1990 and live in Carmichael, just north of Sacramento.
Sells’ story is one of resilience, determination and the will to succeed. From the start, it was not an easy journey.
Athletics were always a big part of his life and that of his family. His father played football and wrestled at Fort Dodge Senior High, won a national high school wrestling championship and also played football at Cornell College. His brother Boake was a first-team all-state football player at FDSH and attended Iowa on a football scholarship. His brother Tim played football at FDSH.
Greg was a 6-foot-2, 190-pound quarterback at St. Edmond, played forward on the basketball team, qualified for four different events at the state track championship, and was a third baseman and pitcher on the baseball team. In his earlier years, he played for Jerry Patterson’s Fort Dodge Demons baseball team.
After the accident, he spent nine months learning to live “with this new/different body,” motivated by the goal to return to classes at the University of Iowa. “By doing so,” he said, “I would prove to myself, and others, that this accident was simply a speed bump in my life and not an insurmountable obstacle.”
At the time, however, there were no accessibility laws – no ramps or curb cuts, no accessible bathrooms or public transportation, no schools or places of employment that were designed with accessibility in mind. “I was scared about returning to the university.
But then something wonderful happened. Two childhood friends in Fort Dodge (Paul Wright and Paul Stevens) asked me if I wanted to share an apartment with them in Iowa City. I was thrilled because I would not have to take on returning to school all alone. But again, naively, I had failed to recognize that the campus was primarily built on the side of a hill and the classroom buildings were filled with stairs.”
Within two weeks, Sells realized that he could not continue and he felt like a failure, with a future that was bleak. “I clearly recall lying in bed and having, for the only time in my life, what psychologists call suicidal ideation. For that moment I felt I was a failure, I had no idea how I would function in an inaccessible world, and I felt alone and worthless. But again, a wonderful thing happened. The two Pauls didn’t make me feel like a failure and in fact made me feel welcomed and encouraged me to stay in Iowa City a while longer before heading back to my parents in Fort Dodge. I credit that time, and those two friends, for helping me get started in the direction that leads me to today.”
In November 1967, he returned home to Fort Dodge where his parents, Lyle and Louise Sells, “certainly didn’t make me feel like a failure. In fact, they simply said to me – well, what should we do next? They always gave me the feeling that I had support and there was a positive future ahead for me. Like many families in Fort Dodge, I’m sure, we were taught that life isn’t what happens to you but rather it is what you make of it. That has been a guiding principle for me for the last 50 years.”
Paging through an Easter Seals Society book on colleges equipped for people with disabilities, he came across Kansas State Teachers College in Emporia, Kansas – one of a handful of colleges that voluntarily made their campus accessible for disabled students. There, he resumed his education, admitted on academic probation because of poor grades at Iowa but graduating two years later with honors. Sells then earned a scholarship to the University of Arizona and completed a master’s degree in vocational rehabilitation counseling.
The lessons he learned along the way?
“In my almost 45 years of working with people with significant physical disabilities, I have heard time and again – when something like this happens to you, you find out who your friends are. That is code that means, somewhat understandably, your friends tend to drift away over time. But not my friends. My friends rallied around me. Steve Dapper, Frank Kopish, Frank Morse, (the late) Larry Hood, Dudley Joselyn Bednar, (the late) John Bednar, Paul Wright, Paul Stevens and Mark McCarville. These friends were with me then and that friendship has continued to the present day. And it has only been enhanced by reconnecting with other Fort Dodge friends – John Anderson, Mick Flaherty, Doug Goodrich, Joe Culver and Pat O’Brien.
“I would be less than honest with myself if I didn’t admit that there have been a number of low times in the last 50 years. But those moments have become rare and fleeting and I attribute that to the incredible love, support and encouragement of my parents, my brothers Boake and Tim, and my late sister Jo Sells Freer, the invaluable presence, then and now, of my childhood friends and most especially my wife Barbara, my stepson Marcel and his family who have made me happier than any time in my life. I am truly a lucky man.
“l still consider myself a Fort Dodger, I just live a little ways outside the city limits.”
Messenger Spotlight: November 6, 2016
Nancy McCarthy Snyder’s Key to Life
Growing up in a two-story brick house on 16th Street, a block away from Duncombe School, Nancy McCarthy Snyder has always believed there was “something in the water” that seemed to promote education in the Fort Dodge neighborhood where she and her four sisters grew up in the 1950s and ’60s.
Living next door were the McCormicks, a family of four boys – John, an engineer; Mark, an attorney who was an Iowa Supreme Court justice; Jim, a priest who did mission work in Africa; and Dick, who became CEO of USWest.
On the other side of their house were the Marquises – Jeri, who taught kindergarten at Duncombe for many years; Forrest, who was principal at Fort Dodge Senior High; and their son Bob, who became a physician.
Across the street were the Galasks – with two boys, Rudy, who is a physician in Iowa City, and Bob, who studied at the Gemological Institute of America and has been in the diamond business in Los Angeles for more than 35 years.
Next to them were the Paulins – Tom, Lynn, Margaret Ann and Donna. All went to college, Lynn receiving a PhD.
And then there were the five McCarthy girls – daughters of Margaret and Cliff McCarthy – the first in either parent’s family to attend college.
“My parents never expected us to go to college and didn’t have much savings,” Snyder said. “My sister Judy put herself through her engineering degree while working full-time as an x-ray tech. The rest of us had significant financial aid. Mostly scholarships based on both academic achievement and financial need, but also some loans and on-campus work study jobs. I worked in the cafeteria at Clarke (College) to earn spending money and book money.”
