A second “museum party” this Saturday welcomes another Lincoln Highway tour recalling 1919 convoy

JEFFERSON, Iowa, Sept. 3, 1010 — The Greene County Historical Society is hosting another “museum party” this Saturday, Sept. 7, to help welcome another group coming through Greene County as part of a motor tour across the nation on the historic Lincoln Highway.

The historical museum at 219 E. Lincoln Way will be open for its normal Saturday business hours from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. But it will remain open until 4 p.m. for the special “museum party” through the afternoon. Admission to the museum and refreshments are free, and local people are encouraged to come greet the travelers.

One of the cars expected to be in Jefferson Saturday is this classic 1956 Packard. (Lincoln Highway Association photo)

Two weeks ago, on Aug. 24, a tour of more than 50 restored military vehicles made a stop in Jefferson while on their drive across the nation. That tour was sponsored and organized by the Military Vehicle Preservation Association.

The one that will be here this Saturday is organized by the Lincoln Highway Association, and it is expected to bring more custom and antique cars.

Both tours are saluting a 1919 U.S. military convoy, which was led then by a young Lt. Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who later became president of the U.S. The troops were exploring how effective the Transcontinental Highway, as it was becoming known, would be for moving soldiers and equipment. That experience is said to have shaped Eisenhower’s thinking three decades later in directing the construction of the interstate highway system.

The people on this latest Lincoln Highway Association-organized tour left the Washington, D.C., area on Aug. 30. They’re traveling up to 200 miles per day en route to a Sept. 16 finish in San Francisco. Their total route of just more than 3,000 miles generally follows the historic Lincoln Highway.

They will be crossing Greene County this Saturday, arriving in Jefferson at about 1 p.m. for a stop of up to an hour. They’ll be parking near the museum. The entourage will be moving between overnight stays in Marshalltown on Friday and Council Bluffs later Saturday.

At the museum, Janice Harbaugh, of Raspberry Ridge Publishing here in Jefferson, will be displaying and selling her line of historical re-publications, which include vintage postcards and other early books that portray the settlement and development of this area. The Greene County postcards have been especially popular with visitors here. Refreshments are being donated by historical society members.

Historical society hosting “museum party” Saturday Aug. 24 for re-enactment of 1919 military convoy

JEFFERSON, Iowa, Aug. 19, 2019 — The Greene County Historical Society is hosting a “museum party” this Saturday, Aug. 24, to help welcome those coming to Jefferson on the re-enactment of the trans-USA 1919 military vehicle convoy.

The historical museum at 219 E. Lincoln Way will be open for its normal Saturday business hours from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Then it will be re-opened from1 to 4 p.m. for the special “museum party.”

More than 50 restored military vehicles are now on their way across the nation on the Lincoln Highway. They are re-enacting a 1919 military convoy, which was led then by a young Lt. Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who later became president of the U.S. The troops were explaining how effective the Transcontinental Highway, as it was becoming known, would be for moving soldiers and equipment. That experience is said to have shaped Eisenhower’s thinking three decades later in directing the construction of the interstate highway system.

Part of the convoy of restored military vehicles now on the way across America. (Photo by Military Vehicle Preservation Association)

The convoy of re-enactors in their restored vehicles left York, Penn., on Aug. 10 and is traveling about 150 miles per day en route to a Sept. 14 finish in San Francisco.

These vehicles will be crossing Greene County this coming Saturday, Aug. 24, arriving in Jefferson at about 3 or 3:30 p.m. for a stop of up to an hour. The public is encouraged to turn-out and cheer on the convoy participants, who’ll be parking around the courthouse square in Jefferson.

At the museum, Janice Harbaugh, of Raspberry Ridge Publishing here in Jefferson, will be displaying and selling her line of historical re-publications, which include vintage postcards and other early books that portray the settlement and development of this area. The Greene County postcards have been especially popular with visitors here.

There will also be free refreshments during the afternoon at the museum.

“The idea for the museum party is to give people a place to gather as we get ready to welcome those coming in on the convoy,” said Margaret Hamilton, a board member and program director for the historical society. “We’ll welcome the re-enactors to stop-in at the museum, too, after they get parked around the courthouse square.”

