Celebrating Iowa’s 175th on Tuesday Dec. 28 with Michael Morain speaking at our museum party

JEFFERSON, Iowa, Dec. 26, 2021 — Michael Morain, a fifth-generation Iowan with deep roots in Greene County, will be the featured speaker when the Greene County Historical Society celebrates the state’s 175th birthday with a special 2 p.m. program on Tuesday, Dec. 28, at the museum in Jefferson.

The event, being held on the actual anniversary day of statehood in 1846, will include free birthday cake and other refreshments, and the public is invited.

Morain, 42, of Des Moines, since 2016 has served as the communications manager for the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.  That department includes five agencies – the State Historical Society of Iowa, the Iowa Arts Council, the new Humanities Council, the “Produce Iowa” film & media production office, and the State Historical Preservation Office.

Michael Morain

Previously, he spent 10 years as a reporter covering art and doing music reviews for the Des Moines Register, and he also joined in the coverage of RAGBRAI, the media company’s annual trans-Iowa bicycle ride.

Michael’s grandfather Fred Morain and his uncle Rick Morain were the editors and publishers of the Jefferson Bee & Herald.  And Michael’s late father Tom Morain was a leading Iowa historian and author of the award-winning history of early Greene County titled “Prairie Grass Roots.”

“Throughout the past year, the state historical society has rolled out a bunch of programming about Iowa’s history over the last 175 years, so I’ve had a pretty good refresher course,” Michael Morain said. “It’s given us a chance to focus on some of the major turning points for the state, some of our under-sung heroes, the good things that have happened, while also talking about the tougher things that have happened, too.

“For my talk in Greene County, I’ve been working up a list of what I think are 10, 12 or so of what I think are important moments in Iowa history.”

And he’s been picking out which of those to talk about in a fun, and perhaps unusual, way

“Remember, most of my career I’ve been a reporter,” he said. “So my basis for picking what historic moments I want to talk about are those that I most wish I could’ve been there to cover as a reporter.”

Morain grew up in Ames, where the family was based while Tom Morain taught at Iowa State University, later was the director of research and interpretation at Living History Farms, and the administrator of the state historical society.  He later taught at Graceland University in Lamoni.

On several RAGBRAI rides, Michael Morain has been a mainstay on the Des Moines Register’s pie-eating team, which is annual challenged by a team of reporters from National Public Radio, who are also on the bicycle ride across Iowa.

Michael graduated from Ames High School in 1997, then from Graceland U. with a major in international studies.  He taught French two years at high schools in the Midwest, then spent a year at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., earning a master’s degree in journalism.

His older brother Joel Morain and his wife now work behind the scenes in an opera production company in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Michael and his spouse Heath Smith, a native of Parkersburg, Ia., who works in advertising at the Strategic America agency, live in downtown Des Moines.

After the Morain brothers’ father Tom died in 2020, their mother Vikki Morain moved from Lamoni to Ames.

So, what does Michael think of life in Iowa as the state celebrates 175 years?

“When I was growing up, I never really expected that I’d settle in Iowa,” Michael said. “I thought I’d be in a big city somewhere else.  And I tried that.  I was in Chicago for my master’s degree, and toward the end of those studies, I spent some time in Washington, D.C., and in India. But when I sent my resumes out, the best opportunity I had was at the Register, so I moved back to Des Moines in 2005, and I’m glad I did.

“Des Moines has changed a lot,” he continued. “We live downtown, I walk to work, and this feels like a very comfortable city with a lot going on.  Iowa has changed, too, but one old story that continues is that for 100 years, younger people have been moving from farms and small towns to our cities.

“One thing I now really like about Des Moines now is that it’s not so big that it feels disconnected from the rest of the state, like you see in some of our neighbor states – Minnesota, Illinois and Missouri – that have major cities.  Most of my friends in Des Moines grew up somewhere else in Iowa, and they still identify themselves first as Iowans, then as city residents. I think that keeps the state having a feeling of being stitched together well.”

The full video of Michael Morain’s program on Dec. 28 is available now on the historical society’s YouTube channel by clicking here.

