We’ll learn little Rippey’s rich baseball heritage

RIPPEY, Iowa, Sept. 27, 2016 — It’s almost time for the Major League Baseball playoffs, and the Greene County Historical Society is going to help set the mood with a Friday, Oct. 7, program on one of this area’s best baseball stories – the grand heritage of the sport in Rippey. 

Rippey community leader and history-lover Mary Weaver will introduce the 1 p.m. program, which is free and open to the public, in the sanctuary of the Rippey United Methodist Church. And she will draw stories out of two of  the best players ever for the old Rippey High School Bulldogs and the Rippey Merchants town team – Les Zanotti (Class of 1954), now of Omaha, and Dan Peters (’55), now of West Branch, Iowa. 

“Baseball was big in Rippey, real big, back when we were in high school, and for a long time before and after,” said Zanotti. “We were one of the first places in the whole area that had lights on our ball diamond so we could play night games, and we were one of the first to have a grass infield.” 

The ball park was eventually named Walt Anderson Field, honoring a local banker and baseball booster. 

“We had pretty good teams when Dan Peters and I were in high school together,” Zanotti recalled.  “I was the pitcher and Dan was the catcher.  My memory is that we played a spring season, and with all the farm kids on our team, we sometimes had trouble fielding nine players because they were all doing field work at home. 

“The town team would have adult men from around the area, sometimes a college player or two and a couple of the better high school players.  We played a pretty good class of ball.  We had pretty good rivalries with Madrid, Slater, Linden and other towns, and the team often qualified for the state semi-pro tournament that was held late in the summer at the minor league baseball park in Des Moines.”

Early Rippey basesball photo library
An early Rippey “town team,” in this photo from the Rippey Public Library website.

Zanotti won a baseball scholarship and played for the University of Iowa.  He went on to play ball for a U.S. Army team during his two years in the military, and he recalls that there were five players with Major League Baseball experience on that team.  He went on into the sales business, then founded an executive search firm that he operated for 34 years before retiring. 

Dan Peters, whose father Jake Peters was the school principal in Rippey for 40 years, is one of the few – perhaps the only – former Rippey High School player to sign a professional baseball contract.  He was in the Milwaukee Braves organization for a year of minor league ball in Florida, then finished his education at Morningside College in Sioux City.  He became director of medical laboratories at hospitals in Sioux City, Fort Dodge and eventually Iowa City. 

Peters said he looks forward to coming home to Rippey and telling baseball stories.  

“Between Lester and myself, we out to be able to come up with quite a few stories,” he said. “They’ll be homespun, I’ll tell you that.” 

In the period from the late 1940s into the late 1960s, Iowa had three different high school baseball seasons – spring, summer and fall.  Some schools played one of those seasons, some played two or even all three, depending on whether they also offered other sports like football and track. 

The baseball park in Rippey, which then and now had a population of about 300, was so highly regarded that the Iowa High School Athletic Association made it the site of four state championship games.  Those were the summer ball championships of 1953, ’59 and ’60 and the fall ball championship of ’62. Three of those title games were won by powerful teams from Thomas Jefferson High School of Council Bluffs. 

The field eventually became the home of the East Greene Hawks, and after that school consolidated with Jefferson-Scranton to form the Greene County Schools, the diamond is used for sub-varsity games. 

The historical program on Friday, Oct. 7, will follow a “baseball lunch” in the Rippey Methodist Church hall, featuring brats and root beer floats.  That’ll be $8 per person.  Reservations are required for the lunch and can be made by members thru Wednesday, Oct. 5, with the historical society’s community contact persons. Non-members can RSVP for lunch by calling Mary Weaver at (515) 360-8046.

Amazing stories of the early settlers’ lives here

By MARY WEAVER

Mary Weaver ProfileRIPPEY, Iowa, Sept. 13, 2016 – The first white settlers in Greene County, Truman and Mary Davis, arrived about this time 167 years ago – in October of 1849.  Historical documents available at our Greene County Historical Museum in Jefferson say the Davises brought their six children, ranging in age from 2 to 16, and traveled in a prairie schooner pulled by a yoke of oxen.  They brought one cow, a horse, 12 chickens, eight sheep, two pigs and a dog.