“Both parents were really intelligent people who never had the opportunity for higher education,” said Snyder of her father, one of 10 children, who never attended high school and worked as a superintendent at Fort Dodge Limestone until his death in 1972, and her mother, who worked in the kitchen at Lutheran Hospital while her husband served in World War II and won the Distinguished Flying Cross as a tail gunner on a B-24 Liberator bomber.
“The five of us girls had very deep blue-collar roots.”
Nancy, the oldest, a self-professed “incurable academic,” retired in 2016 after serving nearly 40 years on the faculty of Wichita State University, most recently as the director of the Hugo Wall School of Public Affairs. She holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Clarke College in Dubuque and master’s and doctorate degrees in economics from Southern Illinois University. In August, Nancy was appointed by Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly to the WSU Board of Trustees. She also serves on the board of directors of Kansas Action for Children, a nonpartisan organization committed to improving the lives of Kansas children and families.
About those sisters: ike her, all St. Edmond High School graduates:
Judy McCarthy, who has an engineering degree from Portland State and an MBA from Temple University, worked for AT&T and then served as manager of the statewide AmeriCorps program; she lives in Des Moines. Cathy, who earned a law degree from George Washington University, worked for a multi-county social welfare organization in Culpepper, Virginia, where she lives. Jean, who earned a bachelor’s degree from Grinnell College and a master’s in public administration from Harvard University, lives in Columbia, Maryland, where she is a systems engineer who consults on internet security issues.Maureen, who has bachelor’s degrees from Upper Iowa University and Georgetown University, lives in Des Moines where she works for Casey’s as an employee relations specialist.
“My family clearly values education and it has served us well,” Snyder said. “Education exposes us to the reality that many other people experience life differently than we do. We all think we’re ‘typical,’ but in fact we’re all limited in our outlooks on life. Education should make us more tolerant and compassionate. Having said that I think it’s a mistake to equate education and college. Everyone doesn’t need to go to college to make important contributions to society. We need lots of different skills to make society and the economy work. I worry that if there’s too much emphasis on degrees and jobs and income, that many hard-working, kind and generous people feel disrespected and undervalued. I believe there’s too much hierarchy in our world. All people deserve to be respected for their contributions, not just those with fancy job titles and high incomes.”
Snyder has lived in Wichita since 1977, moving there with her husband, Jim, when he received a job offer from Wichita State. They met in Dubuque in her first year at Clarke College, introduced by Jim’s roommate at Loras College, Steve Stedman of Fort Dodge.
Jim was drafted into the Army in 1968 and served a year with the Army Signal Corps in Vietnam. They married in 1970 and after nearly 46 years together, Jim died three years ago of a rare and aggressive form of appendix cancer; Nancy believes it originated from his service in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.
Like her sisters and her husband, the education gene passed on to their three children. Oldest daughter Abby has a degree in education from WSU and is a program manager for the AmeriCorps program in the Derby, Kansas, school district. Liz has a bachelor’s in social work from the University of Kansas and a master’s from the University of Minnesota, where she worksfor the UMN Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare. Son John has a bachelor’s from Grinnell and a master’s in statistics from Ohio State and lives in Salt Lake City doing statistical analysis in oncology.
“We’re kind of an overeducated family,” Snyder said.
Growing up in the McCarthy home, Snyder recalled, three of the girls shared one bedroom and two were in the other; their parents took the smallest bedroom.
“There was no dithering in the bathroom,” she said. “We did our hair in the dining room where there was a buffet and large mirror. It was great training. I can still be up and ready to go anywhere in about 15 minutes — 30 if I need a shower. The same can’t be said for Maureen, who had the house and Mom to herself for her entire four years of high school!
“My fondest memories of Fort Dodge have to do with the freedom we had. At very young ages we played outside, circled our block endlessly. One of our favorite family stories is when my sister Jean ‘ran away from home’ when she was about 4. My mom watched her all the way and saw her stop at the corner (just two houses down) because she knew she wasn’t allowed to cross the street by herself. She sat there for a while and made it home safe and sound. We were all pretty virtuous rule followers!
“We walked or rode our bikes everywhere. Even in kindergarten I walked the 1.5 blocks to Duncombe School. When I transferred to Corpus Christi in 4th grade, I walked the longer route. It was a different time. Even in Fort Dodge it probably couldn’t be duplicated today.”
At. St. Edmond, two sisters played significant roles in her life, Snyder said.
“Being in debate with Sister Joan Patricia had a huge impact – learning about public policy, civic responsibility. Sister Mary St. David got me so interested in math. I was a math major. She took me and Mary Condon and Diane Jankowiak and taught intro calculus on our own.”
“My Catholic education taught me that the beatitudes and the two great commandments to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves should guide our lives. I’ve tried to live a life of service to others. Teaching young professionals to be effective local government managers to make sure that democratic institutions function efficiently and effectively for the people, to produce research on public policies related to public finance and social welfare policy and to apply that research to solve problems have been my passion. I believe strongly that individuals like me, who are blessed with good fortune, good parents, good health, and intelligence have a responsibility to help make the world a better place for those who were not so blessed.
“It may sound sappy but there’s never been a minute of my life when I doubted I was loved. That’s huge. It gives you trust in institutions, limits the extent of cynicism that can drive a life. It makes you, at least for me, recognize how important it is to care about the people less fortunate than we are. Recognition of good fortune and a responsibility to make the world a better place – these learned from Catholic schools."
Next on her agenda – “I keep moving, I don’t let myself stand still” – an 11-day cruise tour to the Greek Isles with her other retired sisters, Cathy and Judy. What kind of tour? A Road Scholartour, of course.
