JEFFERSON, Iowa, Feb. 24, 2020 — Retired U.S. ambassador Michael S. Owen said after extensively traveling the roads of a half-dozen African nations, Pakistan, Ireland and India in his 30 years as a career diplomat, he was thrilled to explore his American homeland by driving the historic Lincoln Highway in recent years. That’s brought him through Greene County each of the last two summers.
He’ll talk about all that and his new book, “After Ike: On the Trail of the Century-Old Journey that Changed America,” this Sunday, March 1, when he’ll be interviewed live at 2 p.m. at the Jefferson Public Library – via Skype.
Retired Iowa journalist Chuck Offenburger and others in the audience in Jefferson will chat with the 68-year-old Owen, who will be at his home in Reston, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C.
The free program – and free refreshments – are being sponsored by the Jefferson library, the Greene County Iowa Historical Society and the Iowa Lincoln Highway Association.
Owen’s 223-page book is delightful reading. Earlier, he’d written many journal articles and official cablegrams in his state department years, but his re-tracing of the 1919 military convoy’s exploration of the then-new Lincoln Highway route across the nation produced a fascinating first book for him.
The “After Ike” in the title refers to the fact that one of the Army officers who commanded the 1919 trip was Lt. Col. Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower, who would become Supreme Allied Commander in World War II and then president of the U.S. in the 1950s.
Yes, author Owen gives you a chronological report on his own east-to-west journey on the Lincoln Highway – Washington D.C. to San Francisco – but he also fills it with the American character (and characters) he encountered.
“One of the things he does really well in the book is tell about his occasional side trips off the Lincoln Highway route to see other nearby things that interested him,” said Joyce Ausberger, of Jefferson, who is on the boards of both the historical society and the Iowa Lincoln Highway Association. “The highway association has always encouraged people to think of the Lincoln Highway as a corridor, not just a highway, and go explore other attractions that are a few miles off the actual road.”
Owen did that in Iowa with side trips to the Field of Dreams outside Dyersville and to museums in Waterloo, La Porte City, Rockwell City and other spots.
From Greene County, Owen included interviews with Ausberger at the Lincoln Highway Museum in Grand Junction and Robby Pedersen at his “RVP 1875” working museum and furniture shop in Jefferson. In the book, the author describes Joyce Ausberger as “an inexhaustible font of enthusiasm and knowledge about anything related to the nation’s first highway.”
Copies of Owen’s book are available locally for check-out at the Jefferson Public Library and for purchase at the highway museum in Grand Junction.
Historical society board member Margaret Hamilton, of Jefferson, gave Owen a nice review of the book as she was arranging details for next Sunday’s interview.
“I’ve read your book now and really enjoyed it,” Hamilton wrote in an email to him. “I wasn’t expecting to read so much about so many places. It gave me ideas for future trips. I also wasn’t expecting it to be so funny. So, thanks for writing it and thanks for agreeing to do a program on it for us. We hope to have a good audience.”
Owen grew up in the northwest Mississippi town of Lyon, pop. 250. He went on to Rice University for an undergraduate degree in civil engineering, then earned a master’s in public affairs from Princeton University. A highlight of his 30 years with the U.S. State Department was serving as U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone from 2010 to 2013. He said he traces his interest in serious road-tripping, as well as in wanting to learn more about and serve nations in Africa, to an adventure he took with pals in 1980 and ’81 — an 8,400-mile driving trip from London, England, to Cape Town, South Africa!