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.

Cooper Hubbell, meet your great-great-great-grandpa Isaac Cooper, this town’s namesake!

By CHUCK OFFENBURGER

COOPER, Iowa, April 11, 2019 — The Greene County Iowa Historical Society tries to preserve and present local history in many different ways.  It’s found a new way to do so this Friday, April 12, when the organization hosts one of its monthly meetings here in the town of Cooper (pop. 30, maybe).

The organization will be introducing Cooper Hubbell, 35, of Des Moines, to his great-great-great-grandfather Isaac Cooper.  Sort of.

Isaac Cooper, who died in 1902, was a pioneering business leader of Des Moines, and this town is named after him.

Cooper Hubbell

“I was not familiar with this story until I heard from you about it,” said Hubbell in a phone interview, when he was confirming his attendance. “I’m really looking forward to learning about this part of my heritage.”

And the Franklin Township Board of Trustees, who govern the greater Cooper area, plan to name young Hubbell an “Honorary Mayor of Cooper” — an honor he’ll share with about seven others who’ve been recognized this way over the years.

Friday’s featured program, at the Cooper United Methodist Church, is going to have Dennis Peer, a native son of Cooper who taught theater for 38 years before retiring at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls, costuming up and portraying Isaac Cooper.  He will speak in-character about life during Iowa’s settlement in the mid 19th century.  He’ll undoubtedly talk about how his son-in-law Frederick M. Hubbell, another early business leader in this state, in 1880 was developing a railroad from Des Moines to the Iowa Great Lakes.  In 1881, he founded the town of Cooper as a passenger & freight stop, and named it in tribute to his father-in-law.

Peer plans to stay in-character as he shares some history and current-day observations about the town.  You can read more about the program, and about Peer, in another story on this website by clicking here.

Now let’s meet Cooper Hubbell.

He is the son of Mike and Debbie Hubbell, of Des Moines.  The dad is formally Michael Cooper Hubbell, but goes by “Mike.”  The son is actually Michael Cooper Hubbell Jr., but he has always gone by “Cooper.”

He said that Cooper has been a frequently-given middle name in the generations of Hubbells.  In fact, if I’m reading family history correctly, Frederick M. Hubbell and his wife Frances E. Cooper Hubbell had three children, sons Frederick and Grover and daughter Beulah, and they gave all three “Cooper” as their middle names.

If you’ve been around Iowa very long, you are familiar with the Hubbell family and all the leadership it has provided in business, philanthropy and public affairs.  Cooper’s uncle Fred Hubbell was the Democratic candidate for governor of Iowa in 2018.

How does Cooper feel, being part of that lineage?

“It’s really a big honor to be a part of it, and to see how much my family has been part of Des Moines,” he said. “It’s also very humbling, and gives me a sense of civic duty, too.”

Cooper Hubbell, who has his own information technology consulting company Hubbell IT,  graduated from Des Moines Roosevelt High School, where he started dating the woman who is now his wife, Dr. Alexandra Hubbell, a family practice physician at UnityPoint Health’s East Des Moines Clinic.

Cooper started college in Colorado, but didn’t like the separation from Alexandra, who was going to Washington University in St. Louis.  He transferred to St. Louis University, they dated through their undergraduate years, and then Alexandra came home to complete her medical studies Des Moines University.

They have two sons, Harry, 6, and Max, 2.

Interestingly, Cooper Hubbell never worked for any of the family’s companies, which have included Equitable of Iowa Insurance Company, the old Younkers Department Stores, Hubbell Realty and various development companies.

“My field has always been ‘IT,’ a personal interest going back to when I was a young kid, tearing apart old computers in my parents’ basement, trying to see how they worked,” he said. “I’m still doing that, actually!”

In his mid-20s, he interviewed with Hubbell Realty for an IT job, but opted instead to join another IT company.   That had him doing consulting with companies from Storm Lake to Audubon, Marshalltown, Centerville and towns in between, so he saw a good bit of Iowa.