Historical Society gathers Friday, Dec. 3, at 1 p.m. at the museum to elect officers and celebrate the holidays

The Greene County Iowa Historical Society will have its official “annual meeting,” with election of new officers on Friday, Dec. 3, at 1 p.m. at the historical museum in Jefferson.  And that will quickly be followed by a holiday program, with seasonal refreshments, storytelling and live music. It’s all free and no RSVPs are necessary.

David John

President David John is running for a third one-year term as president, and the other current officers are also seeking re-election. They are vice-president and programs chairperson Margaret Hamilton, secretary Joyce Ausberger, and treasurer Becki Cunningham. They are unopposed but members can make nominations from the floor.

There will be music by Rick Morain and Peg Raney, along with readings by Jerry Roberts and Johnny Turpin.

Newsletters will be distributed at that meeting, with stories about the society’s activities in 2021 and the calendar of programs for 2022. That newsletter will subsequently be mailed to members who aren’t able to attend the Dec. 3 event.

The annual meeting is also a good time for new members to join and for current members to pay their dues for the year ahead.  Memberships for individuals remain $15 per year, for families it’s $20 per year and you can be a “friend of the historical society” with a membership donation of $50.  Further information, including online memberships, can be found by clicking here: Membership & Donations – Greene County Iowa Historical Society.  Or you can call (515) 386-8544 and leave a message.

Greene County had an early “fountain of youth.” We’ll learn about it Friday (and ask if there’s possibly another one around here).

SCRANTON, Iowa, Nov. 1, 2021 — At the Friday, Nov. 5, program of the Greene County Iowa Historical Society in Scranton, Mary Weaver of rural Rippey will tell of her home area’s Eagle Mineral Springs, which produced water so rejuvenating that the springs were touted as a local “fountain of youth.”

They were located on the pioneer farm of the Orman family, between Rippey and Angus in the southeast corner of the county. More specifically, they were on the north side of the Raccoon River along the Snake Creek bottoms.

Mary Weaver

Thomas Jefferson Orman, the second generation of the family here, was digging for coal in 1911 when he discovered the springs.  It produced what he said was “magic” water that “could poach an egg, dissolve nut meats, or make tea or coffee without heat.”

He and his wife Helen bottled and sold thousands of gallons of the water, continuing into the 1950s, and always hoped to develop a spa at their place. They did develop a baseball field – Thomas was quite a player — and picnic area there.

Weaver, who writes the “Hearth & Home” column on the historical society’s website, is fascinated by the folk history of the area and is an exceptional storyteller.

Her program in Scranton Nov. 5 will be a at the United Methodist Church. It will be preceded at 12 noon by lunch, which will cost $8 for members of the historical society or $10 for others. Historical society members should RSVP to our community contacts by Tuesday, Nov. 2. Others from the public are welcome for lunch, too, and they should reserve their places by calling program chairperson Margaret Hamilton in Jefferson at 515-386-4408.

The program, which will start about 12:45 p.m. is free and all are welcome.

Iowans who fought for the Confederacy? Some little-known Civil War history is coming Sunday, Oct. 10, at museum in Jefferson

JEFFERSON, Iowa, Oct. 7, 2021 — Avid historical researcher and re-enactor David Connon, of Earlham in central Iowa, was digging deeply into the history of the Underground Railroad’s route across Iowa when he discovered a Civil War story he’d been unaware of — there were at least 76 Iowans, maybe even more, who in fact joined the Confederate army and fought against the Union.

For the next 11 years, from 2008 into 2019, he pursued the story, and has now published a new book, “Iowa Confederates in the Civil War.”

On Sunday afternoon, Oct. 10, Connon will tell that fascinating and little-known story, and answer questions, in a program at 2 p.m. at the Greene County Historical Museum in Jefferson.

David Connon

The free program — with free refreshments, too — is a collaboration by Humanities Iowa, the Jefferson Public Library and the Greene County Historical Society.

The heart of Connon’s book consists of historical sketches of all 76 Iowa Confederates, featuring their pre-war, war-time, and post-war experiences.