Messenger Spotlight: October 6, 2019; Paul Stevens
Stitt Family: Medicine
Medicine is firmly implanted in the DNA of the Stitt family. And the Stitt family is equally implanted in the city of Fort Dodge where there’s been a Doctor Stitt on duty for the past 71 years.
Like his father, Dr. Mike Stitt was a physician — each of them engaged in family practice medicine for more than four decades. Like her mother, Carole Stitt worked as a registered nurse for more than 30 years.
And like their parents, the Stitts’ four daughters — Kimberly, Stephanie, Alyssa and Kristen — all chose careers in medicine.
“We never pushed them to do it,” said Mike, a lifelong Fort Dodger who retired in 2014 as a physician with Family Practice Associates. His career began with U.S. Army service in Vietnam after graduating 50 years ago from the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine.
Daughter Dr. Stephanie Stitt Cox, who is a family practice physician with The Iowa Clinic in West Des Moines, agrees:
“Honestly, neither Mom or Dad ever pushed us into medicine or really even encouraged us to follow in their footsteps,” she said. “They just encouraged us to do the best we could and to follow our own aspirations.” Stephanie is married to Kyle Cox; they live in Waukee and have three children: Connor, 15; Aidan, 12, and Lydia, 9.
Mike and Carole’s oldest, Kim Shimkat, is a veterinarian at Family Pet Medical Center in Fort Dodge, which she established in 2007. The Iowa State graduate is married to Bill Shimkat and they have two sons, Ryan, 17, and Jack, 13.
From a young age, Kim loved animals, particularly horses. “When I was 12, they decided I was responsible enough to have a horse of my own and my very non-horsey parents helped me find a young quarter horse and a place to board him. I had that first horse for 27 years and learned a lot about animal care from him. My husband jokes that if my parents had just shown some restraint and said no, he wouldn’t be stuck unloading hay and hauling manure today.”
Dr. Alyssa Stitt is a family practice physician in Mankato, Minnesota, and is married to Garron Williams. They have three children: Noah, 12; Zoe, 10, and Jonah, 6.
Kristen Morrison is a registered nurse in the cardiothoracic and transplant ICU at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago and is married to Andy Morrison. They have three children — Louise, 6; Sydney, 4, and Arthur, 2 weeks. “Choosing nursing and following in the footsteps of my mom, as well as her mother,” she said, “has given me the opportunity to provide hands-on care and comfort at the bedside.”
The four women — three of them University of Iowa graduates, like their parents — are the third generation of Stitts in the medical business. Mike’s father, Dr. Paul Stitt, was a physician and surgeon in Fort Dodge for 35 years before retiring in 1982. He was a Navy veteran of World War II, serving as a surgeon in the South Pacific. Mike was born in Seattle to Paul and Marguerite Stitt. He has a brother, Marc, who lives in Fort Dodge and a sister, Jane, in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. A second sister Beth died of lung cancer.
Mike attended Fort Dodge Senior High, as did his four daughters, graduating in 1961. He excelled in basketball under Coach Dutch Huseman: as a 5-foot-10 forward he set a single-season Dodger scoring record his senior year. “It has long been obliterated by a number of players,” he said.
His goal from the outset at the University of Iowa was to become a doctor. His dad was his role model: “He was happy and proud of what he did. He was patient, compassionate and dedicated. He never had an ill word about a patient. I tried to be like him.”
Mike met Carole when he was a junior in medical school and she was a senior in Iowa’s nursing program. Their first date was to the 1966 Iowa homecoming game. They were married 20 months later in her hometown of Iowa City on June 8, 1968, the day after Mike graduated from medical school.
Shortly after the wedding, they drove to Los Angeles where Mike had a one-year internship at Los Angeles County General/USC Medical Center; Carole also worked there, as a registered nurse in a surgical unit.
The Vietnam War was in full force and physicians finishing internships were in demand. Mike signed up hoping for Navy service like his father, but was taken by the Army in August 1969 and quickly received orders for Vietnam.
He served in Vietnam for a year, first as a battalion surgeon with the 1st Infantry Division for five months in Lai Kai. His clinic was on the back of an armored personnel carrier. “I took care of sick people and minor injuries — if anyone got shot up and needed surgery, we medevacked them.” He then served at the 67th Evac Hospital at Qui Nhon. “We were like a MASH unit but with fixed buildings, not tents like in the movie.” Mike completed his second year of Army duty at Sandia Army Base in Albuquerque.
Stitt went to Vietnam clean-shaven and wearing contacts. His colonel boss banned beards but not mustaches — so as a protest of sorts, Stitt grew a mustache “and I’ve had it ever since.” Contact lenses were too difficult to manage in Vietnam so he wore glasses, and never returned to contacts when he got home.
The lure of working with his dad was strong, and the Stitts returned to Fort Dodge to join his father with Doctors Wilbur Thatcher and Hoyt Allen specializing in general and family practice. He worked with his dad from 1971 to 1982. Between the two, Mike estimates, they delivered 1,600 babies.
“I wound up delivering the babies of the babies my dad delivered,” Stitt said.
Alyssa recalls her dad “regularly having to leave the house in the middle of the night to deliver a baby or see a patient in the ER. I was around 6 years old when I learned exactly what that meant. Before then, I honestly had this vivid image of him in brown uniform, driving around a UPS truck full of babies dropping them off at their respective houses. I could not understand why on Earth that could not wait until morning. Twenty-five years later I would graduate from my family medicine program and for the last 12 years I have continued to practice full spectrum family practice and deliver babies as well.”