He saw lots more of the state in a very unusual way.

“My dad has been an amateur airplane pilot for 25 years,” Cooper said. “A couple years ago, he set a goal of doing a touch-down at every airport in Iowa — every single airport — and he did it!  In fact, he’s now starting to do the list again, in reverse order.  I went on some of those flights with him, and so I saw a lot of Iowa — from above.”

When his second son was born two years ago, Cooper decided he wanted to reduce his business travel, and that’s when he decided to start up his own IT company.  He operates it from home, which allows him to keep a close eye on the boys.

He has also rekindled an interest in music he had as a young boy.

“I’ve played piano from boyhood, but then not at all from about 10 years old to probably 30,” he said. “I went through that period where I got ‘too cool’ for that, you know?  Now I’ve gotten back into it, and I really enjoy playing piano, improvising and experimenting with chords.   That’s led me to start doing some composing and arranging, doing all my own instrumentation.  It gives me a way to use my hands and my brain — and all this computer equipment I have.  I’m doing a little recording and I’ve started to have a little success with some independent recording companies.”

Any interest in politics?

“Yes,” Cooper said. “When Uncle Fred ran for governor, that really got me energized in the Democratic Party.  It made me pay a lot more attention.  And I realized it pays to pay attention.”

He enjoyed hearing stories about a couple of fun ties that the Hubbell family had to the town of Cooper over the last 40 years.

In 1981, Cooper made international news by naming NBC-TV “Tonight Show” host (and Iowa native) Johnny Carson the honorary 51st citizen of the town during its centennial celebration.  Carson had three Cooperites come to California to appear on his show, and he spent 17 minutes in a hilarious chat with them.  That led to more than 12,500 people attending the one-day celebration on July 11.  The grand marshals of the two-hour parade were Fred and Charlotte Hubbell.  They were honored not only because of Fred’s ties to Isaac Cooper.  More notably, the couple had recently returned home safely after being victims of an airplane hijacking in Pakistan when they were on an around-the-world trip celebrating their honeymoon.  Their story was widely reported in the news then.

In 2006, Cooper was celebrating its quasquicentennial, and community leaders jumped at the chance to book the Iowa State Fair Singers & Jazz Band to perform — becoming the smallest town ever to host a concert by the group of high school all-stars who toured the state during the summertime.  But the cost for hosting the group was $3,800, and the town could only come up with $800.  An appeal was made to Fred Hubbell and his older brother Jamie Hubbell.  Jamie publicly committed to contributing $1,500, but only if Fred would match his donation.

He did, and everybody in Cooper, Iowa, had a great time!

The Cooper Way Station on the Raccoon River Valley Trail in the town of Cooper IA. The murals on the building were painted by artist Sarah Stott last summer.

Chuck Offenburger, who wrote this story, lives outside Cooper and is on the board of directors of the Greene County Iowa Historical Society. You can write him by email at chuck@Offenburger.com.

 

 

Quick work & generous grants allow historical society to avert museum disaster

JEFFERSON, Iowa, April 11, 2019 — About $35,000 in savvy engineering and quick construction has allowed the Greene County Iowa Historical Society to avert a disaster with our 102-year-old museum building in Jefferson.

Last fall, when volunteers Chris and Janet Durlam were working as docents during the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling “Hometown Teams” sports exhibit that was on display in the museum, they noticed the ceiling was badly sagging in about the middle of the building — in fact, sagging a foot or more.

Chris Durlam investigated above the ceiling and could see that the beams which held up the ceiling were pulling away from the support structure under the roof. He located jacks to push the ceiling back up and secure it, a temporary fix that allowed completion of the Smithsonian exhibit’s scheduled stay here.

Where the trouble started with the sagging ceiling

Roger Aegerter, executive director of the historical society, then began work on applications for grants from the Greene County Community Foundation and the Grow Greene County Gaming Corporation to help with the repairs estimated to be $35,000.