The military vehicles convoy will then go on to Denison for an overnight stay Saturday.

A second convoy across the U.S. on the Lincoln Highway is expected to arrive in Greene County on Sept. 7. It will feature antique and customized civilian vehicles.

Grand Junction hosting two of our programs: Friday Aug. 2 on county’s movie theatres, Sunday Aug. 4 on GJ’s 150 years

GRAND JUNCTION, Iowa, July 29, 2019 — There’s a Friday-Sunday doubleheader of local history programs coming this weekend, both in Grand Junction, as that town celebrates its sesquicentennial.

On Friday, Aug. 2, Mike and Dianne Piepel, of Jefferson, are presenting the “Theaters in Greene County,” with a 12 noon lunch for those who RSVP and pay, and the free program at 12:45 p.m., both in the Grand Junction Community Center. This will be the historical society’s normal monthly meeting.

On Sunday, Aug. 4, Alan Robinson, of Grand Junction, will present “Grand Junction: 150 Years of Transportation and Transitions” at 1 p.m. at the community center. This free program is co-sponsored by the historical society and the Grand Junction Sesquicentennial Committee.

Mike and Dianne Piepel, 1970 classmates at Jefferson High School and then at Mankato State University in Minnesota before they married, have been movie fans since childhood, probably Mike more than Dianne.
“As a boy, going into the Iowa Theatre – which is now the Sierra – for their weekend matinees, I just fell in love with films,” Mike said. “At Mankato State, we had a new student center, and I got involved with the committee that booked the movies, dances, concerts and all that, and I always enjoyed working on the movies the most.”

Mike Piepel in 2014 when he presented a Greene County Historical Society program on the impact of movies on life here. In his new program, researched by his wife Dianne Piepel, Mike will be talking about all the movie theatres that have operated in the county.

That interest continued as the Piepels moved on for graduate school and teaching at the University of Southern Colorado and at South Dakota State University. After 15 years away, the couple returned to Jefferson when Mike landed a job at American Athletic Inc. He also taught social studies at Des Moines Area Community College, was elected Greene County auditor for 12 years in the late 1980s and ’90s, and finished his career in rural route delivery for the U.S. Postal Service, where he recently retired. Dianne served as middle school librarian for 23 years, and that helped develop and sharpen her skills as a researcher.

Mike said the research into all the movie houses that have operated in Greene County taxed both his knowledge of movies and Diane’s research abilities. “We’ve spent six months digging into this since Roger Aegerter (executive director of the historical society) asked us if we’d be interested in doing this,” Mike said. “Dianne got into the archives of the newspapers in Jefferson, Grand Junction, Paton, Scranton, Rippey and Churdan.”

They found that all but the tiniest of our towns had at least one, and some towns have had several through their history. “Jefferson had three or four movie theatres operating at the same time, and Churdan once had two going at the same time,” Mike said. “And in some of the smallest towns, we found mentions of how the local people were going to show movies on the sides of business buildings, with people sitting outdoors on benches or blankets.”

The Eagle Theatre that served Grand Junction in about 1914.

Many of those theatres were built as opera houses, and the films came to them later. The crown jewel of all those entertainment houses is today’s community-owned Sierra in Jefferson, which opened in 1884 as the Head Opera House. It has operated continuously for public entertainment for 135 years. Mike Piepel serves on the board of directors of the Sierra.

Preceding Friday’s program on the theatres, there will be a lunch by the Horizons organization in the community center at 12 noon, $8 for historical society members and $10 for others who are not members but would like to eat with the group. Historical society members should RSVP about lunch to their community contacts by Wednesday noon, July 31, and others who want to have lunch should RSVP to board member Margaret Hamilton at (515) 386-4408.

The Lincoln Theatre in Jefferson.

In Sunday afternoon’s program, Alan Robinson will present some amazing stories about his hometown of Grand Junction’s history with transportation and the impact that has had on the town’s growth, decline and re-development over its 150 years.

Robinson, a 1973 graduate of East Greene High School in Grand Junction, went on to study journalism at Drake University, then eventually earned his degree at New York University. He worked as a reporter and editor for newspapers and magazines in Wapello, Sheldon and Storm Lake in Iowa; in North Myrtle Beach and Pawleys Island, South Carolina, and for 20 years in New York City. He also had two hitches in public relations at colleges along his way.