Carole worked as a nurse in Mike’s practice for 30 years: “I’m sure half the people came in to see her more than they wanted to see me,” he said.
“I was proud to be his nurse,” she said. “I saw daily how he would show respect, compassion and kindness to his patients. I loved to watch him take care of little babies, anxious mothers or elderly people. He treated everyone the same. We dearly miss our patients.”
Medicine changed over the years, not always for the better, Stitt said. “I used to spend an entire day with my patients, scribble notes at each visit, dictate them at the end of the day. Anymore you work with a computer, spending time doing computer stuff. A third of the time with patients, a third of the time satisfying Medicare or an insurance company, a third of the time to satisfy the group to maximize charges. It shouldn’t be that way. You should be spending 80 percent of your time with your patients.”
“Mom certainly deserves some credit, working for years as his RN,” Stephanie said, “keeping their practice moving smoothly. Patients trusted her as much as they trusted him and she was always willing to lend a hand, volunteer, reach out to someone struggling. They both taught us to be compassionate in both our professional and personal lives.”
Since retiring in 2014, the Stitts have pursued a variety of interests — visiting children and grandchildren, traveling, fishing, golfing, gardening, reading, all things Hawkeye and Dodger sports, NCAA wrestling, Olympics.
They’ve been Iowa season ticket holders since 1971 and are regulars on Hawkeye cruises with coaches every February. Mike has been the team doctor for FDSH football for the past 47 years and was awarded the Outstanding Sports Medicine Award by the Iowa High School Athletic Directors Association.
Grandchildren are a big part of their lives, and their 11th grandchild just arrived two weeks ago when Arthur was born to daughter Kristen and her husband, Andy.
On the 10th of December each year, Mike follows a tradition of his grandmother and his father in making peanut brittle — 100 pounds worth, “the world’s best peanut brittle,” he contends. “At least I haven’t tasted any better.” It is delivered in five-pound batches to hospitals and friends and family.
This Stitt tradition is now into its fourth generation: Kim has taken it on as an “apprentice” but not quite to her dad’s scale — yet.
Messenger Spotlight: May 6, 2018; Paul Stevens
The Theaters We Loved
The Strand. The Rialto. The Iowa. The Dodge. The Astro. Once among the most popular destinations on Central Avenue, they brought Hollywood to generations of Fort Dodge movie-goers, young and old.
Now they are fond but distant memories of those who plunked down the 35-cent admission fee to see their very first movie, join friends for a birthday celebration or have their first date with a night out at one of the single-screen theaters. Along with 15-cent popcorn and dime candy (remember Slo Pokes, Boston Baked Beans, Sugar Babies, Dots, Red Hots?)
“I saw about 1,000 movies growing up,” said Dr. Dan Cole, a Fort Dodge physician for 46 years whose father, Joe Cole, managed the theaters (including the Drive-In Theater) for Central States Theaters for nearly two decades. “Growing up with dad as manager was great. I was at the theaters almost daily and had a free run on free popcorn, candy, pop and any movie I wanted to see I got to see.”
The Rialto and Strand — earliest of the theaters — opened in the mid-1920s and continued for a half century until they and the others all had closed by the mid-1970s. (The Strand became the Astro when remodeled in 1966.) The drive-in theater closed in 1976. Today, Fort Dodge movie-goers are entertained at the Fort 8 Theater — with more screens under one roof than the combined total of the downtown theaters in their heyday.
The old single-screen theaters were victims in Fort Dodge and elsewhere to an economy of scale in the movie industry with multiple screens under one roof and with advances in technology offering far superior sound, visual quality and more comfortable seating than the theaters of old. Technicolor was a huge advance back then — but no match to today’s movies.
Back in the day, the Rialto at 604 Central, which opened in the mid-1920s, was the crown jewel with 755 seats that included a balcony, unique to Fort Dodge theaters.
Growing up as the son of the theater manager had its advantages, Cole said, and the reason had little to do with the movies themselves.
“The balcony at the Rialto opened when the main floor filled up but me and my friends, including dates, could always bypass the rope and head to the balcony for movies,” he recalled. “I used to go to the theater on weekends and look with a flashlight along the aisle seats for change that would catch there when they blew the old boxes and wrappers to the front of the theater for clean-up. I got my shopping change there and would run off to Kresges or Woolworth or Hobby Craft to buy some treasure.”
All of the theaters advertised their movies on marquees, and Sam Hartman recalls one of his jobs was to climb a wooden ladder to reset the lettering when a new movie began.
“Out in front of the theater,” he recalls, “on a ladder, with the faces of the marquee fully lit — here I am right on Central Avenue, with bumper-to-bumper traffic, with cars full of the youth of Fort Dodge. Constant yelled comments such as ‘You’re spelling that wrong,’ ‘Your slip is showing,’ ‘What does that say?’ ‘Don’t fall,’ etc. I often wanted to have a supply of water balloons in my letter box that I could throw, but I didn’t think Mr. Cole or the cops that ‘walked the beat’ at that time would see any humor in that.”
But it was worth the abuse, said the former Webster County correctional officer — $3 each time the marquee was changed on top of an hourly pay rate of 75 cents an hour and two free tickets to each movie “so we could take a date with us.”
The theaters did their best to attract business. Free passes were issued through Fort Dodge Police Officer Joe Koll to give to his school patrol boys. Patti Miller recalled U.S. Gypsum had a private showing at Christmas time for kids whose parents worked at USG. Susan Sudbrock recalled that First National Bank gave free passes to kids of members every summer.