In the last month, the foundation gave the historical society $15,000 and the gaming corporation contributed $20,000 — providing for the construction without bankrupting the historical group.

Brad Bendickson and his crew from Bendickson Woodworks LLC has been at work on the project for about three weeks now, and they expect to finish this week.

In the middle of all this, there were leaks from the flat roof, too, when the snow was melting and the rains began. Aegerter contracted temporary repairs to stop the leaks and is now studying whether total replacement of the roof is required.

The museum is closed to the public until displays are cleaned and put back in place after the construction is completed. You can see in these photos, which are provided by Bendickson Woodworks, just how extensive the construction has been on the supports between the ceiling and roof.

The places where generations of a family meet for bonding become almost magical, like the author’s farm near Rippey

By DALE HANAMAN

RIPPEY, Iowa, April 8, 2019 — It was nearly 53 years ago that I first ventured onto the farm where my wife Nancy and I live today. We moved here nearly 12 years ago.

What I want to share with you is my early impressions of this farm, the land and Nancy’s parents Clark and Esther Bardole, who lived here west of Rippey.

In order to do this, I will share a bit about my neighborhood in Beloit, Wisconsin, a city then of about 35,000 people. I lived with my parents, Bob and Mary Hanaman, and my sister, Marianne. The street we lived on was often busy in the daytime due to a small chemical plant at the end of our block-long street. The tall elm trees, with their branches meeting near the center of the street, made it appear to be a large cathedral. Birds rested in the tree tops.

Neighbors looked after one another in our Beloit neighborhood. Houses were only feet apart with small front yards, narrow grass strips and driveways between them. Nancy Dickson lived to the west, Tom Plunkett lived to the east, and Bill Bronzi lived south across the street. We did many things together after school as well as throughout our summers: biking, fishing, playing softball in a neighboring ball field, and games under the street lights at night. I did not often ponder the close proximity of the houses on our block.

After high school graduation in 1963, I enrolled as a freshman at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, graduating in 1967. How I got there is another story for another time.

Nancy entered as a freshman at Simpson in 1964. Because of our birth dates, though we are only six months apart in age, Nancy was a year behind me in school. We were introduced to one another through classes and the Methodist Student Christian Movement. Due to the way my roommate and I treated a friend, it was clear Nancy did not like me.

In spite of all things, we found ourselves in more classes. We began to notice each other. And one night at a school dance, though we did not attend the dance together, we decided to dance. Since neither of us were very good dancers, we decided to go play tennis. You see, the tennis courts at Simpson were lit by overhead lighting. (Today, those tennis courts have been removed.)

So, during my college junior year, we began to seriously date one another. Since Nancy’s home was much closer to school than mine, we frequently went to the farm.

The nearest neighbors, Nancy’s Aunt Mary and Uncle Paul Bardole, were ¼-mile away. Other neighbors were farther away. A yard light illumined the driveway and part of the approach to the house. And the yard light could manually be turned off (and it still can today). Cattle were often in the west 77 acres, hogs were in the barn, a dog roamed the farm along with tame and wild cats with their litters.

It was a magical place, I thought.

Wide open, few vehicles going by, slow farm machinery easing by, and Nancy’s parents were welcoming, gentle and loving. It seemed like a great place to visit and spend time with Nancy. We often talked, hugged, walked, and talked about ourselves, sharing our thoughts for the future.

In June, 1968, we were married at the Rippey United Methodist Church. I had finished my first year of seminary while Nancy had just graduated from Simpson. Our lives together were just beginning. Each succeeding summer we would find ourselves coming back to the farm for a visit of a week or two. I continued to be intrigued with the gentle life, being able to see the sun rise in the morning and set at night,

After our daughter, Sarah, was born and later our son, Matthew, I was involved in United Methodist Camping ministry for senior high students. My leadership led me to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) operating out of Ely, Minnesota, for week-long camping ventures. Nancy often assisted me as the other counselor.

What would we do with our own kids for that week?