He moved back home to Grand Junction in 2011 and has been very active in Greene County organizations since then, including serving now on the Grand Junction city council. He works now as a guest services rep (“fancy words for front desk clerk,” he said) at the Cobblestone Hotel & Suites in Jefferson.

Development came fast in Grand Junction after the east-west railroad mainline came through Greene County in 1866. Within a couple years, it was determined that a north-south rail line, from Missouri through Des Moines and on to Minnesota, would be built through what is now Grand Junction.

“Once the rail reached from Des Moines to the intersection with the Chicago & North Western, things moved fast for Grand Junction,” Robinson said. “It was a boom town. Over 60 buildings were constructed in just four months in late 1869. The town went from population 0 to 444 in Year 1, and doubled again in just a few more years.”

Ever since, Grand Junction has been dealing with changes in transportation and economic diversification. The population once hit 1,100, but by 2017 dropped to 784. The town remains a major rail center, now is positioned on the front edge of agricultural evolution, too – with the French-owned Louis Dreyfus ethanol plant on the north and electricity-producing wind turbines south of town.

Grand Junction’s story is a fascinating one, and Robinson probably knows it better than any current citizens.

Alan Robinson of Grand Junction.

History comes alive at the Greene County Fair, Friday & Saturday July 12-13

JEFFERSON, Iowa, July 9, 2019 — The Greene County Historical Society will take part in the Greene County Fair later this week with its popular “history chats” for a fifth straight year, displays of early farm life and classic ag equipment, tours and explanations of a historic one-room schoolhouse, and a free ice cream social each afternoon.

The society’s exhibits building on the fairgrounds will be open Friday and Saturday, July 12 and 13, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The displays in that building – and the antique equipment around it — showcase the agriculture of Greene County in the early to mid 1900s

“How long since you strolled through our exhibits building to look at historical Greene County farming?” said Roger Aegerter, executive director of the historical society. “Have you ever been there to see the hand tools, tractors, and local farm inventions? This building was put up in 1975 and houses many of the historical society’s large agriculture artifacts. The walls of the building underwent a renovation about 10 years ago and the walls were lined with authentic barn boards with cattle and horse stalls. This might be, should be the year you discover Greene County’s agricultural past.”

In addition, the “Bristol No. 7” country schoolhouse next door on the fairgrounds will be staffed Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to5 p.m. by Becki Cunningham, who will explain what rural education was once like in the county. Cunningham, a member of the historical society board from Paton, attended a country school in her student years.

The schoolhouse was built in 1874, restored by the historical society in 1967 and repaired again in the last three years by the organization. It is also known as the “Minnihan Schoolhouse,” after the family that owned surrounding land and donated the building for re-location to the fairgrounds.

In special programming inside the historical building, the historical society will sponsor “History Chats” for a fifth consecutive year. There will be six different chats on topics of local history, with moderators Chuck Offenburger of Cooper and Jerry Roberts of Jefferson, both retired journalists, asking questions of a small panel of people with expertise on each topic. Questions and stories from the audience will be encouraged, too.

Doing a “History Chat” with KGRA radio sports director Doug Rieder at the 2017 Greene County Fair.

“For each of these history chats, we hope people with some knowledge and stories about the topic will attend for these discussions, which will be more like conversations than interviews,” said Offenburger. “We’ll sit in a circle of chairs, Jerry and I will get the chat started, and we’ll do our best to draw stories out of the people there. One reason we like to do this is because we usually hear about historical moments or incidents we’ve never known before – and that sometimes leads us to full-blown programs later on for the historical society.”

Here are the days, times and topics for the history chats:

Friday, July 12

11 a.m. — Auction Barns of Greene County.
1 p.m. — Doug Rieder & Greene County Sports History.
3 p.m. — When Rock ‘n’ Roll Arrived in Greene County.

Saturday, July 13

11 a.m. — The Ku Klux Klan in Greene County.
1 p.m. — The 50-Year News Careers of Jerry Roberts & Chuck Offenburger (including the times they got fired), interviewed by Jefferson native Jack Lashier.
3 p.m. — The Future of Greene County.