“Our mom took us to see ‘Gone With the Wind’ at the Dodge when we were really too young to understand the film,” said Mary Zenor Terrass. “But I was still fascinated by the story. When we got home, I pretended to be Scarlett O’Hara. Our backyard in Round Prairie wasn’t quite like the plantation Tara, but I still buried a carrot and then dug it up while proclaiming ‘as God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.’ It’s probably a good thing I stopped there instead of trying to recreate the Battle of Atlanta. But as a kid growing up in FD, I sure loved those three theaters on Central Ave!”
The theaters once featured a babysitter’s day on Saturdays, Cole said, where kids could be dropped off at 8 in the morning, watch cartoons through the day, eat hot dogs for lunch, and then be picked up by their parents in the afternoon.
John Clements recalls the Saturday matinee movies: “After watching ‘The Tingler,’ any kid with guts was obligated to ride his bike home via every commercial and residential alley, just to perpetuate the emotions of lurking danger.”
Cole recalls traveling with his father (who died in 1968) to area communities to distribute movie posters to gas stations, grocery stores and anyone who would post them to advertise the latest movies. From time to time, a lesser-known Hollywood movie celebrity would come to town during a publicity tour.
Messenger Spotlight: June 3, 2018; Paul Stevens
Julie Thorson: Learned Lessons As Coach’s Daughter
A coach’s daughter, Julie Thorson has applied lessons learned from her father and from her family’s lifelong love of athletics to lead Friendship Haven, a retirement community in its 70th year of service to residents of the Fort Dodge area.
Thorson enters her sixth year as president and chief executive officer in January. She ascended through the ranks to the top position after starting out as a part-time social worker when she found that her first career — as a television journalist — was not for her. She set a goal to become president before she was 40. And it happened.
She was 38 when she was appointed in 2012 by Friendship Haven’s board of directors as president, the first woman in that role.
“I had two challenges at the start — my youth at the time and being female,” she said. “For the residents, I had to prove myself. They were used to older males in the role. I hope after five years that I have done that.”
Thorson leads a staff of 311 who work for the continuing care, not-for-profit retirement community that describes itself as faith-based with a founding history with the United Methodist Church. It was founded in 1946 and the Rev. Dr. Clarence Wesley Tompkins served as its first executive director for 25 years. It occupies 60 acres west of downtown Fort Dodge, next door to Iowa Central Community College, and is home to 315 residents in independent living, assisted living and skilled care residences.
“I am leading an organization that is taking care of people I grew up with — my teachers, my parents’ friends, people I’ve known all my life growing up in Fort Dodge,” she said. “For residents, it is the most intimate time of their lives and it is my responsibility, a personal one, that their time here is well spent.”
Thorson, 43, is the daughter of Sam and Sharon Moser. Her father was head football coach at Fort Dodge Senior High for 15 years and in 2013 was inducted into the Iowa High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He retired in 2004 as the Dodgers’ second-winningest coach. She was born in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and lived in Aurelia and Clarion, where her dad coached, before the family moved to Fort Dodge in 1979.
Athletic Director Vernon “Dutch” Huseman hired him as assistant football coach under Doug Black, and Moser became head coach in 1990.
“I love working with people and I am also a student of leadership,” Thorson said. “I think that goes back to being a daughter of a coach. I look at things not as a CEO but as a head coach. I think that’s how they see me leading. It is coaching. If you’re the head coach, you better know what the team — our residents and our staff — is doing.”
Thorson meets regularly with her staff and tries to introduce herself and get to know every resident.
“I think in my role it’s important for me to know who we are serving,” she said. “I like to dine with residents, attend parties when I’m able and pop in to visit with them as often as possible.”
The Mosers are a sports family through and through. Her mother, who is in her final year as library associate at Feelhaver Elementary School, competed in track, softball and cheerleading in high school. Julie, the oldest of three children, was a senior on the Dodger swim team at the same time as her sister, Jill, then a freshman. The youngest Moser, Nik, was an all-state football player and played at Iowa State. But there’s more.
Julie married Tjeran Thorson, a Dodger all-state football player and son of the late Sherwyn Thorson, a University of Iowa football star and NCAA wrestling champion who played football professionally in Canada. Her sister Jill’s husband is head wrestling coach at Fort Madison High School. Julie and Tjeran’s daughter Lehr was a swimming star at FDSH. This past season, Lehr’s medley relay team broke the school record set in 1990 by a team that included her mother.
“I don’t think very many mothers get to see their daughters break their records,” Thorson said.
Lehr, 18, is heading to college next fall and plans to compete in swimming wherever she goes. Their son Asle, 15, is a freshman at FDSH and competes in football, basketball and track.
“We are a competitive family, that’s an understatement,” she said. “Sports for me as it relates to my career taught me not apologize for being competitive. I think it is something instilled from early on, striving to be better. When we were younger, we strove to be better athletically. But I think for all three of us, we carry this out professionally as well. It kind of makes it part of your DNA. And it’s fun to see it with our kids.”
Journalism was Thorson’s career choice after graduating from FDSH where she worked on the Little Dodger student newspaper. While in high school, she was hired by Messenger sports editor Bob Brown to work two nights a week taking prep scores and writing stories. But she was determined too young to work after midnight and was let go.
“Bob always told me, ‘I was the first person to hire you and the first person to fire you’,” she said with a laugh.
After two years at Iowa Central, she chose to study to become a broadcast journalist at the University of Kansas. Her first job after graduation was as a reporter at KIMT-TV, a CBS affiliate in Mason City.