It was not long and we focused on bringing them to the farm. They loved coming to the farm, grandparents Esther and Clark were open and glad for their visits, and Sarah and Matthew would spend a week or two without us.

So a tradition began.

A generation later, our children began to have their own children. Matthew was the first with his two daughters, Adrianna and Adyara. Then it was Sarah and her husband Benji with their three children, Steven, Elizabeth and Andrea.

Arrangements were made with us where we lived during the summers to have grandchildren come to visit us. Our home – and it moved about during my ministry – became the magical place, with welcoming grandparents, opportunities to grow deeper together, laughter and joy abounding.

And since the summer of 2007, when we retired and moved to the farm, our grandchildren continued to come here.

But now they have grown older. Adrianna and Adyara, both college students and with boyfriends, jobs and other commitments don’t come to visit as often. Steven, soon to graduate from high school, is already engaging in sports and close friendships, finding it more difficult to visit more than a few days. Elizabeth and Andrea did spend two weeks at the farm this year. Swimming, talking, cooking, reading, engaging on their electronics and interacting with Nancy and me. It was a precious and enjoyable time for all.

It might be a decade or so from now, but Sarah and Benji as well as Matthew and Heather, will be grandparents, hopefully providing the magical locations for their grandchildren to come visit, to be the center of their attention, and to enjoy spending deep and creative time together.

The author, Dale Hanaman, is a member of the board of directors of the Greene County Historical Society. You can write him by email at dale.hanaman@gmail.com.

We’ve re-scheduled our program in Cooper, from April 5 to April 12

COOPER, Iowa, April 2, 2019 — Due to a death and funeral in a family that has long been active in the Greene County Historical Society, the organization’s lunch and program that had been scheduled for this Friday, April 5, in Cooper has been re-scheduled one week later – on Friday, April 12.

The historical program will feature Cooper native and actor Dennis Peer, now of Iowa Falls, portraying Isaac Cooper, the pioneer Des Moines business leader after whom the Greene County town is named.

Historical society president David John made the decision to postpone the program this week because many members of the society want to attend the funeral of Rev. Dr. Steven Harberts, 72, of Jefferson, who died Monday. Harberts is a son-in-law in the Coon family, longtime leaders in the historical group. His memorial service is scheduled this Friday, April 5, at 11 a.m. at the First Presbyterian Church in Jefferson.

The historical society’s gathering in Cooper now shifts to Friday, April 12.

Lunch will be at 12 noon in the basement of the Cooper United Methodist Church, with Peer’s presentation as Isaac Cooper at 1 p.m. in the church sanctuary. Lunch is $8 for historical society members and $10 for others who are not members. Members should RSVP about lunch to their community contacts by Tuesday evening, April 9, and others who want to have lunch should RSVP to board member Nancy Hanaman at (515) 436-7684. The program is free.

Historical Society meets in Cooper on Friday, April 12, with some special guests!

By CHUCK OFFENBURGER

COOPER, Iowa, April 1, 2019 — The Greene County Iowa Historical Society has its regular April meeting on Friday, April 12, at the United Methodist Church in the town of Cooper, and there will be a special guest presenting the program — “Isaac Cooper,” the pioneer Iowa businessman after whom the town was named.

Actually, Isaac Cooper died in 1902, so his visit will be a historical portrayal, performed by actor Dennis Peer, of Iowa Falls, a talented native son of the town of Cooper.

Isaac Cooper

This event was originally scheduled for Friday, April 5, but postponed to April 12 because of a funeral.

There will be other special guests, too.

Cooper Hubbell, 35, of Des Moines, the great-great-great-grandson of Isaac Cooper, is planning to attend, as is his father Mike Hubbell, also of Des Moines, great-great-grandson of Isaac Cooper.

Peer, who will be performing as Isaac Cooper, was one of the best athletes at Cooper High School, where he had completed his junior year when the school closed in 1959. And he had his first theatrical experience at Cooper High, too,, playing the lead role of “Mr. Latherby,” who under hypnosis thinks he’s a rabbit, in the school play, a farce titled “The Perfect Idiot.”