They came from Missouri and were eager to settle into the log cabin that Truman and the two older boys, Charles (16) and Lewis (14), built when they visited earlier that summer. They planted a garden then, too.

In the fall, the Davis family stopped in Adel and procured coffee, sugar and salt – the things that wouldn’t be available from the garden, by picking in the wild, or that Truman and the boys couldn’t trap or shoot.

That garden included turnips and potatoes, and I can visualize Mary directing they be dug up right away and stored in a large hole in the side of a hill. The hole was then covered with dirt. Imagine a small side-hill cave for food storage!  Those provides places to store vegetables so they’d be protected from the freezing prairie winters, and cool enough to avoid spoilage in hot weather.

That following spring, in 1850, Mary was home with the children James (3), Catherine (6), John (8), William (10), and Lewis also called Levi (15). She happened to be pregnant with the first white child to be born in Greene County, Mary Ann.

Charles, the oldest son, and Truman were out trapping when about 25 Indian braves raced in on their ponies. They rode single file, but held a tomahawk in one hand and a rifle in the other.  They came in fast, whooping and hollering.

Of course the family was frightened and the document indicates that 10-year-old William grabbed a rifle from above the fireplace, and was prepared to protect his mother and the other children.  Lewis (Levi) cautioned him, saying all the Indians could not be killed before the family was murdered.

Rather, Levi went out and began to try and talk with them.  Despite the language barrier, they somehow agreed to a shooting contest.  Levi rubbed a mark on a tree, and being a good shot, could fire right into the middle of the mark. The Indian braves tried it, but were not as accurate.   The document continues, “It became a game. We eventually gave them some salt, and they went happily on their way.”

Seven years later, there was another Indian scare. Greene County was more populated and the town of New Jefferson had been established.  Word came about the “Spirit Lake Massacre” in northwest Iowa. Some settlers feared the Sioux might come south, and “some of our neighbors went and stayed in town,” the Davises reported.  But no related fighting happened in Greene County.

*

One excellent source for such stories about the settlers’ early life here is a hand-written memoir by Gillum Toliver, who was 14 years old in 1854 when he settled in Greene County with his parents, Isom and Matilda Toliver.  Gillum served in the Union Army in the Civil War and later became an attorney and state legislator.

At some point in his life, he decided to record the stories he knew about the early settlers, and he did that in long-hand writing.

“The Toliver family lived in a large house on Wilson Avenue in the north part of Jefferson,” says Mary Lynch, of Jefferson, a member of the board of directors of the historical society who has read the memoir.  “Years after Gillum Toliver wrote the memoir, it was found in the attic of that home.”

Gillum’s great-grandson John Milligan, who lives in Jefferson today, later had copies of the memoir made and gave one of them to the museum, Lynch said.

“I took time to read the stories, and they’re just wonderful,” she said. “Gillum didn’t just write the story of his own family.  It’s like he wanted to leave an accurate account of the early years here, so he writes about many of the early settlers and what life was like for them. Everybody who’s interested in our local history should eventually take time to read the memoir.”

You can comment on this story in the space below here, or write directly to the columnist by email at mweaver235@gmail.com.

Meet the latest historic plaque nominees

JEFFERSON, Iowa, Sept. 13, 2016 — A second “Historical Plaque Walk” will be held on Sunday, Sept. 18, beginning at 2 p.m. at the Greene County Historical Museum here.  This walk will actually be called the “Historical Plaque Nominee Walk,” because it will feature seven nominees to be honored eventually with bronze plaques on the brick pillars around the downtown square.  Last year’s first walk featured 10 other people or events of note in Greene County history, and their stories are now told in plaques on the pillars.

An opportunity for the second round of nominations was available to the public through the end of June, and seven were received.