“I really liked the on-air experience,” she said. “But I completely changed my mind while in Mason City. I felt like I was working at people, not with people. Something was missing. I wasn’t making a difference at all. I was just reporting what I saw. It is a worthwhile profession but it felt cold to me.”
Thorson left the station after two years and returned to Fort Dodge. Iowa Central had a public radio station and she worked there and taught classes. She and Tjeran were married at the time and had their first child, Lehr, when she took a job as a part-time social worker at Friendship Haven in 1999.
“As a kid, I loved being around older people. When I took the job here, I really felt I was making a difference in peoples’ lives, and I was hooked.”
A year later, she was hired fulltime as a long-term care social worker by Denise Wiederin, who today is director of assisted living.
Thorson ascended through the leadership ranks before leaving in 2007 to work at Trinity Regional Medical Center, and returned to Friendship Haven two years later as director of strategic initiatives. She was head of the Tompkins Health Center when the president’s position opened. She consulted with board members about applying — one of them Albert Habhab, former Fort Dodge mayor and judge.
“He has been a constant fan of Friendship Haven and supporter of me from the very beginning,” she said.
In 2013, she led the $35 million campaign to open the Simpson Health Center and River Ridge Apartments. A campaign is now under way for a $5.5 million facility for those with advanced Alzheimer’s Disease.
“We are doing the right things on the inside. That’s why there’s demand to come to Friendship Haven,” she said. “New buildings are icing on the cake. What makes this place special are the people who work here.”
Thorson’s favorite motivational saying is “Dream Big.” It’s all over her office and even on her coffee cup.
“I look at what we do as a gift,” Thorson said. “There’s a lot of ageism in our country. I don’t think people value others as they reach a certain age. It is not like folks have an expiration date — when they are going to stop contributing to life.
“The days of the old folks’ home are gone. I think there’s a stigma that you come to Friendship Haven to die. There is so much more living that happens here. We want to support that idea of living well. You discover a whole new world because you’re not tied down by keeping up your own home. I know it’s not for everyone, but for people who give it a chance and get rid of their reservations, most everyone says they wish they would have come sooner.”
Last year, Friendship Haven launched the Boomers Fitness Club in which members pay a fee for use of the facility’s indoor pool and wellness center.
“We are preparing for the boomer generation. We have to,” she said.
Thorson writes a blog, “Living Leadership,” enjoys golfing and cycling, and has competed with a team of Fort Dodge friends in three RAGBRAI events.
“I look forward to the future,” she said. “You need to figure out what you really enjoy. What I enjoy, it’s the coaching and the leadership. As long as I can do that, I am happy.”
Messenger Spotlight: December 4, 2016
Fort Dodge Vietnam Veterans: 'Thank you for your service'
For Jim Gill, it happened in 2004 when he walked into the VA Hospital in Des Moines, just diagnosed with cancer caused by Agent Orange.
Tom Dorsey, it happened in 2005 when he attended funeral services for Iraq War veterans.
Darrell Condon, it happened on Memorial Day 2012 when he woke up and found a small flag planted in his front yard.
What happened? Decades after their service in the Vietnam War, the three veterans heard the words they long had hoped to hear:
“Thank you for your service.”
Those five words have immense meaning for veterans of all wars. But for those who served in a war that many Americans so widely opposed – Vietnam is considered the most unpopular U.S. war of the 20th Century – that meaning is even more special.
This Spotlight focuses on current and former Fort Dodge-area veterans who served during that era. Each was asked - “When was the first time you received a sincere thank you for your service and what were the circumstances?” The question struck a chord among the Vietnam veterans interviewed for this story. Some recalled the exact date.
Gill, a former Fort Dodge city councilman and county supervisor, served with the Army in Tay Ninh, Vietnam, in 1968-69.
“The first sincere ‘thank you’ I remember was about 2004 at the Veteran Administration in Des Moines,” Gill recalled. “I had just been diagnosed with cancer and was making my first trip to the VA Des Moines. The diagnosis was due to exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. Walking into the VA hospital was such a shock and I knew my world was about to drastically change. There were men and women of all ages and from all walks of life and with all degrees of medical issues. Everywhere I went there was service-related talk: what branch, where, what years and a hearty ‘thank you for your service’.”
Dorsey, who retired as a financial consultant, served as an Army artillery forward observer in Vietnam in 1967: “I believe my first ‘thank you for your service’ came in 2005 while attending funerals for Iraq KIAs (killed in action). I was a part of the American Legion Riders and also the Patriot Guard Riders where we helped screen the family and guests from the Westboro Baptist demonstrators. People would come over and thank us for being there and for our service.”
Condon, who served in Vietnam in 1968-69, said that when he left the Marine Corps, “I quickly learned to keep quiet about my service and in particular my experiences in Vietnam. May 28, 2012. I went outside to retrieve the morning paper and discovered that during the night the Home Owners Association (in suburban Kansas City) had placed a small American flag on my front lawn for Memorial Day. That was the first time I was thanked for my service.” Condon worked in IT in Kansas City for 33 years before retiring from Sprint in 2006.
Tom Salvatore, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam in 1969-70 and is a retired Fort Dodge postal worker, said his thank you came much sooner: “After my tour in Vietnam was up, I landed in Oakland and then took a flight from Oakland to Omaha and then Fort Dodge. “The date was March 20, 1970. I was sitting next to a man on the plane, a stranger. I was in uniform and the man asked me about my service. We talked for an hour and I told him I had just returned from Vietnam. He thanked me for my service.”
