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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Ces Brunow’s thoughts on the historical society as she steps down from seven years of leadership

By CHUCK OFFENBURGER

JEFFERSON, Iowa, Jan. 4, 2019 — Celia “Ces” Brunow, of Jefferson, hasn’t been involved in the Greene County Iowa Historical Society as long as many other people have. But she has had a major impact in her eight years with us – seven of them as an officer and/or board member.

She started attending meetings and volunteering in the museum in 2011, months after moving back to her ol’ hometown. Then she served a year on the board of directors, a year as vice-president, two years as president, and the last three years as past-president.

She decided to leave the board at the end of 2018, primarily because she and her husband & business partner John Brunow have increased their travels in demonstrating and selling specialty bicycles in their All Ability Cycles business. They are especially marketing specially designed, imported bicycles that are easily adapted for riders with special physical challenges, including the elderly.

Ces Brunow

“I do plan on staying involved with the historical society,” Ces said. “I have volunteered to work on increasing membership, and I’m always going to be interested in helping at the museum. There may come a time when I’d like to go back on the board, too, but for now, it’s hard for me to commit to a regular schedule for meetings when we’re traveling like we are.”

Brunow brought a new level of museum experience and new ideas about museum operations home to Greene County with her.

For the previous 15 years, she had worked at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., as site director of their infant-toddler and later their pre-school program.

“Basically we were the child-care program for employees of the Smithsonian museums and for a few other federal agencies that were nearby,” she said. “What was really unusual about it was that we were located right in the museums, and we used their full resources with the children. In fact, we had a written curriculum we used called ‘Museum Magic,’ and it was a state-of-the-art program for early learning.”

That helped shape her belief that “a museum should always be educational, a place of learning. A museum should never be thought of as a boring place where you just go look at old things. And it may be even more important to emphasize educational role of museums in small towns than in bigger places.”

Why?

“Your local history is not really going to be offered in bigger museums elsewhere,” she said. “If we don’t preserve it right here, present it in programs and teach it, it’ll be forgotten.”

In her time with us so far, Brunow has joined with friends Janet Durlam, Dianne Piepel, Mary Weaver and others in several innovative new programs and exhibits.

They helped add several special Sunday afternoon feature programs, covering a wide range of topics, to attract new audiences to the museum – people who because of job normally can’t attend the historical society’s monthly Friday midday programs. They went through the museum archives and storage, acquainting themselves with the artifacts we have and using them in new displays. They put a new emphasis on personal histories of people in Greene County, even having them tell their own stories in video or audio interviews. They initiated a real change in making the museum much more of a “hands-on” place instead of a “do not touch place,” especially for children. And they’ve helped with several special exhibits and programs in support of major events in the community – like the 100th anniversary of the courthouse, the 50th anniversary of the Mahanay Memorial Carillon Tower, the Iowa Bicycle Festivals held in Jefferson, and the traveling Smithsonian Institution “Hometown Teams” exhibit about sports in our culture, which was displayed at the museum last summer and early fall.

Brunow pointed to that Smithsonian exhibit, which was co-sponsored here by the Jefferson Matters Main Street program and the historical society, as an example of how new programs or exhibits will attract new people – not only in the audiences but as volunteers.

“Like most volunteer organizations, we need to be adding new people all the time,” she said. “it was interesting that with the ‘Hometown Teams’ exhibit, we had about 40 docents signed up who welcomed people to the museum, guided visitors through, answered questions, that sort of thing. Many of those 40 people had never been in our museum before. I think they enjoyed it. Now we need to get back in touch with those people, thank them with a reception, and tell them how they can be involved with us in the future.”

She says attracting more members and volunteers is one of three big challenges she sees for the historical society in the near future.

A second one is “trying to find a way to continue one of the sweetest things about our Greene County historical society, and that’s our tradition of having the monthly meetings move around to the smaller towns in the county,” she said. As population has aged and declined, it’s increasingly hard for the small communities to find enough volunteers to provide lunches and help with hosting. The society works hard at not only meeting in as many of the towns as possible, but also presenting programs there about their local history.

A third challenge, she said, is “maintaining and improving the buildings we have now.” Those are the museum in the business district, as well as the historical building and one-room country schoolhouse at the county fairgrounds.

