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.
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.
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.