He went on to graduate from Jefferson High School the following year. He earned his bachelor and master’s degrees in theater from the University of South Dakota, where he met his wife Becky when both were performing in the cast of “Music Man.” They also performed in summer stock theater in the Black Hills for several years, too.

Dennis Peer

In Iowa Falls, Dennis taught theater at Ellsworth Community College for 38 years before retiring, and Becky did the choreography for most of the plays Dennis directed. She also operated a dance studio for 25 years, then opened a pre-school. They have a daughter Shawna Meyer and son Shannon Peer, both living in the Des Moines area.

The town of Cooper was founded in 1881 as a stop on a new railroad being built from Des Moines to the Iowa Great Lakes. One of the railroad’s developers was legendary Des Moines business leader Frederick M. Hubbell, and he named the new town in southern Greene County after his father-in-law Isaac Cooper.

It will be the second time Peer has portrayed Isaac Cooper, the first being when the town celebrated its quasquicentennial in 2006.

Dennis Peer as Isaac Cooper in 2006

Cooper, the man, “was among the early settlers of the Des Moines area, and he did pretty well in business,” Peer said. “He’s probably most known for being the nephew of James Fenimore Cooper, who wrote ‘The Last of the Mohicans,’ and for his daughter Frances marrying into the Hubbell family. While our town of Cooper was named after him, I don’t think there’s any indication that he ever visited it.”

He said that in his portrayal, he’ll tell as much as he’s learned about Isaac Cooper, and “then I’ll also include some observations about the history and the people of the town, too. I’ll probably even include a blurb on the Peer family.”

Dennis is the only child of Don Peer, who had a 20-year career in the U.S. Navy, and Martha Peer, who served for years as “postmistress” at Cooper’s U.S. Post Office.

The 1 p.m. program in the church sanctuary is free and open to the public.

On April 12, there will be a lunch in the Cooper church basement at 12 noon, $8 for historical society members and $10 for others who are not members. Historical society members should RSVP about lunch to their community contacts by Tuesday evening, April 9, and others who want to have lunch should RSVP to board member Nancy Hanaman at (515) 436-7684.

Our program March 10: Historic old buildings do not scare Nick Sorensen

By CHUCK OFFENBURGER

JEFFERSON, Iowa, March 4, 2019 — The phone calls and even visits from leaders of other small towns across Iowa come often now for officials of the city government and the Jefferson Matters Main Street program. They want to know how Jefferson is successfully saving and redeveloping the 100-plus-year-old buildings around its courthouse square.

Nick Sorensen, who is the City of Jefferson “building officer, zoning officer, code enforcer and special projects coordinator,” says part of the answer is the leadership of Peg Raney of the Main Street program. Part of it is the commitment by the city government, and finding funding from state and federal governments, too. A key factor, he says, “is a core group of volunteers willing to get in there and get after it.”

Nick Sorensen

My own observation is that a big reason the historic old buildings are being salvaged and re-purposed is that 38-year-old Nick Sorensen isn’t afraid of them.

He is going to talk us through all that in a Greene County Historical Society program about notable buildings and restorations around the square at 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 10. While most historical society programs in Jefferson are held in the museum, Sorensen’s is being moved to the rotunda of the Greene County Courthouse.

“Two reasons for moving this program to the courthouse,” said Roger Aegerter, the society’s executive director. “First, since this program is about our historic buildings, it seemed appropriate to hold it in our beautiful courthouse. Second, we are getting ready to do reconstruction of the ceiling support system in our 102-year-old museum building, and the work may be started by March 10.”

Sorensen said a focus of his presentation will be about three restoration efforts underway now involving three to six buildings, depending on how you count them. Those are “City View on State” at the northeast corner of State Street and Chestnut Street; the “Harness Shop” at 205 N. Wilson Avenue, and “The Arcade,” or former Pizza Ranch, also on N. Wilson.