Ces Melson Brunow graduated from Jefferson High School in 1967. She and John Brunow, a native of Centerville in southern Iowa, met at the University of Iowa. After graduating in 1971 and marrying, they settled in Centerville, where in 1972 John was elected to the Iowa House of Representatives and served three terms. The Brunows also owned and operated the Moravia Union and Moulton Tribune newspapers in Appanoose County.

Later when John was selling insurance, they moved to New England for eight years, and then on to the Washington, D.C., area. When Ces was working at the Smithsonian, John realized a long dream of owning and operating a bicycle shop, in Vienna, Va. They decided to move back home to Iowa, to be here whenever their retirement begins, and picked Ces’ hometown of Jefferson, partially because of its location on the Raccoon River Valley Trail and John’s desire to open a bicycle shop here.

They have three grown children, all artists. Jessica is an art teacher in Bellevue, Wash.; Jacob, a sculptor and now a craft beer specialist, works with a distributor in Richmond, Va., and Sara, who graduated in musical theater, is now director of community engagement for a theater in Houston, Tex. They have six grandchildren, with a seventh on the way.

The author of this story, Chuck Offenburger, of Cooper, is a member of the board of directors of the Greene County Iowa Historical Society. You can write him at chuck@Offenburger.com.

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Marilynn Hoskinson has always kept us moving!

By CHUCK OFFENBURGER

JEFFERSON, Iowa, Dec. 21, 2018 — As all who know her will attest, Marilynn Hoskinson, even at 91 years old, is a dynamo. She always has been.

Student, cheerleader, wife, mother, grandmother, a 30-year banker with Home State Bank, singer, piano & organ player, painter, cross-stitcher, devoted reader, crossword puzzle addict, 4-time cancer survivor and outstanding volunteer leader for First Presbyterian Church, for the Jefferson B.P.O. DOES Drove #196, for the Greene County Iowa Historical Society and other groups.

“I have two words that are my key words for life,” she said in a recent chat in her Jefferson home. “They are ‘Keep moving!’

“You have to,” she continued. “You can’t just sit in a chair and piss & moan. I say this all the time: ‘Thank you, God, for all the things I can do, and I’ll keep doing them until I can’t.’ ”

Marilynn Hoskinson

O.K., I said, since you’re already fired up, will you please do that old favorite Grand Junction High School cheer of yours for me again? She reached back more than 80 years – “it actually came from cheerleaders one generation before me,” she said – and whooped it:

Ta-hick, ta-minnie,
Ta-zolly-zock,
Ta-boom, ta-larrie –
Yoo-hoo!

“And we waved at the opponents’ crowd when we yelled the ‘Yoo-hoo!’ ” she said. “They didn’t like us much.”

We salute her now because of her tremendous service to the historical society the past 25 years or so. She served a dozen years on the board of directors, and a decade of that as treasurer. She’s done programs for us on women’s hats, Spring Lake Park, Grand Junction history and, of course, the one-room country schools of an earlier era.

“Country schools have always been a favorite subject for me, probably at first because I attended one and I remember it so well,” she said.

That was out in the rural neighborhood around Spring Lake, from about 1931 to 1935, when her family moved into Grand Junction. That school, “Hardin No. 6,” was one of more than 70 rural schools operating in Greene County then. Young teacher Miss Liberty Maye Mattson had 20 students together in one room, with all eight grades represented. Hoskinson looks back on it now and is amazed at the challenge the teachers had, but what an advantage it was for students.

“I swear, for me it was like a Head Start program,” she reflected. “I learned so much by listening to the older kids recite their lessons.”

In the 1990s, the Minnihan family donated to Greene County the old “Bristol No. 7” school that was on their farm. The historic schoolhouse was moved to the county fairgrounds, and the fair board asked the historical society to do something worthwhile with it. The society has maintained the building, opening it for visiting individuals and groups, and having it open for display during the fair each summer.

For a dozen years, Hoskinson has dressed as a country school teacher and served as a “docent,” doing historical interpretations of what education was like when it was held in such one-room quarters.

“I decided that I’d bow out of that after this last summer’s fair,” she said. “It was time to turn it over to another generation.”