If you want to be on one of the panels, email robertsradioguy@netins.net or chuck@Offenburger.com.

And both days at 2 p.m. in our historical building, there’ll be free servings of “Hanaman’s Historic Homemade Ice Cream,” made by historical society board members Dale and Nancy Hanaman, of Rippey. Cookies, too.

Because of the activities at the fairgrounds on Saturday, July 13, the historical society’s museum in the business district will not be open that day.

Stories of the Mason House from the Fosters when our society meets Friday June 7

Nick and Annette Foster, owners for about a year now of the Mason House hotel in Jefferson, will share fascinating stories they’ve learned about their 130-year-old guest house when the Greene County Historical Society meets on Friday, June 7, at the First United Methodist Church in Jefferson.

Located at 502 E. Lincoln Way, the hotel opened in 1889 primarily to serve passengers on the north-south railroad coming through Jefferson.

The Mason House located on E. Lincoln Way in Jefferson.

Today, it’s still serving a lot of visitors — those who are arriving on bicycles on the Raccoon River Valley Trail, which now occupies the former railroad route, and others who are driving to the community.

The Fosters, who live in Jefferson and farm just outside town, bought the hotel from previous owners Dr. Jim and Nancy Teusch, also of Jefferson. The Teusches had called the hotel, which they renovated a decade ago, the Old Lincolnway Hotel, but the Fosters decided to restore usage of its original name, the Mason House hotel.

The Fosters are well-known among history buffs in the area, as they also host the annual Old-Fashioned Threshing Bee at their farm on a weekend in late July. And Nick Foster is on the board of directors of the historical society. Annette Foster and their daughter Nicole Timmons, both former public school teachers, are now co-directors of Natural Wonders Learning Center for early childhood education in Jefferson.

For the historical society event on June 7, there will be a lunch in the church hall at 12 noon, $8 for historical society members and $10 for others who are not members but would like to eat with the group. Historical society members should RSVP about lunch to their community contacts right away, and others who want to have lunch should RSVP to board member Margaret Hamilton at (515) 386-4408.

The program at 1 p.m. is free and open to the public.

This door opens to a whole lot of interesting history at the Mason House in Jefferson.

Our historical society hosts “Iowa History 101” during Bell Tower Festival, plus the art show & spelling bee

JEFFERSON, Iowa, June 1, 2019 — The Greene County Historical Society is participating in the 40th Bell Tower Festival in Jefferson June 7-9 in three ways – hosting a special traveling display on state history on E. Lincoln Way adjacent to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Gardens, hosting the Bell Tower art show at the historical museum, and sponsoring the festival’s spelling bee at the Greene County Community Center.

–The traveling display of state history is aboard a “Iowa History 101” mobile resource — a very big bus that the State Historical Society of Iowa now has visiting all 99 counties. It will be at the Bell Tower Festival on Saturday, June 8, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission to it is free.

“This exhibition shares some of the essential stories that every Iowan should know about who we are and what we’ve achieved since Iowa became a state more than 170 years ago,” State Historical Society of Iowa administrator Susan Kloewer said. “So we’re delighted to bring this traveling exhibition, and we encourage all Iowans to learn about our state’s rich heritage.”

The “Iowa History 101” bus that will be in Jefferson on Saturday of the Bell Tower Festival.

Like a visit to your grandparents’ attic, the exhibition unpacks stories of Iowa’s past with nearly 50 artifacts, including:

• A battered hat from a coal miner in Marion County.
• A 1917 prototype of the state flag designed by Dixie Cornell Gebhardt of Knoxville.
• The pen Gov. William Harding used to sign the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote.
• A basketball jersey that superstar Lynne Lorenzen wore during her glory days at Ventura High School from the mid to late 1980s.
• An Olympic medal from sprinter Natasha Kaiser-Brown of Des Moines.
• A patch from a spacesuit worn by astronaut Peggy Whitson of Beaconsfield.

As a bonus, native Iowan Mike Wolfe, the creator and star of the hit television series “American Pickers,” lent his voice and video talents to the exhibition’s multimedia elements.

