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.

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