Becki Cunningham, a historical society board member from Paton, has volunteered in the school house with Hoskinson the last couple years to learn the stories that we can share on into the future.

What are Hoskinson’s views of history and the historical society, after all she’s contributed?

“Well, first, I love history,” she said. “If I’d have gone to college, I probably would’ve become a history teacher. And I love our historical society. I think it’s done a tremendous job.

Marilynn and Leon Hoskinson.

“My first concern about it, looking to the future, is that we need to get younger people involved, and that’s pretty doggoned tough to do today – in our organizations, our churches, in almost anything else. People are so busy!

“Some younger people probably don’t give a rip about local history right now, but when they’ve lived longer in a place, they start wondering why things are like they are, and who did what in the past. We need to try to keep them interested, and I think we’re doing that with new exhibits at the museum, new topics in our monthly programs, and doing more local history on TV.

“I’ve guided a lot of people through the museum over the years, and I notice that if you ask them what they’re interested in, you can almost always connect them with something in the museum. And then you build on that.”

Marilynn’s husband Leon Hoskinson, a farmer, died in 1997. Their daughters are Becky, a retired teacher in Mason City; Kathy, who is retired from the phone system in Waterloo, and Tracy, a retired early-learning teacher and medical insurance worker in Ogden. Marilyn has four grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.

The author of this story, Chuck Offenburger, of Cooper, is a member of the board of directors of the Greene County Iowa Historical Society.  You can write him at chuck@Offenburger.com.

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New president David John has Greene County roots as deep as you can get

By CHUCK OFFENBURGER

JEFFERSON, Iowa, Dec. 12, 2018 — David John, who was elected president of the Greene County Iowa Historical Society for 2019 at a meeting of the membership Dec. 7 , is about as deeply-rooted a Greene Countian as anyone around here today could be.

“My namesake and great-great-grandfather David John settled here with his family in 1856 and farmed west of Rippey,” said the current David John, 78, a retired school guidance counselor who lives outside Jefferson.

“They were one of about 150 families of settlers who moved in here between 1854 and 1856, probably from Missouri, Kentucky and Illinois,” John said. “I’m fairly sure my great-great-grandfather first stopped in Adel for a time, but then came on up here by river.”

It’s quite a heritage.

David John, newly-elected president of the Greene County Iowa Historical Society, shown here in the museum in Jefferson.

His great-grandfather John B. John was among the young men who were students at the early Brand School in our Washington Township. That’s the school from where instructor Azor Mills and all 30 students, including John B. John, marched off together for Civil War service.

Besides John as president, the other newly-elected are Margaret Hamilton, of Jefferson, programs director; Joyce Ausberger, of Jefferson, secretary; Becki Cunningham, of Paton, returns as treasurer, and Dale Hanaman, of Rippey, past-president.

David John spent his early years in Bagley, where his father was a mechanic for the local farm implement dealer. By David’s fourth grade year, the family moved to Osceola in south central Iowa where his father worked for a larger implement dealer. David graduated from high school there in 1958. He worked construction and hauled grain until 1963 when he was drafted into the Army. He was trained as a military truck driver, and served two years active duty in Missouri and Texas, then two more years in the Army Reserves in Ames.

Using the “GI Bill,” he started his college work in January, 1966, at Boone Junior College. After three semesters, he transferred to the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, where he eventually graduated with a degree in social studies with an emphasis in political science.

It was at UNI that David met Carol Norgren, of Rippey, a 1965 graduate of East Greene High School, who was studying library science in college.

After graduating and marrying, they began their education careers in eastern Iowa, Carol as a school librarian and David teaching government and economics at the high school level. David also earned his master’s degree from the University of Iowa in K-12 guidance counseling.

From ’72 to ’79, the Johns served a school district in Burlington, Ill.

But they maintained strong ties back in Iowa. Early participants in the adult bicycling boom of the 1970s, they rode three of the earliest RAGBRAIs. And even though they were living in Illinois, they subscribed to the Des Moines Register “so we could get the ads for teaching jobs,” David said.

In 1979, when they read that the Jefferson Community Schools were advertising for a high school librarian and an elementary-level guidance counselor, they jumped at the opportunities. They got the jobs and finished their careers here, David retiring in 2001 and Carol in 2002. During their time in the schools here, David served as resident of the Jefferson Education Association for several terms.