The Bell Tower art show at the historical museum will showcase the work of local artists and pieces from the collections of local art lovers. There are no entrance fees, and the art is neither juried nor judged. “This is a show to showcase our local talents and also for people to share artwork that means something to them,” said Roger Aegerter, the chairperson of the show and the executive director of the historical society. Hours of the show at the museum will be Friday, June 7, from5to 8 p.m.; Saturday, June 8, from10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday, June 9, from 1 to 4 p.m. Admission is free and people are welcome to browse the museum exhibits, too.

The traditional spelling bee will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 8, at the community center. There will be competition for four different age groups – adults included – and there is no entry fee.

Another inspiring service Memorial Day weekend at Pleasant Hill Church

JEFFERSON, Iowa, May 27, 2019 — On a perfect late-spring morning Sunday, May 26, the Pleasant Hill Memorial Homecoming service & potluck dinner was held in the pioneer Greene County community of Pleasant Hill, five miles southeast of Jefferson.

The highlight, just as it’s been every year since 1960, was area native Wallace Teagarden, now 96, doing a stirring patriotic oration — without notes — on foundational American documents.

Featured speakers were Jefferson-Scranton 2009 classmates Melissa Bosshart Frederick and Rep. Phil Thompson, both of whom have deep family roots at Pleasant Hill.

The event at the 138-year-old former church is sponsored by Pleasant Hill Memorial Inc. and the Greene County Iowa Historical Society.

You can learn more in the captions to the photos.

Wallace Teagarden, 96, a 1941 graduate of Grand Junction High, a retired attorney & insurance claims adjustor who has lived for years in Ames, does the patriotic oration he’s been doing since junior high school, reciting excerpts of several important American documents and then the full Gettysburg Address. Teagarden has done this at the Pleasant Hill Memorial Homecomings every year since 1960, and does from memory. His oration this year was flawless, and inspiring as ever.

Featured speakers at old Pleasant Hill Church were Iowa Rep. Phil Thompson and Melissa Bosshart Frederick, both of whose families have deep ties to the church and pioneer community — and they are classmates from the Jefferson-Scranton High School Class of 2009. Both are rising young leaders in our area.
Peg Semke, the president of Pleasant Hill Memorial Inc., the non-profit which has overseen the renovation of the 138-year-old Pleasant Hill Church is shown here during this year’s traditional Memorial Homecoming service.
Central Christian Church, from Jefferson, had an early service of its own at Pleasant Hill Church on Sunday morning, May 26, and they brought along their brass ensemble that also played outdoors between the Central Christian service and the Memorial Homecoming service.
Taps after the 21-gun salute by the American Legion honor guard from Rippey and trumpeter Sam Bassett.
Melissa Frederick recalling how her parents were married at Pleasant Hill Church — and so was she.
Rep. Phil Thompson, a military veteran and now an Iowa legislator, said many of his deepest feelings about public service took root when he was attending Pleasant HIll Memorial Homecoming services as a boy.
Wallace Teagarden doing his oration. At the right is his cousin Jerry Evilsizer, of Fairmont, MN, who was visiting and helped chauffeur Wallace.
During the early Central Christian Church service at beautiful & historic Pleasant Hill Church.
Roger Aegerter, executive director of the Greene County Iowa Historical Society, prepares the sales table for prints of the 2017 oil painting of Pleasant Hill Church by noted Iowa artist Zack Jones. The historical society continues to sell the excellent canvas prints for $50 in a fundraiser.

Pleasant Hill Church, with new life & spirit, is ready for May 26 Homecoming

By CHUCK OFFENBURGER

The annual Pleasant Hill Memorial Homecoming service & potluck dinner will be held on Sunday, May 26, at the 138-year-old pioneer church located about five miles southeast of Jefferson.

The event is presented by the Pleasant Hill Memorial Inc. committee, with support from the Greene County Iowa Historical Society.

Pleasant Hill Church has roots from 1873 when Methodist classes were started to serve the pioneers settling in the area. 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 memorial salute during the 2018 Pleasant Hill Memorial Homecoming service.

Peg Semke, president of the Pleasant Hill Memorial board, notes the old church is in a renaissance.