But he can discuss the possibilities with all the 40 or so buildings around the square and the 92 that are part of the Main Street District.

Sorensen has lived and worked in Jefferson since the fall of 2003, when he joined the Jefferson Police Department. In 13 years with the police, he became a sergeant “and loved being around the guys, the camaraderie, and being of service.” When the building inspector position opened in city government – along with his other duties – he felt a tug on his heart. “I went to Dave Morlan, who was my chief and my mentor, and told him about how interested I am in old buildings,” Sorensen said. ‘He said, ‘If this is something you really want to do, go for it!’ ”

He’s now been on the new job since June of 2015. He was very involved in the façade refurbishment of 13 buildings in 2016 and 2017 with a Community Development Block Grant, and several others since then.

Nick Sorensen says the successful renovation and re-development of the Sensibly Chic building by the Tuckers on the south side of the square in Jefferson shows what can be done with old buildings that have been in various stages of dilapidation.

What is it about old buildings for Sorensen?

“I grew up in Exira, and learned a lot about construction from my dad Larry Sorensen and my grandpa Charlie Sorensen,” Nick said. “They both were roads workers, but my dad was also a mason for several years, and I learned masonry from him. Grandpa Charlie retired from the Iowa DOT when I was in high school, and he saw that there weren’t a lot of jobs available for high school kids to earn some money. So he started up a little construction company to do roofing, painting, flooring, cleaning, changing light bulbs for grandmothers – whatever was needed – and he hired a bunch of us high school kids.

“We did a lot of work at rental properties that Judith Sutcliffe had around the area, and she was really big into historic preservation and renovation. Her sister had a downtown building we were working on in Audubon, and I remember when I walked into the big empty room on the second story, I thought, ‘Why is this great space not being used for something?’ And that always stuck with me.”

So, there’s no fear when he’s starting to work on saving buildings that, in some cases, previous owners have walked away from?

“No, when you jump in and start working on them, you get over that,” Sorensen said. “Digging into them, you gain so much knowledge. You see how well they were put together and how, with a little work, they can have years of good use, decades, or even longer. When you get the work done and you see businesses doing well in them again, it’s very satisfying knowing you’ve been part of it.”

Is he confident enough of the potential that he’d like to own one of the old buildings on the square and redevelopment it for himself?

“Absolutely, if I could afford it,” he said. “I’d put in some neat second-story apartments, recruit a business for the main floor, and then start trying to get the building next door. This downtown is coming alive.”

Just as for the historical society’s programs at the museum, there is no admission charge for this special program in the courthouse rotunda and there will be free refreshments, too.

Photos below here show the buildings in the business district that Sorensen says are now works in progress — and which he will be talking about during his March 10 program for the historical society.

“City View on State” at the northeast corner of State Street and Chestnut Street.

The “Harness Shop” at 205 N. Wilson Avenue.

“The Arcade,” or former Pizza Ranch, also on N. Wilson.

Feb. 10 program explores sports photography thru the decades & into the future — capturing the drama, fun & excitement

JEFFERSON, Iowa, Feb. 4, 2019 — The Greene County Iowa Historical Society begins its 2019 programming with a special feature program on Sunday afternoon, Feb. 10, on “The Past, Present & Future of Sports Photography.”

Presenting will be two well-known newspaper photographers in west central Iowa – Jeff Storjohann of the Carroll Daily Times Herald and Brandon Hurley of the Jefferson Herald.

They will be discussing and sharing their work at the 2 p.m. free program at the historical museum at 219 E. Lincoln Way in Jefferson. (You can see some of their favorite sports photos at the bottom of this story.) The museum’s display of cameras used through the decades will be available, too.

Jeff Storjohann

Storjohann, 53, is in his 26th year as a photographer with the Carroll newspaper, and he is generally regarded as one of the best sports, news and feature photographers working in Iowa today.

