Pat Schiltz’ personal experience with the dreaded polio

JEFFERSON, Iowa, May 31, 2017 — Pat Schiltz says if you weren’t yet alive in the 1950s, you probably have difficulty comprehending just how frightening and widespread an epidemic of the disease polio was back then when it swept the world.  She was little Pat Beck then, 4 years old in 1955, when she began living the story right here in Greene County.

Almost everybody knew somebody who contracted polio, a virus which attacked the brain and spinal cord, especially in children.  It commonly caused paralysis, great pain and in many cases death.  At its peak, 500,000 people worldwide had the disease. One year, there were 58,000 cases in the U.S.

Government and philanthropists quick-launched massive research projects to develop a polio vaccine.  In 1956 and ’57, nearly every school child in America and some adults were vaccinated.  It seems miraculous now, looking back, to realize the disease was virtually eradicated, even more quickly than it had become an epidemic.

Pat Schiltz

“I remember all the kids in the county went to the courthouse for the vaccinations,” said Schiltz, who lives in Jefferson. “They had doctors and nurses working there, and the pink vaccine was in sugar cubes that they gave each of us.  Some other places had actual shots, but here we had the sugar cubes, and the serum had already been injected into them.”

Pat Beck Schiltz was cured of the actual disease, but has battled and occasionally suffered the rest of her life with “post-polio syndrome,” which challenges her energy level, sometimes leaves muscles aching and has compromised her immune system.

She’ll tell her personal story of a lifetime with polio in a program for the Greene County Historical Society on Friday, June 2, at Central Christian Church in Jefferson.

There will be lunch at 12 noon, $8 for historical society members, who should RSVP to their community contacts by Wednesday, May 31.  Lunch for non-members is available, too, but for $10, and they can RSVP by calling vice-president Nancy Hanaman at (515) 436-7684. The program at 1 p.m. at the church is free.

Schiltz said from the ages of 4 to 6, she received regular treatment for polio at the University of Iowa Hospital & Clinics in Iowa City.  “I’d be in the hospital for about a week, then have a few days off, be back in the hospital for another stay,” she said. “My grandparents (Bill and Doris Pasler) lived in Belle Plaine then, which was a lot closer to Iowa City than Jefferson, so I stayed with them for a lot of that time.”

From 6 to 8 years old, she had to make twice-a-year trips to Iowa City for check-ups.

“I learned over time that polio had affected mostly the left side of my body,” Schiltz said. “So when I’d get tired, I’d get this dull ache that would become really intense in my left leg.  That has continued, even as I got older.  The doctors and nurses gave me ideas for trying to get through it – like rubbing alcohol on my leg, or using heat or ice. It’s always been ‘whatever you can do to be more comfortable.’ ”

Through her adult life, she’s emphasized fitness to help cope with “nerve-ending pain and muscle pain.” For years, “I’d walk three miles a day, but as I’ve aged, I just can’t do that anymore.  I’m lucky now to walk half way around the block.  And I really have no immune system now, so I have to be very careful about being exposed to other people when they’re sick.”

She said that in the 1950s, “people were just a little bit hesitant to be around you if you had polio, because they weren’t sure whether you’d be contagious or not. They were leary about it.”

Today, “people know I’m not well, and they wonder what I’ve gone through but are hesitant to ask.  That’s one reason I look forward to telling the story at the historical program, and let people ask questions.  Some of it has been really hard, but I don’t dwell on the bad part because, overall, I’ve been fortunate.”

She and her husband Gary Schiltz have grown children Sean Schiltz and Jennifer Schiltz, both living in Jefferson, and grandchildren Sydney and Sawyer Schiltz.

Memorial Day weekend gathering at Pleasant Hill

JEFFERSON, Iowa, May 20, 2017 — The Greene County Historical Society is partnering with Pleasant Hill Memorial Inc. to present the annual Memorial Day weekend service and gathering at the pioneer church and cemetery located five miles southeast of Jefferson.  And this year there’ll be an art festival, too. 

It is set for Sunday, May 28, with activities starting at 9:30 a.m. and the actual service in the church at 11 a.m. 

Pleasant Hill Church has roots from 1873 when Methodist classes were started.  The church structure was started in 1881, and it has been kept in more-or-less good repair ever since, even though there hasn’t been an active congregation using the church for decades.  The neighbors formed a non-profit organization to sustain it. 

For 60 or 70 years, a service on Memorial Day weekend has been held. 

The 21-gun salute at Pleasant Hill Church in 2015.

There are prayers, reflections, hymn singing and, for at least 50 years, Greene County native Wallace Teagarden, now 94, has stood to recite the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution and the Gettysburg Address.  He does that from memory, without notes, and he continues to do those with eloquence and passion rarely heard in public anymore.

The service will also feature the choir of the First United Methodist Church in Jefferson.

Wallace Teagarden and Gina Harrington lead into his patriotic oration in 2015 at Pleasant Hill Church.

This year’s gathering will also showcase “En Plein Air” painting, featuring noted Iowa artist Zack Jones, of Malvern in southwest Iowa, who has painted Pleasant Hill Church before. And Jones invites artists and photographers from around the area to join him. The more the merrier, he said.

On Saturday, May 27, Jones will set-up his easel and began sketches and preliminary painting on between 2 and 5 p.m., and people are invited to come watch and visit with him as he works. 

On Sunday, Jones and other artists & photographers will start at 9:30 a.m., with coffee, juice and Marianne Carlsons Iowa State Fair champion homemade cinnamon rolls available. There will also be patriotic songs and hymns played by a brass ensemble including Mark Rasmussen, Wayne Lautner, Snowy Chargo, Wes Anderson, and Peg Semke. 

Artist Zack Jones, of Malvern in southwest Iowa, as he was working on a huge mural on a building in downtown Oakland, Iowa.

After the 11 a.m. service, people will be invited to move to the church yard for a 21-gun memorial salute by the American Legion Color Guard from the post in Rippey, and Taps by Lautner. 

The artists & photographers can then continue their work, and people are invited to bring picnic lunches to Pleasant Hill for after-service dining. Informal hymn singing will be held around a keyboard with Rita Rasmussen playing.

There’ll be opportunities for free will offerings to support the maintenance of the church and grounds.

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    There have been three courthouses built where the Greene County Courthouse stands today.  Ground was broken on the current courthouse in November of 1915, the cornerstone was set in May 1916 and the new building was dedicated in October of 1917. The centennial celebration of the courthouse is already underway, with events being planned by the “Courthouse 100” committee, with support from the Greene County Historical Society.  You can learn more about the courthouse history and the celebration plans on the Facebook page “Courthouse 100: Greene County, Iowa.”

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