Victor Hugo Lovejoy in 1925 family photoCROPPED
Victor Hugo Lovejoy of the Jefferson Bee newspaper

Those being portrayed during the walk Sunday afternoon include Iowa Supreme Court Justice Elma Gates Albert, legendary journalist Victor Hugo Lovejoy, Beta Tau Delta charitable sorority, the entrepreneurial early business Milligan Brothers Lumber Grain & Coal, circus promoter Yankee Robinson, Spring Lake county park, and early educator Azor Mills.

Each nominee will be portrayed by area residents costumed for the part.

The Jefferson Matters: Main Street program received a Greene County Community Foundation grant for $1,600, the cost of one plaque.  So, following the Historical Plaque Nominee Walk, those who’ve heard the stories are invited to return to the Greene County Historical Society for free refreshments and to vote for the nominee that should receive this first plaque.  Another plaque honoring one of the nominees, Milligan Brothers Lumber Grain & Coal, is being financed by John and Kathy Milligan, of Jefferson, descendants of the Milligan brothers.  Plaques for the other new nominees will be made and posted as funding becomes available.

The nominees and actors portraying them on Sunday are as follows:

Victor Hugo Lovejoy – Darren Jackson.

Spring Lake – Jean Van Gilder.

Milligan Brothers Lumber, Grain & Coal – Don Van Gilder.

Justice Elma Gates Albert – Alan Robinson.

Azor Mills – Rob Hoyt.

Yankee Robinson – Andrew McGinn.

Beta Tau Delta sorority – Cassie Dozier and Anita Van Horn.

This event is co-sponsored by Jefferson Matters: Main Street’s promotion committee and the Greene County Historical Society.  It will be a part of “Fall Fest” on the square, with activities throughout the afternoon.

Sheilah Pound presents our music heritage

CHURDAN, Iowa, Sept. 7, 2016 — The Greene County Historical Society will hear stories, reflections and possibly songs from our local music heritage when the group meets this Friday, Sept. 9, at historic St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Cedar Township, about four miles west of here. 

Noted musician Sheilah McGregor Pound, of Jefferson, will present the 1 p.m. program, which is free and open to the public, in the church sanctuary.  It will follow a lunch in the church basement, which is $8 per person.  Reservations are required for lunch and can be made through the historical society’s community contact persons or by calling program chairperson Ces Brunow at (515) 370-5531. 

Sheilah McGregor Pound mugshot Sept 7
Sheilah McGregor Pound

“We’ve always been a very musical and artistic community,” Pound said. “It seems like through the years, we’ve had an influx of very talented people.” 

She began performing early in her life with her sisters and brothers in their “McGregor Family Band,” which her mother Monica McGregor directed and accompanied. “We played all over northwest Iowa,” Sheilah said, “and we also performed in the 4H Building at the Iowa State Fair the day President Gerald Ford visited there.” 

As an adult, she was music director at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Jefferson for 15 years, and she has also been music director for a number of musical productions by the Greene County Community Players theatrical group.  Last winter, she was co-founder and is still director of the new county chorus, called the “Greene County Singers.” 

Pound is on the staff of the Greene County Chamber of Commerce.  In addition, she has also recently opened a new business, “Interpretations Music Studio,” where she’ll teach vocal and piano lessons, on the second story of the building at 101 N. Chestnut Street in Jefferson, the same building that is home to All Ability Cycles. 

In her program Friday, Pound plans to review the contributions of many notable musicians and teachers who’ve been part of the music scene in Greene County – Bill & Doris McGregor, Carson Griffith, Chuck Radke, Richard Carey, the Oatts family, Tanner Taylor and many others. 

Might she sing some of the story, including some of the songs that would have been favorites of Greene Countians through the decades? 

“Well, I’m open to that,” Pound said. “I’ll see what I can come up with by Friday.” 

Notable for people considering attending the historical society gathering on Friday, historic St. Patrick’s Church now has a “lift” that will make it much easier for people with physical challenges to deal with the stairs in the building.

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