The Johns have traveled extensively, visiting 49 of the United States, missing only Hawaii, and to all the provinces of Canada. They’ve continued bicycling, too, and have ridden their Bacchetta recumbents in Florida, Ohio, Minnesota, Colorado, Wisconsin and Idaho besides Iowa.

“I’ve always loved history, and my favorite reading has been historical biographies,” David said. “Even though my family has a lot of history around here, I wasn’t as interested in local history until more recent years. We didn’t get involved in the historical society organization, but we have been attending a lot of the programs and have been getting more interested all the time.”

After being asked to consider the presidency of the historical society, he said he’s been reading Tom Morain’s acclaimed 1988 history of Greene County, “Prairie Grass Roots,” and has been fascinated by it. That covers from white settlement of the area in the 1850s until the 1930s.

John said one think he wants to work on is “to tie Greene County history more into the high school history classes here.”  Another goal – “get more people involved in the historical society.”

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Program this Sunday: Bicycling history of Greene County – and of RAGBRAI, too!

JEFFERSON, Iowa, April 9, 2018 — If it seems to you like there’s been a whole lot of bicycling happening around Greene County in recent years, you’re right.

That will be especially so this summer when RAGBRAI (that’s the Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa) pedals through the county on July 23-24. It will visit Scranton on July 23, overnight in Jefferson, and then go on to Grand Junction and Dana the next day enroute to an overnight in Ames.

So this seems like a good time to review the history of bicycling in Greene County – and let’s add the history of RAGBRAI, too.

The Greene County Historical Society and Jefferson Matters Main Street are going to do just that this coming Sunday, April 15. They are co-sponsoring a special free program at 2 p.m. at the museum in Jefferson, looking at cycling’s past, present and maybe even future here. And the program will also explore how RAGBRAI became the international phenomenon that it is – the oldest, longest and largest bicycle touring event in the world. It should be a good primer for Greene Countians getting ready for RAGBRAI’s visit.

Presenting will be John & Ces Brunow, of Jefferson, co-owners of All Ability Cycles, and special guest T.J. Juskiewicz, the director of RAGBRAI.

Ces & John Brunow, of Jefferson, will speak on the history of bicycling in Greene County.

This is one of a series of sports-related programs this year that are preliminaries to the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling “Hometown Teams” exhibit, which the historical museum in Jefferson will house Aug. 11 thru Sept. 23. That exhibit is being hosted here by the local Main Street and historical groups.

Bicycling had a big start in Greene County as early as the 1890s, when there was a large men’s cycling club based in Jefferson and a “women’s auxiliary” cycling group, too. There were races, exhibitions and jaunty group rides to neighboring towns. Through the decades, there have been “Bicycle Days” promotions and parades in our towns.

We’ve seen much more of the sport in more recent decades.

For 41 years, Rippey has been a host town and turn-around point on “BRR” — that’s the “Bike Ride to Rippey” from Perry and back in early February, no matter the weather. And since 1997, Greene County has had the northern 12 miles of one of the best-known and busiest recreational trails in the nation, the Raccoon River Valley Trail, with trailheads in Cooper, at Winkleman Switch and in Jefferson.

And now here comes RAGBRAI in its 46th year, delivering visitors to us from all 50 states and a dozen or more other nations.

T.J. Juskiewicz, director of RAGBRAI, will speak on the history and impact of that huge event.

All of the above is part of bicycling now having such a major economic impact in Iowa. According to a recent study by the University of Northern Iowa, bike-related expenditures in the state now total about $350 million annually.

At the program this Sunday, the Brunows and Juskiewicz will be speaking, and there will be displays of cycling memorabilia. There will also be time for questions and free refreshments.

John & Ces Brunow have lived in Jefferson since 2010 and based their inspiring bicycle business here, although Ces grew up here as a Melson. John is a native of Centerville in southern Iowa, and he and Ces met as students at the University of Iowa.

They returned to the Centerville area after college, and in 1972 John was elected to the Iowa House of Representatives, where Ces served as his clerk until they started their family. They also bought and operated two weekly newspapers, the Moravia Union and Moulton Tribune. After three terms in the Iowa House, John ran for state auditor and was defeated, but then was elected Appanoose County auditor.