“We’re really grateful for all that’s happened the last two years,” Semke said. “Due to personal donations of time, money, labor and supplies, and a Louis Dreyfus Company grant from the Greene County Board of Supervisors, the interior has been patched and repainted, the windows have been replaced and some refurbished, the basement walls have been repaired, and the original wood floor is very near completion of rehab.”

She said that “going hand in hand with this, we have had increased usage of the church building with weekly Sunday evening services last summer,” led by Central Christian Church from Jefferson. There have also been two Easter sunrise services, Christmas caroling, and a funeral.

“Pleasant Hill Memorial is very grateful to be existing not only as a memorial, but to once again becoming a living part of the community,” Semke said.

Activities at this year’s Homecoming next Sunday will begin at 9:30 a.m. with a revival-like service presented by Central Christian Church, and the public is welcome.

At 10 a.m, there will be coffee, juice and Marianne Carlson’s Iowa State Fair champion cinnamon rolls served in the church yard, with music by the Central Christian brass ensemble.

At 11 a.m., the official Homecoming service will be held back in the church with congregational hymn singing; a special musical salute to veteran and service members led by Mark and Rita Rasmussen; an invocation and benediction by Rev. Dale Hanaman of the historical society, and brief messages from three guest speakers:

Melissa Frederick

–Melissa Bosshart Frederick, 28, who now lives near the southern border of Greene County, grew up a mile north of Pleasant Hill, graduated from Jefferson-Scranton High School in 2009 and the University of Iowa in 2013. She was a candidate for Greene County supervisor last fall. Melissa and her husband Bill Frederick are raising baby daughter Leah on their farm in southern Greenbrier Township. She continues her strong personal ties to Pleasant Hill Church. “My mom and dad got married there, we’ve always been good friends with the Semkes and they got married there, the funeral luncheon for my great-grandpa was in the church, and my husband Bill and I got married there,” she said. “It’s always been a special place in my life.”

Rep. Phil Thompson

–Rep. Phil Thompson, of Jefferson, also 28 and a Jefferson-Scranton High School classmate of Melissa Frederick, was in the Army for eight years, deployed to Iraq, attended West Point for two years, and got out as a staff sergeant. He now represents his home area in the Iowa House of Representatives. “Pleasant Hill has always been a special church for my family,” Thompson said. “We attended the Pleasant Hill Memorial service and potluck every year. As a boy, the service stood out as one of my earliest, most vivid memories. I look back on those services and remember feeling so inspired by the church choir filling up the room and the 21-gun salute. It was probably the first community tradition that I fully understood and had deep reverence for. It helped shape my character and desire to serve.”

Wallace Teagarden

–And Wallace Teagarden, 96, a native of the Pleasant Hill area who now lives in Ames, says he intends to be back for his traditional patriotic oration. “I’m really blessed in my health, I feel good and I plan to be there as usual,” Teagarden said, then adding his annual caveat: “But at my age, you never know.” He learned his stirring address as a junior high student in Grand Junction, and has been doing it from memory ever since – including at every Pleasant Hill Homecoming since 1960. How does he do it? “Well, I practice it when Memorial Day is coming around,” he said. “And I do my voice exercises every day all year. When you get older and are living alone, your voice can get weak. So twice a day, I count to 100 in a good loud voice. I’ve probably done that for 50 years or longer. If I don’t exercise it daily, I find it gets kind of screechy and scratchy.”

At 12 noon Sunday, after the service, there will be a 21-gun salute outdoors by the Kinkead Martin American Legion Post of Rippey and “Taps” by Sam Bassett on trumpet.

Then there will be the traditional Pleasant Hill Homecoming chicken potluck dinner. The chicken will be provided, but all are asked to bring a favorite side dish and their tableware.
A freewill offering will be accepted to help with the costs of the celebration and the ongoing work on the church facilities.

Also, high-quality prints of an oil painting of Pleasant Hill Church, done during the Memorial Homecoming celebration in 2017 by noted Iowa artist Zack Jones, will be sold for $50 in a fundraiser for the historical society.

Following the dinner, the board members of Pleasant Hill Memorial Inc. will have their annual meeting in the church.