John Clements, that first thank you came on Veterans Day in 2010 – 40 years after he completed his Vietnam tour. St. Agnes School in suburban Kansas City asked parish veterans to attend a ceremony in the church. “I still choke up just remembering that - after some four decades of living with a bitter gnawing that I never even knew was there. The moral is that one never knows when a small gesture can have a mountainous affect, for good or bad.” Clements served with the Army’s First Cavalry Division in 1969-70 and returned from Vietnam with a Bronze Star, and a new perspective.
Clements recalled that day when he “returned to the world. I learned that our citizens did not appreciate the sacrifices and injuries and deaths that were suffered. The last leg of my flight to Fort Dodge was on a DC3 with Ozark Airlines. A salesman sat next to me and inquired about my status. I told him I was coming home from the Nam. He grunted a disdainful moan and his face said the same thing. I was actually in the mental process of murdering him right there in his seat. Somehow I froze. I never forgot that man and it took over 40 years to forgive him. I also learned to never believe or trust what our government says. Doubtful that will change now. I have visited The Wall several times now. My mind refuses to recognize a single name from our unit.”
David Ray said he has six friends who served with him in Vietnam in 1970 whose names are on the Vietnam Wall. His unit lost 160 men over a five-year period. Ray, who has lived in Fort Dodge for 31 years and works as a manufacturers’ representative, wrote a book, “A Marine’s Promise to God,” that is based on his combat experiences and to “honor my friends killed in action. I thank God for keeping me alive.”
“Vietnam veterans have a common greeting for each other,” Ray added, “and that is ‘welcome home’. Whenever I am wearing my Marine Corps cap, I get a lot of "thank you for your service" but that isn't directed towards my Vietnam service. Probably the best ‘thank you’ I received was a year ago at our Marine infantry company reunion in Savannah, Georgia. The governor of Georgia sent some representatives to honor us and thank us for our Vietnam service and gave us lapel pins and certificates.”
Chuck Isaacson’s “thank you” came when he was a volunteer at the VA Hospital in Columbia, Missouri: “I was told daily ‘Thank you for your service’. I never really let it bother me not hearing it all the years after leaving the Army as I was proud to serve at a time that was considered very unfavorable by so many.” Isaacson worked in law enforcement – 32 years with the University of Missouri Police Department - after serving in the Army three years, including Vietnam service in 1968-69.
Chris Britton, who served as a Marine infantry platoon commander in Vietnam, said that when he returned home, he and a fellow Marine caught a cab to the Los Angeles airport. “It was rush hour on a hot, smoggy afternoon. The cab windows were open, and we were in uniform. As we crept along, we were told we ‘sucked’ by several motorists, mooned once and given the finger multiple times. Welcome home, Marines.”
That night, he got as far as Omaha en route to Des Moines and the next morning, still in uniform, he stopped for breakfast at the airport coffee shop. The waitress asked where he was coming from. He told her he was on his way home and she suggested the steak and eggs. "Best thing on the menu," she said.
“I took her advice. Breakfast was excellent. When I picked up the check to pay, it read, ‘On the house. Welcome home.’ It was good to be back in the Middle West.” Britton attended Fort Dodge schools through 10th grade and graduated from Central Webster in Burnside, then earned his law degree at Duke University before his Vietnam service. He is a retired attorney who lives in San Diego. He has published a book about Vietnam called “Paybacks” and has another in the works.
Jim O'Leary, a federal appellate judge for the Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals in Cleveland, Ohio, served with the Fourth Infantry Division in the Central Highlands in 1969-70. When he came home, on Oct. 24, 1970, “the first thing I learned was people did not want to hear about the war. I got a job working nights in a mill. My co-workers were farmers working the same shift to get enough money to keep the farm and also get some health benefits. One of them was a WW II veteran and I worked the table with him. He was an honest to God WW II rifleman who fought his way across Europe and helped end the war. He was 19 at the time. Sometimes I would tell him about my experiences, but not often. He never really said "thanks" but made me realize that in America the war experience is almost universal and he completely understood what I had been through. His understanding was thanks enough.”
Loren Miller, whose Army service in Vietnam in 1967-68 included the Tet Offensive and who was a Bronze Star recipient, said that until the early 1990’s, he never talked with anyone about his Vietnam service “after the way we were treated when we returned. After opening up about it I finally got over it. But it was a good feeling that people really did care, and our sacrifices were not for nothing. I felt that I was fighting for everyone's right to freedom and choices whether I agreed with them or not.”
Miller served in the Army 20 years and retired 100 per cent disabled from Agent Orange-related heart and other problems. The Fort Dodge native, who was CEO of a computer services company in Sioux Falls, S.D., had an unusual venue for hearing his first thank you – the Army induction center in Sioux Falls in 2014 where the station commander swore in Tiffany Hein, granddaughter to Loren and his wife Jean Miller (Canavan), who also was born and raised in Fort Dodge. Tiffany is a twin to Tyler Hein who joined the Guard two years earlier. She is scheduled to deploy to Kuwait in November.
“The station commander congratulated me for my service and that was the first time I remember being thanked for my service,” he said. “That was a great moment, to see our grandchildren following my footsteps.”
Doug Meyer, a Vietnam-era Air Force veteran, does not recall getting a thank you for his service. “I do remember flying back and forth from Castle AFB to Fort Dodge at Christmas time. I would wear my uniform for the flight as that was what we were to do as a member of DOD and it just seemed like people were happy to see a man that was serving our country. They really didn't know what I did but just seeing that Air Force uniform was enough. I did get a little more respect just for having the uniform on.”