He served until landing a good insurance job with a company in New Hampshire. The Brunows spent eight years there, then John got a transfer to the Washington, D.C. area where they lived for nearly 20 years. They’ve been bicycle riders, even commuters, most of their adult lives.

John stayed in insurance until Ces Brunow, who had teaching experience in pre-schools, accepted a position at the Smithsonian Institution’s “Early Enrichment Center.” She became part of an innovative educational program that used the museum’s resources in a daycare program for employees’ children as well as some children from the public.

When she took that job, she said “it let John fulfill his dream of opening his own bicycle shop” in suburban Vienna, Va. He ran that shop, “Bikes@Vienna,” until they moved back to Iowa to be closer to his parents in their later years. They picked Ces’ hometown of Jefferson as their new home, and opened All Ability Cycles with the motto of “We believe that all can ride.” They sell a variety of bicycles, and repair them, but they specialize in adapting bicycles so people with all kinds of challenges can ride them. It’s a heart-warming story that has been shared nationally.

T.J. Juskiewicz is a native of Sunrise, Fla., who has been with RAGBRAI since 2003, director of it for 15 years. Before that, he was director of Florida’s cross-state ride Bike Florida and also directed the Florida’s Sunshine State Games. He’d met former RAGBRAI director Jim Green through their membership in the National Bicycle Tour Directors Association.

Green “kept wanting me to come to Iowa and ride RAGBRAI, so I did that in 2002 – with no intention that I’d ever move here,” said Juskiewicz, who lives with his family in Ankeny. “But I fell in love with RAGBRAI and with Iowa. In 2003, I accepted the job and worked with Green on the ride that summer, then he retired and I took over.”

Juskiewicz said he thinks RAGBRAI’s growth and success over nearly a half-century “has changed the way bicycling is looked at in this state. It’s not just a sport, it’s really a whole industry here. Because of RAGBRAI, many other biking events have started up in Iowa, and I think it’s also at least part of the reason we’ve had such a great trails system develop here.”

When you consider all that, he concluded, “I think we can put Iowa up against any other state, and – pound for pound – we’ve got the best bicycle state in the nation.”

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A salute to Mary Lynch’s long, spirited service to our historical society

By CHUCK OFFENBURGER

JEFFERSON, Iowa, Dec. 1, 2017 — At the end of 2017, when Mary Lynch retires from the board of directors of the Greene County Historical Society, we lose regular participation by one of our key leaders over the past 20-plus years.

So we sat down with her for a valedictory interview, covering some of her favorite historical society memories and reflections.

“From 1999 to 2003, I was the president at the time when we bought the building the museum is in now,” said Lynch, who lives in Jefferson. “We worked in it from March in 2002 until we opened in December. We completely re-did the building, and almost all the work was done by our volunteers. In the building the museum had been in (since 1970) on the north side of the square, we had three stories of stuff displayed or in storage. We got rid of some of it that had deteriorated, but then we moved everything else over to the new building, where we built new exhibits and storage areas. It was exhausting, but it was a whole lot of fun, too.

“Ever since then,” she added, “when anybody’s told me they’re moving from one home to another and how much work it is, I’ve always said, ‘Well, you’ve never really moved until you’ve moved a whole museum!’ ”

Mary Lynch

Lynch said she “has always been a history buff,” but she didn’t join and become active in the historical society until after she retired from American Athletic Inc. in late 1993. She had worked her first 10 years there as a receptionist, the next 10 years in accounting. Earlier in her career she had worked in the offices of Dr. J.K. Johnson Jr., then the local electrical utility and also attorney Eugene Melson. And she spent 18 years at home raising the children she had with her husband Kenny Lynch, who had a carpet and floor covering business.

When she joined the historical board in about 1994, she began looking around the existing museum, saw how crowded it was, and eventually told the rest of the board, “Folks, it’s time to find a new home for our museum.” Valerie Heater Ogren, then the longtime president of the society, “put it right back on me,” Lynch said. “She said, ‘Well, Mary, how would you like to head-up a committee to make long-term plans and make it happen.?’ I had to say yes.”