In the program, he will offer insights into the strains and turmoil of life and politics in Iowa during the Civil War era.  For example, one of four Iowa Confederates had a divided family, that is, at least one brother or a father who served in the Union Army.  Some fathers of Iowa Confederates were prominent Democrats, and at least a couple were personal friends of Jefferson Davis, who served as president of the Confederate States of America.

“Of course, I was surprised when I first came across this, because Iowa has such a strong and proud history of support for the Union during the Civil War,” Connon said. “But the fact that there was also support here for the Confederacy is not so surprising when you think about how riven the whole country was back then.”

As for Connon’s own family, two of his great-great-grandfathers served in the Union Army.  He is a member of Sons of Union Veterans, an associate member of Sons of Confederate Veterans, and a member of the Des Moines Civil War Round Table.

Besides his book, his history stories have appeared in Iowa Heritage Illustrated, Iowa History Journal, Illinois Magazine, and local newspapers in both states.  He blogs regularly on the internet at his website titled “Confederates from Iowa: Not to Defend, but to Understand.”

Connon, who grew up in Illinois, did his undergraduate studies at North Central College in Napierville, and he has a master’s degree in education from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.  In Iowa, besides his continuing research, writing and occasional substitute teaching, he has worked as a historical interpreter at Living History Farms, and he now works part-time at the West Des Moines Public Library.

He said he has been able to spend so much time focused on history the last 20 years because his wife Melinda Bradshaw Connon “is a veteran and professional high school math teacher” while he is “doing research and handling chores around the house.”

He will sell and sign copies of his book Sunday at the museum in Jefferson.

The book cover.

Jed Magee, an authority on Abraham Lincoln, speaks Sunday, Aug. 8, at museum on Lincoln’s “learning and his mentors”

JEFFERSON, Iowa, Aug. 2, 2021 — Jed Magee, of Jefferson, an authority on the life and career of former President Abraham Lincoln and a member of the board of directors of the Greene County Iowa Historical Society, will speak on “Lincoln’s Learning and His Mentors” at 2 p.m. on Sunday, August 8, at the museum in Jefferson. Admission and refreshments will be free.

Magee, a lifelong collector of Lincoln books, art and other memorabilia, donated most of his extensive collection to the local historical society in 2016.  And he now speaks occasionally on different aspects of Lincoln’s history.

A native of Dunkerton in northeast Iowa, Jed is a retired attorney and Iowa District Court judge. He spent the first half of his career practicing law in Jefferson, then was appointed a judge and served the second half of his career while based in Charles City. After he fully retired in 2015, he and his wife Betty decided to move back to Jefferson, where both had been very involved in the community in their earlier years here.

Jed Magee, in front of the Abraham Lincoln statue on the Greene County Courthouse square in Jefferson.

Jed Magee’s fascination with Abraham Lincoln began when he was in seventh grade in Dunkerton, and his teacher thought he needed more of an academic challenge.  So she told him to pick out some public figure that he might enjoy doing some research about, and he read a book about Lincoln, who had served as president from 1861 until his assassination in 1865, during the Civil War.

“That teacher bought me my first scrapbook, for $1.29, and I started cutting out articles I found about Lincoln,” Magee said. “I kept that up and by the time I was finishing high school, I had that scrapbook pretty well filled.”

He continued collecting Lincoln stories and memorabilia during his college years. And he never really stopped.

Jed Magee, and note the Lincoln necktie and Lincoln Highway lapel pin.

For most of his career, Magee kept his collection in his office in Charles City. It included 10 shelves full of books about Lincoln, 30 busts of Lincoln at different stages of his life, photographs (including two that are more than 100 years old), prints, paintings, and more.

How many books has he read on Lincoln?

“Hundreds,” Magee said. “I just finished another that was published this year.  And I still find myself learning new things about Lincoln.”

In his program this Sunday, Magee said he’ll talk about how Lincoln was basically self-taught by being a voracious reader himself.  But he also studied the writings and works of others, who became like mentors to him.

As a “teaser” to help get the public ready for this latest program, Magee drops this question: “What do Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln have in common?”

And he’ll be open to more general questions about Lincoln’s life and legacy.

