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.

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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.”
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Mary Geisler, at 100, tells her life story (and favorite stories) in a video interview being televised this month

CHURDAN, Iowa, Jan. 9, 2019 — At 100 years old, Mary Geisler  has lived a whole lot of history here in Greene County. In the late 1920s, she watched in horror as Ku Klux Klansmen, wearing hoods and robes and carrying torches, walked west through the business district of Churdan, then lit on fire a huge cross erected near the railroad depot. She saw her farm community around St. Patrick-Cedar Catholic Church suffer through the hard times of the Great Depression. She taught country school for eight years, starting in 1938 at a salary of $45 per month.  She married, helped husband Ed Geisler run a successful farm, raised eight kids and a lot of chickens.  “I was called a rabble-rouser” a time or two when she was campaigning for one cause or another.  She was a star alto in the Greene County Farm Bureau Chorus, she wrote & recited poetry, and over her lifetime she checked out & read more than 5,000 books from the Churdan Public Library.  (For decades, she “averaged a book a day.”)

Mary Geisler

The story — and stories — of Mary Coan Connolly Geisler simply had to be preserved.

And now they have been.  For these next two weekends in January, Jefferson Telecom and the Greene County Iowa Historical Society are televising a recently-completed, hour-long video interview of Geisler. It will be televised four times on Jefferson Telecom’s cable television Channel 9 at 6 p.m. — on Friday, Jan. 11; Sunday, Jan. 13; Friday, Jan. 18, and Sunday, Jan. 20.

The interview will then be available on DVD at the Greene County Historical Museum.

Chuck Offenburger, retired journalist and a member of the historical society’s board of directors, conducted the interview this past Nov. 8 at Geisler’s farm home five miles west of Churdan, or just southwest of historic St. Patrick’s church.  Roger Aegerter, the historical society’s executive director, did the video recording.  It seems appropriate to add here that Mary Geisler is a past-president of the historical society, serving back when the museum was still located on the north side of the courthouse square in Jefferson.

The interview flows like a warm, friendly conversation, although she confides, “My kids think I talk too much.”

She gets upset now at her fading hearing and vision and “not being able to get out and do things like I always have.”  But generally, she feels good and looks terrific.

At one point, Offenburger tells Geisler that “even at 100 years old, you are still a quite attractive, fetching-looking woman.”  She responds, “Well, thank you!”  Then he asks, “Well, in your early 20s, were you kind of a hot catch?”  She answers with a smile, “Well, I dated a lot of guys.”

He also coaxes her into reciting her favorite passage of Shakespeare, from the famous “Speech to the Players” in “Hamlet.”

Geisler said she always intended to write her own life story in a book, and once “filled half a spiral notebook” with her stories and observations, but then got distracted and never returned to it.  She said she thought “it could have been titled ‘Mary’s Merry-Go-Round’ because my life has been a real merry-go-round.”

We’re honored to preserve at least some of those stories on the new video interview.

Mary in her childhood.

Mary in young adulthood and at her marriage to Ed Geisler in 1944.

The tally sheet on Mary Geisler’s family.

With a chalkboard used for lessons in her country school years.

 

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At Dec. 7 meeting, new officers, newsletter, 2019 programs & holiday music

JEFFERSON, Iowa, Dec. 3, 2018 — The Greene County Iowa Historical Society will close its programming for 2018 with the annual holiday-themed lunch and meeting on Friday, Dec. 7, at the Greenewood Center in Jefferson.

The annual election of officers will be held, and a newsletter covering 2018 and 2019 activities will be distributed — and that will include the schedule of monthly and special programs to be held in ’19.

Nominees for 2019 officers are David John, of Jefferson, as president; Margaret Hamilton, of Jefferson, programs director; Joyce Ausberger, of Jefferson, secretary; Becki Cunningham, of Paton, treasurer, and Dale Hanaman, of Rippey, past-president. Nominations will be accepted from the membership at the meeting, too.

A special feature will be musical entertainment by Greene County High School band members, led by director Wes Anderson.

The lunch requires RSVPs by midday on Wednesday, Dec. 5, with members calling their community contacts, while the public can make reservations with vice-president Nancy Hanaman at (515) 436-7684. Lunch is $8 for members and $10 for non-members.

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“Our Wilsons & Lincoln” event Nov. 11 at 2 p.m. will salute courthouse statue’s 100 years of inspiration

JEFFERSON, Iowa, Nov. 5, 2018 —  An inspiring story of how the unique statue of President Abraham Lincoln was commissioned, placed and dedicated on the Greene County Courthouse square 100 years ago will be told again on Sunday, Nov. 11, in a 2 p.m. program in the courthouse rotunda here.