Jerry Thoma, who served two tours in Vietnam, including one as a “brown water sailor” on the rivers of Vietnam, kept his experiences to himself when he came home in 1967. His recalls his first thanks for his service coming decades later when he began wearing his Vietnam Veteran cap to Sunday Mass at Corpus Christi Church and would lay it in the pew. “People noticed it and thanked me for serving,” he said.
The Iraqi War helped make people “patriotic again,” and played a role in changed views toward Vietnam veterans’ service. Thoma served with the Webster County sheriff’s office for 27 years, the last 10 as chief deputy, and coordinated a law enforcement class at Iowa Central Community College for six years before retiring in 2009.
Mike Stitt, a family practice physician in Fort Dodge for 43 years before he retired, shared Thoma’s view that patriotism has had a renewal. “A few years back,” he said, ”they started often thanking veterans for their service at various sporting venues. These are generally not specifically aimed at Vietnam veterans.”
Stitt cannot recall any specific thanks for his Army service in Vietnam in 1969-70. He was battalion surgeon for 800 men, working out of the back of an armored personnel carrier, and then worked in the emergency room and later in anesthesia at the 67th Evac hospital in Qhin Hon. There, he said, “We used to go out to a leprosarium run by French nuns and helped care for the people with leprosy. Those nuns thanked us a lot for helping them but not specifically for helping in Vietnam. In his second year of Army service, he worked at Sandia Base Hospital in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Stitt and his wife Carole, a nurse, served as physician and nurse on the first Honor Flight from Fort Dodge.
When the Brushy Creek Area Honor Flights were opened to Vietnam-era veterans last November, 420 applied to go on the trip from Fort Dodge to Washington to view the Vietnam, Korea and World War II memorials in the nation’s capital. Chairman Ron Newsum said that up until then, the flights carried only World War II and Korea veterans.
An Honor Flight in May included 40 Vietnam veterans and a flight scheduled for Sept. 17 will include 90 Vietnam veterans among the 150 veterans and 12 support staff who will fly from Fort Dodge Regional Airport to Washington. It is the first flight in which the majority of veterans aboard will be Vietnam veterans.
David Ray and Jerry Thoma are among those who will make the flight.
Said Ray: “I have visited three of the traveling Vietnam Memorial walls and was able to go to The Real Thing about 20 years ago for about 15 minutes. I have the locations of all of my friends on the wall, which happens to be six, even though the killed in action numbers while I was there in our company is a lot more than six.”
Vietnam War: Rembering the Webster County Men Lost
Terry Griffey may have become a college professor. Tim Green may have incorporated his love of music in the practice of the ministry. Roger Olson may have become an architect and home designer. Pat Trotter may have developed turbo engines. Lee Peters may have become an attorney.
But careers and long lives were not to be for these men — among 15 from Webster County who died in the Vietnam War — as well as a 16th casualty, James S. McGough, who died years after combat from hepatitis contracted from his war wounds. All 16 of their names are etched on the black granite walls of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington and on a plaque at Fort Dodge’s Veterans Memorial Park.
On the eve of Veterans Day 2019, we honor those who died through interviews with their relatives and friends — each asked for a favorite memory, what their loved one may have become in life and how we can best honor those who died. I was unable to locate anyone who knew five of the veterans.
Two of the veterans are memorized at the city’s high schools.
The memory of 1st Lt. Terry Griffey, has been honored annually at St. Edmond High School since 1968 by recognizing a senior boy judged outstanding in athletic, academic, citizenship and leadership with the Terry Griffey Award. Griffey was a 1958 St. Edmond and U.S. Air Force Academy graduate. He died in 1966 — at the age of 25 — when the F-4C Phantom fighter jet he was piloting burst into flames after a bombing run and disintegrated near Qui Nhon in South Vietnam. His body was never recovered.
This past Friday, a plaque was dedicated at Fort Dodge Senior High School in memory of 1st Lt. William L. Peters, a U.S. Marine killed in action on June 21, 1969, when his helicopter crashed during rescue operations in Quang Nam Province. He was awarded the Navy Cross and two Silver Stars for his heroism. The Fort Dodge Veterans Council presented the plaque on behalf of Peters, a 1961 graduate who was co-captain of the Dodger swim team, and it will be displayed in a place of honor at the high school.
How do we best honor those who died — as the years pass and those who knew them best begin to leave our world? These thoughts were shared by Jodi Evans of Fort Dodge and Michelle Schenk of Preston, Idaho, daughters of SPC4 William Pease, who died in Vietnam in 1973 at the age of 22:
“We think the best way to honor veterans is to remember that people need to understand that, whether you support any war or not, these men and women put their lives on the line daily and many, our father included, pay the ultimate sacrifice with their lives. They leave behind families who are left forever with the thought of what if this never happened? How would their lives be now? All of the ‘what ifs?’ We think it’s important to remember their families. They have a lifetime of pain and questions as well.”
Dayle Olson of Merritt Island, Florida, brother of Hospital Corpsman Roger L. Olson, who died in 1968 at the age of 20, had this to say:
“As I get older I realize the results of the Vietnam War mean many different things to people. Putting all of that aside, there were 58,178 people who gave their lives for our freedoms. These are freedoms that have been given to all Americans. I think to honor these people who have their name engraved in that black marble wall is to remember, they each fought and died for a country where we are all created equal. To honor each of these men and women we need to remember they died for this equality — something everyone deserves.”
Rich Lennon of Fort Dodge, a retired Army colonel and Vietnam veteran who earned the Bronze Star, said, “It’s up to us surviving veterans to ensure that our fellow comrades who were