One of several cases at the Greene County Historical Museum holding parts of Jed Magee’s collection of Lincoln memorabilia.

What? There’s no poem about the Greene County Fair? Poet Jerry Roberts took that as a challenge!

Jerry Roberts

JEFFERSON, Iowa, July 12, 2021 — When our Greene County Iowa Historical Society members Jerry Roberts and Chuck Offenburger, both retired journalists, began another of their “History Chats” at the Greene County Fair here in Jefferson  last Friday, they posed a question that no one in the audience could answer. The discussion was about “The Arts in Greene County — Past, Present & maybe Future,” and the question: “Has anybody ever written a poem about the Greene County Fair?”

We were all stumped.

But Saturday morning, Roberts, who is also a poet, walked into the historical building at the fairgrounds and said, “We now have a poem about the Greene County Fair — I just wrote one this morning.” And here it is:

THE GREENE COUNTY FAIR
July 10, 2021

Take a moment, let’s talk fair
All Greene County roads will take you there.

The tour is starting, pay attention,
Its free, the tour and fair, just thought I’d mention.

The beef barn’s pretty full this year
Heifers, calves and lots of steers.

One pen of 3, is now a 2,
Search team is a 4H crew.

They’re heading south, at least that’s the tale,
The critter escaped down the local bike trail.

The swine are next, they’re not here long,
They’re in, they’re judged, and then they’re gone.

Lambs are cute, but oh so noisy,
That Suffolk ewe is a pet called Rosey.

Don’t miss the horse show, it’s full of banter:
Walk, trot, stop. Now it’s time to canter.

The kids have worked for most a year,
The moment of truth, this week, is near.

Sewing, cooking, photography
Gardening, handicrafts, carpentry.

We must be quiet there’s a demonstration
It’s called “How Iowa Feeds the Nation.”

Blue ribbons are best, then red, then white,
A ribbon means you did things right.

Let’s don’t forget the smaller creatures,
There’s a place where they all are featured,

Rabbits, ducks, chickens, dogs and cats.
“You can pet my rabbit, he’s kind of fat.”

If you are young this barn is for you
An instant, friendly, petting zoo.

If you want to remember, and reminisce
The Historical Society building is a “don’t miss.”

There’s a one-room school house just next door
And a real log cabin inside, want more?

Look outside and see the way
Our fathers farmed the fields and hayed.

And then just sit down and chew the fat,
With Chuck and Jerry’s “History Chats.”

–Jerry Roberts, Jefferson IA

You can write the poet by email at
robertsradioguy@netins.net.

Native son Chuck Holden, history prof & author, speaks on his career Sunday, July 25, at museum

By CHUCK OFFENBURGER

JEFFERSON, Iowa, July 20, 2021 — When the Greene County Historical Society learned that native son Chuck Holden, a college history professor teaching in Maryland and the author of three books of history, was spending the summer here, the group asked if they could interrupt his plans for an hour or so – for a conversation with their members and other homefolks.

That happens this Sunday, July 25, at 2 p.m. at the historical museum in Jefferson.  The event and refreshments are free and open to the public.

“I think I’ll talk a bit on how I ended up being an historian, give a couple ‘origins’ stories on my books, and then broaden out to talk about the importance of knowing — and facing up to — our history,” Holden said. “For the last part, I plan to review a couple of moments in U.S. history where some Americans embraced conspiracies over facts, and how those moments did not serve the country very well.” As examples, he cited the secession crisis leading to the Civil War and McCarthyism in the 1950s.

Chuck Holden, back home in front of the Greene County Courthouse.

Holden, 59, grew up in the Scranton area, the son of Edward Holden and Mary Ann Brunner Holden.  He graduated from Scranton High School in the 24-member Class of 1980, did his undergraduate studies in business at St. John’s University in Minnesota, earned his master’s in history at Creighton University in Omaha and his doctorate at Penn State University. He taught initially at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, and is now in his 22nd year at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

St. Mary’s is a small public college, with an enrollment of about 1,300 students, in the Maryland state university system.  It’s located in the historic village of St. Mary’s City, which served for a time as the colonial capital of Maryland, located 75 miles south of Washington, D.C., near the confluence of the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay. The community dates to the 1630s.