Marianne Carlson will have her Iowa State Fair champion cinnamon rolls available between the services at Pleasant Hill Church, just as she did in this photo from a year ago.

The fried chicken potluck dinner is a grand tradition at Pleasant Hill Church on Memorial Day weekend.  Here, Nancy and Dale Hanaman, of rural Rippey, were enjoying the dinner at the 2018 Homecoming.

Roger Aegerter, the executive director of the Greene County Iowa Historical Society, had the prints of artist Zack Jones’ oil painting of Pleasant Hill Church available at last year’s Homecoming, and he’ll offer them again at this weekend’s event.

The author Chuck Offenburger, of rural Cooper, is a member of the board of directors of the historical society. You can reach him by email at chuck@Offenburger.com.

Churdan High ’49 graduate “Gus” Gustafson’s business career was the talk of the Twin Cities and Las Vegas – while it lasted

CHURDAN, Iowa, April 29, 2019 — Deil O. (“Gus”) Gustafson, who graduated from old Churdan High School in 1949, may have been one of the biggest business success stories ever to come out of Greene County. In the 1960s, he was a lawyer, college professor, and the owner of banks and other businesses in Minnesota. In the 1970s, he was owner-operator of the famous or infamous Tropicana casino & resort in Las Vegas. In the 1980s, it all unraveled and collapsed around him, and he served three-plus years in prison. In 1999 back in Minnesota, he died of a massive heart attack at the age of 67.

This Friday, May 3, the Greene County Historical Society will remember and explore Gustafson’s story in a meeting and program at the Public Library in his old hometown of Churdan.

Paul White, of Churdan, a member of the historical society board of directors, was a half-dozen years behind Gustafson in school and has always been fascinated by his life. The past year, he’s been compiling information about the man, contacting Gustafson’s high school classmates for their help, and working with another historical board member Chuck Offenburger, of Cooper, a retired journalist.

Gustafson was riding high when he was featured in this 1974 story that ran in newspapers in Lohrville and Bayard in west central Iowa. The local papers were following-up a front-page profile story on Gustafson that the Wall Street Journal had recently published.

Their research has included a long telephone interview with Gustafson’s daughter Kristina Gustafson, about 55, who is an equestrian, a ranch owner and a realtor in Florida.

“My dad was a true entrepreneur,” Kristina said. “He had hotels, banks, farms, housing, casinos, you name it. He was working on projects like desalination of water, to make it potable, and also on building electric-powered cars, way back in the 1960s and ’70s. He was always a man ahead of his times, usually at least 10 years ahead. And he was great at taking over white elephants and figuring out a way to turn them around and make money on them. Yes, he became famous, but it was never about the fame for him. He just loved to deal.”

Kristina Gustafson in a Facebook photo.

Did he talk much in later life about his high school years in Churdan?

“He was always bringing it up,” Kristina said.

Gus Gustafson was a major newsmaker during his career, both in the Twin Cities and in Las Vegas. By 1974, he was profiled on page one of the Wall Street Journal, and most other prominent business publications also featured him. One of them nicknamed him “The Grand Acquisitor.” At one point, the value of his various holdings were estimated at $200 million, and his personal net worth was said to be more than $20 million – and that was more than a fortune back then in the ’70s.

Eventually, he was overextended financially, had to take on partners, and that opened the door to his empire being infiltrated by “the Kansas City mob,” as newspaper stories back then referred to it. Gustafson served 40 months in prison, and he also became a witness for additional federal prosecution of Kansas City crime figures.

In an exchange with Offenburger, longtime Las Vegas newspaper columnist John L. Smith recalled the Gustafson era at the Tropicana and said, “I was frankly a little surprised he wasn’t murdered by some of his business associates.”

Gustafson wound up back in Minnesota, overseeing a farming operation in the Cannon Falls area.

Gustafson, as a graduating senior, in the 1949 Churdan High School yearbook.

On Friday, White and Offenburger will moderate a panel discussion that will include Gustafson’s high school classmates Rosemary Fay Cassell, of Churdan, and Doug Tucker, of Jefferson. Added to the panel, for his special knowledge of Churdan community history in the 1940s and ’50s, is Cecil “Cy” Hoyle, who graduated from Churdan High in 1946.