She began looking for suitable buildings in Jefferson, and soon learned that Chuck Ryan was planning to retire from his Ryan Furniture store – our museum now.

“I knew the building pretty well because my husband Kenny had done the flooring in it when Chuck opened it in 1972,” Lynch said. “I thought the location would be perfect, just a block off the square and in view for people up at the top of the bell tower – they might come visit the museum, too.”

“As soon as I found out that Chuck Ryan was going to sell it, I called Craig MacDonald, one of the realtors, and told him the historical society was interested and to give us a chance on it,” Lynch said. “Then I called Francis Cudahy (an attorney) and Gene Houk (a dentist) and said, ‘Hey, guys, we have to go see this building and I want you to come along.’ ”

The brick building had been built in 1917 as a fuel station and repair shop for motor vehicles. Later it had been used for new car sales, and then the furniture store. The price was $65,000.

“Francis, Gene and I all thought that was a fair price, but still it was quite a bit of money for our historical society,” Lynch said. “But at our next meeting, which happened to be up in Churdan, I told our members about it and proposed that we buy it. No one spoke up against it, and we went ahead. We spent most of 2001 raising the money. I had been around Jefferson and Greene County my whole life, and I just knew that for a good project like this, people would get together and support a good project like this.”

Her nephew Chris Durlam “had just finished helping raise the money for the Greene County Community Center, so he was my advisor. He told us to get contributions first from all our board members, and then send out letters to the public. We did that, and just like I thought would happen, the checks came rolling in. I remember Jim Andrew driving over to my house and handing me two checks, each for $7,500. Gene and Carolyn Houk were major donors, and there were a whole lot of other donations from $1,000 to $5,000.

“Other people wanted to help fix or build the new museum. Carson Griffith had retired as a music teacher at East Greene, and he had a side painting business, too. He said he had many half-full cans of paint left over from past jobs, and his wife Betty wanted him to get them out of the house. So he mixed all that paint, came up with a nice light color, and then painted the whole interior of the building. My husband Kenny, who was then 76 years old, laid 650 square yards of carpet – and we laughed it was the second time he’d done the floors in that building.”

As they planned and built new exhibits, the historical society had free consultations on design and lay-out from Mike Vogt, the curator at the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum at Camp Dodge, and from Greene County native Tom Morain, who had headed Living History Farms and the State Historical Society of Iowa.

Volunteerism from our own membership must’ve reached an all-time high. Lynch recalls that there were a half-dozen or more couples who spent nearly every evening through the hot summer working at the new museum.

It was completed for a grand opening in December 2002 as part of the holiday “Tour of Homes” in Jefferson. More than 400 people came through the new museum then. And people have been coming ever since – to see the collection of artifacts (reported as 11,000 artifacts in 2010) as well as for historical programs and other community programs.

After her presidency, Lynch served a term as past-president and then went off the board. Three years later, “I realized I missed being involved, so I asked to go back on the board” and she has served until now.

At 88 and continuing to deal with macular degeneration, she felt time for another retirement had arrived.

But she did ask for time at our board of directors meeting in January to talk about her ideas for future projects by the historical society, most of them at the museum.

Exhibits need to be changed and refreshed, she says. “That really should happen every year,” she said. “There are events and people that should be featured in exhibits that we’ve never really done enough with – George Gallup Jr., Jackie Fye for her gymnastics, the Mahanays and others.

“And then we need to talk about what we can do with the level of funds that we have, in order to make the museum more popular.”

Mary Lynch’s story is a good reminder of how much our earlier members have invested in our historical society in time, talent and treasure. And it’s a call for more of us to step up and carry it forward, now and into the future.

This story was first published in the printed 2018 newsletter of the Greene County Historical Society.  That was distributed at the Dec. 1 meeting of the organization in Jefferson, and subsequently mailed to members of the society who were unable to attend that meeting. You can email the author at chuck@Offenburger.com.

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Dale Hanaman re-elected for a third year as president of the historical society

JEFFERSON, Iowa, Dec. 2, 2017 — The nominees for 2018 officers and members of the board of directors of the Greene County Historical Society were approved by unanimous acclimation of the membership on Friday, Dec. 1, when the organization had its annual business meeting at the Greenewood Center here.