Holden’s latest book.

His teaching specialization includes 19th and 20th U.S. history; the Great Depression and New Deal, and the Civil War era.  His latest book, published in 2019, is “Republican Populist: Spiro Agnew and the Origins of Donald Trump’s America,” which has earned favorable reviews in publications across the country.  (Agnew was U.S. vice-president in the Nixon administration and resigned in scandal, and earlier had served as governor of Maryland.)

Holden’s earlier books are “In the Great Maelstrom: Conservatives in Post-Civil War South Carolina,” published in 2002, and “The New Southern University: Academic Freedom and Liberalism at the University of North Carolina,” in 2011.

This summer, he’s started research and interviewing on a possible book about the roots of investigative journalism, and how it changed after coverage of the Watergate in the Nixon years.

Holden said that at his presentation Sunday, besides his reflections about his long career in the field of history, he’ll be glad to take questions from the audience.

He and his four siblings grew up on a “century-plus” farm outside Scranton.  His brother Mike Holden now farms it.  He also has sisters Rosemary Hoyt, of Jefferson; Mary Jo Kluesner, of Ames, and Ann Kendell, of Des Moines.

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.

 

Our hour-long chat about Rippey’s 150-year history helps us launch our new YouTube channel!

JEFFERSON,  Iowa, July 22, 2021 — Our Greene County Iowa Historical Society took another big step forward today.

This morning, we launched our new YouTube channel, making better use of our video productions and sharing them with a much wider audience.

We start this new effort with a video of our “History Chat” at the recent Greene County Fair, where co-hosts Jerry Roberts and Chuck Offenburger led a discussion on the history of Rippey as our southeastern-most town gets ready for its Sesquicentennial celebration on Saturday, July 31.

You can access our new YouTube channel by clicking here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70SjfGWTMXA. The video is the work of the historical society’s new director of digital history, Carson Roberts.

Here, “History Chats” co-host Jerry Roberts chats-up three Rippey area residents with deep knowledge of their community’s history — (left to right) Mary Weaver, Nancy Hanaman and Roy Bardole.

We hope you enjoy the hour-long chat — and learn some interesting Rippey history, too!

Carson Roberts, the new director of digital history for the Greene County Iowa Historical Society.

Here’s the line-up for Chuck & Jerry’s “History Chats” at our county fair this Friday and Saturday

By CHUCK OFFENBURGER

JEFFERSON, Iowa, July 8, 2021 — For the past half-dozen years, retired radio news director Jerry Roberts and I have been moderating “History Chats” during the Greene County Fair, and we’re ready to start them again this Friday and Saturday.

Come join us in the Greene County Historical Society’s building near the front gate at the fairgrounds here in Jefferson.

Chuck Offenburger and Jerry Roberts.

If you’ve never joined us before, the chats are conducted in a circle of old, wooden, historic-looking folding chairs in the shade and nice breeze our big building provides.  We two old journalists start the conversations, and then we coax questions and observations out of audience. We go for up to an hour.

The chats are all free, and several of them over the years have wound up inspiring full programs later for the historical society.

So here’s our line-up for this week:

Friday, July 9, 11 a.m. – “A Salute to Rippey on its Sesquicentennial.”  Jerry & I will be interviewing Nancy Hanaman, Roy Bardole and Mary Weaver – all good talkers, so this should really be good, and a good promotion for Rippey’s celebration July 31.  Come dip yourself in Rippey history!

Friday, July 9, 1 p.m. – “The Arts in Greene County – Past, Present & maybe Future.”  We’re issuing a public invitation to poets, authors, singers, instrumentalists, painters, designers – all artists – to come share some of their work.  But more important, we want to gather their thoughts on ideas that we might turn into a broader program for the historical society in the future.