“Our Wilsons & Lincoln –100 years later” has been organized by the Courthouse 100 committee, which in the fall of 2017 put together the celebration of the building’s centennial.

In the era 1915-’18, there was not only great pride across the county in the new courthouse, there was also great anticipation for the designation and construction of the new Lincoln Highway on a route taking it on the south side of the square.

All that prompted attorney E.B. Wilson and his wife Minnie, who were community leaders in Jefferson, to decide to order and donate a statue of President Lincoln, whose leadership in the Civil War and subsequent assassination made him an enduring national hero.

The Lincoln statue on the south side of the Greene County Courthouse. The plaque includes an inspiring passage from the president’s second inaugural address.

The statue was actually dedicated on Sept. 22, 1918, and the Jefferson newspapers reported more than 5,000 people attended.

A century later, on this Nov. 11, there’ll be a much smaller, but still meaningful, 100th anniversary celebration.

Courthouse 100 chairperson Don Van Gilder will welcome the crowd, and introduce Rick Morain, the program’s narrator.

Then Allan Sieck, of Rippey, will do a recitation of Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.” He will be followed by Jefferson native Dean Parr, now of Cedar Rapids, an active leader in both the National and Iowa Lincoln Highway Associations, speaking about the building of that important highway and its impact.

Then there will be a theatrical portrayal of the Wilsons, “reappearing” to tell their own version of the story about their gift of the statue.  They will be portrayed by Don and Jean Van Gilder, who have appeared in several plays together, most often in productions of the Greene County Community Players.

And Tori Riley will conclude the program with an original poem.

The program in the rotunda is free, and refreshments will be, too – apple cider from Deal’s Orchard and donut holes from Dunkers by Matt.

Early community leaders and statue donors E.B. and Minnie Wilson.
Don and Jean Van Gilder, holding a photo of the Wilsons, whom the Van Gilders will portray.
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Recalling Greene County’s political & elections history, when we meet in Scranton Nov. 2

SCRANTON, Iowa, Oct. 25, 2018 — Brothers Rick and Tom Morain will be discussing “Greene County Politics Thru The Years: The Pendulum Always Swings” when the Greene County Historical Society meets on Friday, Nov. 2, at the United Methodist Church in Scranton.

Rick Morain, who lives in Jefferson, is the retired editor & publisher of the Jefferson Bee & Herald, now writing a weekly “Greenery” column for the Jefferson Herald.

Rick Morain

Tom Morain lives in Lamoni in south central Iowa and is a community outreach representative for Graceland University there. He formerly directed Living History Farms, then was administrator of the State Historical Society of Iowa. He is recognized as one of Iowa’s leading historians, and in 2009, the state historical society honored him with its highest designation, the Harlan/Petersen Award for Lifetime Service to Iowa History.

The Morain brothers say their love of local history – including government and politics – traces to boyhood when they’d often open bound volumes of the Bee & Herald newspapers on the ping-pong table of their Jefferson home and read for hours.

After graduating from JHS, Rick in 1959 and Tom in 1965, they went to Graceland when it was a 2-year college, then completed their undergraduate degrees at the University of Iowa. Both went on to earn doctorates, Rick at Yale University and Tom at the U of I, both in American studies.

Three years ago, they co-taught an online Iowa history course for Graceland, and had students enrolled from private colleges across the state.

Rick said both brothers are “probably center-left” on the political spectrum today. In the 1960s and ’70s, Rick was an active Republican “in the Bob Ray wing of the party,” and even served as county Republican chairperson and a member of the state GOP Central Committee. Tom said he hasn’t been as directly involved in politics, although he did some volunteer work for Common Cause, the non-partisan, pro-democracy advocacy group.

“As far as our knowledge of politics and elections in the county, Tom learned it in a much more scholarly way, with oral histories and extensive research,” Rick said. “I’ve kind of lived Greene County political history, with all my time with the newspapers.”

Tom Morain

He added their Nov. 2 program “will be more anecdotal than scholarly.”

Would he give us a quick snapshot of the county’s electoral history?

“In general, Greene County has tended to vote with the winner over the years,” Rick said. “So it’s kind of a bellwether, but not as accurate as, say, Palo Alto County usually has been.” He said there is also a “balance” in the county, without any single dominating ethnic group or church denomination, so political leanings are more spread across the spectrum.

There’ll be an $8 lunch at the church in Scranton at 12 noon, with RSVPs for members due with their community contacts by midday Wednesday, Oct. 31. Members of the public who want to eat lunch for $10 should phone vice-president Nancy Hanaman at (515) 436-7684. The 1 p.m. program at the church is free and all are invited.
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How many courthouse structures have been built on the site of the current Greene County Courthouse?

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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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