Serving as president for a third year will be Dale Hanaman, of Rippey.  Other officers elected are Nancy Hanaman, of Rippey, vice-president and program director; Joyce Ausberger, of Jefferson, secretary; Becki Cunningham, of Paton, treasurer, and Ces Brunow, of Jefferson, as past-president.  The executive director Roger Aegerter, of Jefferson, is a hired employee, not an elected official, and he will continue in his position.

The 2018 officers of the historical society are (left to right) Nancy Hanaman, Ces Brunow, Joyce Ausberger, Dale Hanaman and Becki Cunningham.

Two new members of the board of directors were elected — former secretary Margaret Hamilton, of Jefferson, and Cindy Deal, of Jefferson.  They will join the following on the board: Nick Foster, of Jefferson; Carol John, of Jefferson; Dallas Schrader, of Jefferson; Paul White, of Churdan, and Chuck Offenburger, of Cooper.

The elected officers are also members of the board.

The “community contacts” for the historical society — the people who take RSVPs and other messages for the organization — are Dawn Rudolph, of Scranton; Janice Gilley, of Grand Junction; Marilynn Hoskinson, of Jefferson; Virginia Carlson, for Paton; Liz Guess, Churdan; Bette Molle, Cooper, and Mary Weaver, Rippey.

And here is the line-up for the 13 functioning committees that operate the society:

Acquisitions: Roger Aegerter, Janet Durlam, Diane Piepel, John Turpin.

Artifact Database: Margaret Hamilton, Abby Hamilton.

Building Oversight: Roger Aegerter, Paul White, Dallas Schrader.

Educational Outreach: Janet Durlam, Roger Aegerter.

Exhibits: Janet Durlam, Diane Piepel.

Fairgrounds Facility & Threshing Bee: Nick Foster.

Historian: Lois Clark.

Membership: Dale Hanaman.

Programs: Nancy Hanaman, Ces Brunow, Chuck Offenburger.

Public Relations: Chuck Offenburger, Ces Brunow.

Refreshments: Denise Harberts.

School House: Marilynn Hoskinson, Becki Cunningham.

Spelling Bee: Marilynn Hoskinson.

The business meeting was held after members joined those dining in the congregate meals program for a big lunch.  And 10 players in a “Saxophone Ensemble” from the Greene County High School band program provided excellent holiday music during the luncheon.

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Jefferson & Greene County had an amazing place in great solar eclipse of 1869

By MIKKI SCHWARZKOPF

JEFFERSON, Iowa, Feb. 3, 2017 – Way back in 1869, when Greene County was mostly prairie and the new railroad stopped here, Jefferson hosted three astronomers from the University of Toronto.

The astronomers’ later report was surprisingly eye-opening and, well, funny.

It had been determined in 1869 that Jefferson would be an ideal point for viewing the “Great Solar Eclipse” that was to happen on August 7.

Mikki Schwarzkopf
Author Mikki Schwarzkopf

The town was in the center of the 140-mile wide path of the eclipse, which began in Alaska and ended in North Carolina. Some other groups of astronomers headed for other Midwest spots, hoping for the best view.

But a party of three astronomers from Toronto traveled six days by boat and train to get to Jefferson for the big event. Edward D. Ashe, of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, planned the trip. By 1869, scientists understood a lot about solar eclipses, but not the reason for the irregularities that appeared in the sun’s corona. So this study was the focus of the trip.

“The Six Day Travel” to Jefferson

In his later report to the society, Ashe spoke of his trials during the “Eclipse Expedition.”

The day before he left, he tore a tendon in his foot, “making me quite lame.”

His precious telescope and other equipment were packed in two cases. A Montreal baggage handler marked them “Eclipse Expidition”, with three I’s in Expedition. “This was pointed out to me at Montreal,” he wrote, “but the mistake is excusable, for evidently the more eyes we have in an astronomical expedition the better.”

When they arrived at Port Huron, the Custom-House officers would not pass their baggage, and the group had to spend the night. Ashe had to take a train to Huron to see the Customs chief, who was smoking a cigar with his feet up. The man spoke no words, but scribbled a pass and resumed his smoking.