Saturday, July 10, 11 a.m. – We’re reprising “Dig it! The 1950s, ’60s & ’70s.”  Jerry & I will talk a little about the tremendous new exhibit that opened last Saturday at our museum uptown. There was a panel discussion then among eight people who lived through that era and had dozens of stories about how those decades transformed life in Greene County.  This Saturday, Jerry and I will re-tell some of those stories, and draw other ones out of our audience.  I’ve invited all the panelists we had, although I don’t expect many will be able to come join us again. So go see the exhibit at the museum, and then come to our fairgrounds building at 11 a.m. and we’ll talk about it.

Saturday, July 10, 1 p.m. – “What the Historical Society Should Do at the Fair.”   We want to gather ideas from the public on what we should do with our fairgrounds buildings, during the fair and year ’round.  What should we add?  What don’t we need there?  What should our facilities out there try to be?  What kind of programming should we do there year ’round? Whom do we need to get involved?  So, please, those of you with knowledge of county fair history, plus you designers, planners, builders and dreams — all of you come let us hear your ideas.

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.

Huge new museum exhibit and panel discussion on July 3 to open “Dig it! The 1950s, ’60s & ’70s”!

JEFFERSON, Iowa, June 25, 2021 — Three decades that changed the world – and our part of it – are featured in a new exhibit, “Dig it! The 1950s, ’60s & ’70s,” that will open on Saturday, July 3, at the Greene County Historical Museum in Jefferson.

An exhibit, designed and constructed by Mikki Schwarzkopf and Dianne Piepel with lots of help from Jan Durlam, features treasures, artifacts, and a lot of kitschy reminders of what life was like and how it was transformed during those 30 years.  Nearly all items in the huge display have been loaned to the Greene County Historical Society by current residents of the area.

For the July 3 debut, the museum will be open at 9 a.m. for browsing of the new exhibit, as well as other displays that have been longtime favorites.  A panel discussion on the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s will start at 10 a.m., and then the museum will remain open for additional browsing until at least 1 p.m. Thereafter, the exhibit will be available well into the fall during normal museum open hours – Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings – and by special appointment.

Mikki Schwarzkopf (left) holds a pink “hot pants” outfit Dianne Piepel holds a fringed “hippie vest” that she bought in the early 1970s in a “head shop” in Iowa City.

The 10 a.m. panel discussion on July 3 is planned to be the first of three or more such gatherings over the next six months, discussing what happened during the featured 30-year period and how that has continued to shape our lives and culture today.

Journalist Chuck Offenburger, a member of the historical society board, will serve as moderator of at least the first panel discussion. He will be leading the questioning of panelists Rick Morain, Andy McGinn, Rolfe Blaess, Terry Rich, Carole Custer, Quentin Minnehan and Alan Robinson.  They will attempt a broad overview of that historic era, decade by decade.

There’ll be some music history, too.  Morain, an accomplished pianist, has picked three songs to share that he says are good representatives of each of the decades – and will show how the music evolved.   McGinn, the editor of the Jefferson Herald and certainly the youngest panel member, will share his research on the precise time when rock ’n’ roll music arrived in Greene County.

Question and observations from the audience will be encouraged.

Bright yellow Formica kitchen table, Fiestaware dishes, colorful aluminum cups & bowls, and ash trays!

“If you’re my age, it might be hard to believe these three decades would be listed in the historical category,” said Roger Aegerter, a retired school superintendent and art teacher who is now executive director of the historical society.  “But, remember, we are talking 50 to 70 years ago!”

The exhibit, panel discussions and admission to the museum are all free.

The historical society canceled most programming and open hours at the museum for most of a year during the pandemic.  But the group is now returning to regular activity with a full schedule in coming weeks and months.

Following are more photos from the new “Dig it!” exhibit.

Schwarzkopf and Piepel, with some of the machines and cameras that were part of everyday life in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.


Here is the parade outfit worn by Jefferson’s Doreen Wilber, who won the gold medal in archery in the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany.

One of the “Ike jackets” worn in the Korean War, popularized by World War II General & later U.S. President Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower.

 
Cool kids put clipped playing cards or baseball cards on their bicycles to mimic sounds of a motor.

A colorful banner representative of the 1960s and ’70s. 

A POW-MIA flag that reminds us there are still soldiers unaccounted for from the Vietnam War.

 

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