Audience members will also asked to share stories and memories of Gus Gustafson and his family, who lived in Churdan from about 1946 to the early 1950s. His father Otto Gustafson was co-partner in a John Deere farm implement business in the community, his mother Britta was active in Churdan church and social life. They had a daughter Jeanette Gustafson, four years older than Gus.

Note that Gustafson’s real first name was “Deil.” In his high school yearbook photos, you’ll see it spelled “Dale.” He dealt with a lifetime of confusion about that, tracing to when his name was recorded at birth. His Swedish-born mother told the nurses she was naming her new boy “Dale,” but with her accent, the nurses somehow heard “Deil” and that’s what was recorded. Most people, throughout his life, just called him “Gus.”

On Friday, there will be a catered lunch in the library’s community room at 12 noon, $8 for historical society members and $10 for others who are not members but would like to eat with us. Historical society members should RSVP about lunch to their community contacts by Tuesday evening, April 30, and others who want to have lunch should RSVP to board member Margaret Hamilton at (515) 386-4408.

The program at 1 p.m. in the library’s community room is free and open to the public.

The fall 1948 baseball team at Churdan High School included Gustafson, there in the front row. He was said to be a fine player in both baseball and basketball.
In the inaugural edition of this Twin Cities business publication in 1983, Gustafson was featured in the cover story by David Carr. By that time, Gustafson’s string of business successes had crumbled.  The story quotes Gustafson, during a courtroom trial, saying, “Now, I wish I never heard of the Tropicana.”

The traditions & adages that guided our pioneers on when it’s planting time

By MARY WEAVER

RIPPEY, Iowa, April 23, 2019 — Finally spring has come following the extremely long and rugged winter. It is time to think about our gardens.

Knowing when to plant is tricky and very weather-dependent, but to our early Greene County ancestors and pioneers, a garden was the source of 80 percent of the food eaten by the family. The gardens provided not only food, but some herbs that were used as medicines, fragrances and dyes. It was important the garden be successful for the family to survive, as there was no Fareway or Hy-Vee available to them.

Mary Weaver ProfileGardens were usually the responsibility of the woman of the household, though much of the labor was provided by her children. The garden was usually within steps of the kitchen door, and was usually fenced in to protect the plantings from the raccoons, rabbits and other animals living in the wild.

I recall from my younger years that my family always planted the seed potatoes on Good Friday. A little research provides an interesting fact; potatoes, when they were introduced into the European countries in the 1600’s were believed to be evil. They were planted on Good Friday and sprinkled with Holy Water to ward off the effects of “poison” and the “evil” ascribed to the potatoes.

As I was growing up on the farm, we had a hired hand that used to assist my mother with her gardening. The hired hand believed in planting by the moon signs, and used the Farmer’s Almanac to guide him in all his planting decisions. He did not profess to know why certain things were planted at certain times, but never the less was a firm believer.

We know the moon controls the tides, as the tides are highest during a new moon and a full moon. Those that abide by moon planting believe that a waxing moon (when it is growing to show more light) allows the seed to absorb more water, and that time should be used for above-ground plantings such as lettuce, spinach and cabbage. Root crops such as potatoes, radishes, turnips and carrots, grow most successfully during a waning moon (when it is diminishing its illumination).

I had a dear friend who had an amazing and prolific garden in a very small space. She always reminded me to plant the potatoes “with the eyes up” so they could “see better.” The scientific thesis is that the eyes produce the sprouts, and if they are planted upward, it’s easier for them to feel the warmth of the sun and break through the soil surface.

The pioneers stated you should “plant peas when the daffodils bloom,” and that corn goes in the ground when “oak leaves are the size of a squirrel’s ear.” We had a former neighbor who embellished that “size of a squirrel’s ear” tip. He said when you could sit with your uncovered butt on the soil and be comfortable, it was then time to plant the corn.

Don’t drive in the ditch looking for farmers implementing the last adage, as we know corn planting has just now started. Better to look for the oak leaves!

You can comment on this story in the space below here, or write directly to the columnist by email at mweaver235@gmail.com. The author, who lives outside Rippey, is an active member of the Greene County Iowa Historical Society.

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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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