He is a native of Gladbrook in east central Iowa, and he earned a photojournalism degree from Hawkeye Tech in Waterloo, where he was trained in news, sports, commercial, industrial and portrait photography. He served as a photo “stringer” for the Marshalltown Times Republican during his school years, and landed his first newspaper job in Postville in northeast area before moving to Carroll.

“My father Don Storjohann, who was an amateur photographer, is really the person that got me started down this path,” Jeff said. “We used to shoot black & white film, and set up a darkroom in the bathroom, which was the only one in our house. This was sometimes a hardship for a family of five at bedtime, when they had to wait for film to be loaded or prints to be made.”

Of course, there’s little use of black & white film today and even less darkroom work being done now, after all the advances in color technology and digital photography. There’s more emphasis than ever before on the quality of the pictures.

Storjohann said he began his sports photography career using a “Pentax K 1000” 35-millimeter camera, then shot Canon cameras for 35 years, “until last year when I made the switch to a Fuji mirrorless system.” He said “that’s just a teaser to get people to attend the program to learn why I prefer a mirrorless system and the lens collection that goes with it.”

He said he’s learned a lot over the years by closely observing several photographers for the Des Moines Register, most notably the retired Pulitzer Prize winner, David Peterson. “I consider one of the absolute best track & field photographers ever,” Storjohann said. “I think his strength was his knowledge of the sport, since he ran track at Kansas State University. I used to watch him at high school and Drake Relays events, just to see where or what location he would shoot from, and then try and visualize what he’d see in the viewfinder from that spot. That sort of taught me how to ‘see’ the world around me without looking through the lens.”

Hurley, 29, now closely watches the work of Storjohann – and other good shooters around the state – to help him improve his photography.

Brandon Hurley

He is a native of Ames who is a graduate of the University of Iowa Journalism School. He began his newspaper career as a staff writer with the Dickinson County News in Spirit Lake four years, worked for a time as sports editor of the Boone News-Republican and for the last 2 ½ years has been with Herald Publishing. He serves as sports editor of the Jefferson Herald and also contributes regularly to the Daily Times Herald in Carroll.

“When it comes to sports photography, I’m for the most part self-taught,” Hurley said. “It’s always been something that is expected of my job. I have really only been a sports photographer for four years, and it’s been pretty much on-the-job training since then. I pick Jeff’s brain on occasion, while other times it’s a lot of trial and error for me. I’m still learning how to find the best angles and proper lighting. For me, it’s a continual learning process.”

He generally uses a Canon 7D camera with a 70-to-200 millimeter telephoto lens.

Hurley says he enjoys sports photography more than news and feature photography “because there’s always action, always a chance for a new and interesting shot. You will always have something to capture – whether it’s the first tip of a game or a third-down catch midway through the last quarter. The opportunity for images always seems to be there, which is what makes it so fun. Plus, it’s not too bad a gig to be right down on the sidelines of some pretty cool sporting events.”

When Storjohann, the older pro, is asked if he likes sports photography more than news or features, he says “that answer is yes – and no.

“It’s ‘yes’ in the sense that I love the challenge of capturing that single, solitary ‘moment’ that defines most, but not all, sporting events,” he said. “The challenge comes from first determining when that ‘moment’ is happening and then having the skills to capture it. The truth is it takes some luck, too, but you can make your own luck in a game, or at least bring the odds in your favor.

“But it’s ‘no’ in the sense that you can have technically great photos from a game but you completely missed that ‘moment.’ ”

People are invited to bring their own cameras and photos to get tips about them from Storjohann and Hurley.

There will also be free refreshments.

A Jeff Storjohann photo of Greene County High School champion high jumper Megan Durbin celebrating a successful jump.
One of Storjohann’s photos from a Carroll High School football game. 
A Brandon Hurley photo of the Greene County High School Rams football team getting ready to take the field.  
A Hurley photo from a cross country meet.  
A Hurley portrait of MMA figher Dylan Forkner, a native of Paton in Greene County.
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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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