But once they crossed the border, Ashe commented, “I never was more struck with the kindness of our American cousins than I was during this trip. On all occasions, they did all in their power to promote our convenience.”

In fact, the party was given free passage on all the different rail lines. They traveled on to Jefferson from Chicago, and Ashe was disappointed in the Mississippi River, calling it “shallow, sluggish, and muddy”.

They arrived on the prairie the next morning, and Ashe was surprised to see not a flat plain, but a “beautiful undulating country.”  At one station where they stopped to water the engine, he remarked, “It was pointed out to me that most of the telegraph posts were struck by lightning…”

Eventually the conductor yelled, “Boonsboro! [now Boone] Twenty minutes for dinner!” Ashe wrote that he expected they’d be offered food that was “something in keeping with the prairie – I suppose a deer roasted on a stake. Nothing of the sort. I went into a nice dining-room; saw a quantity of pretty young ladies. Soup, chicken, peas. After 20 minutes of capital feeding, we heard, ‘All aboard! All aboard!’

“The next station was Jefferson, 1398 miles from Quebec,” he continued. “The boxes were left at the station, and we drove up to the hotel, about half-a-mile from the station. As this was Saturday, July 31, we had exactly a week to select a site and to build an observatory, mount the telescope and take preliminary observations.”

Thriving Jefferson on a sometimes scary prairie

Ashe wrote, “Jefferson city is three years old, has about 800 inhabitants, and looks a thriving place. The next day, I rode across the prairie to a station situated about eight miles on the railways from Jefferson. As it was nearer to the central line of eclipse, [Grand Junction?] we wanted to see if it would do for the site of our observatory.”

Ashe started out across the prairie on horseback at about 2 pm, and reached the station in about 1½  hours. He crossed several streams and some marshy ground and startled several prairie chickens. Finding it would be difficult to get his equipment there, he decided it would be better to remain at Jefferson. He was suffering from his leg, and could not ride fast.

Astronomer Edward Ashe
Astronomer Edward Ashe

“I steered my horse across the boundless prairie by the setting sun,” he wrote. “Now, I took it for granted that my horse knew more about the prairie than I did… The sun had just touched the horizon. I was crossing some marshy ground with reeds up to my shoulders, when I saw my horse’s nostrils distend, and I brought him round. Down he sank; I found myself up to my ankles in mud, and up to my calves in water. The horse was fixed immovable, no struggling, but snorting and dreadfully frightened… I moved my feet horizontally so water got under my feet, when I could lift them up.

“After I got out, I tore down some reeds and made a platform round my horse, and by moving him back and forth by his tail, was eventually was able to free him. I didn’t want to be trampled, so rolled over and over amongst the reeds and the horse floundered past me. When I got on my feet, no horse was to be seen, but only the tops of the reeds moving…

“With my leg I could not walk a mile, and (I thought) the horse had shaped his course for the stable. However, when I emerged from the reeds, I saw the dear old fellow standing as still as if he were in his stable. But with my lame leg, I could not put a foot into the stirrup. Well, if the worst comes to the worst, I will lash myself to his tail and make him tow me home. But an idea struck me. I lengthened both stirrups to about a foot and a half off the ground, and brought both stirrups to one side, here I had a nice little ladder to walk up. I could not help shaking hands with myself and patting my steed on the neck, reaching home just before dark.”

Where to build, and MOSQUITOES

Several days ahead of time, the party made a minute topographical survey of the area, and selected an observation site on a rising part of the prairie about a half-mile from the station, “east of the old fairgrounds, on a hilltop beyond what is now the north end of Chestnut Street,” according to a story in the Iowa Palimpsest historical journal of 1925.

The group hired carpenters, and by sunset on Monday, the four walls of the observatory were up, and the equipment was installed. The three men felt that someone should sleep there to guard it, so Ashe slept there on a mattress on the ground.

jefferson-on-1969-prairie-with-observatory
A view of Jefferson in 1869, with the quickly-constructed observatory to the right.

The astronomer had quite a battle during the evening and night.

“A little after sunset, a mosquito looked over the wall, and then sounded the assembly,” Ashe wrote.  “On they came… Now an army was drawn up…on my cheeks, the skirmishers advancing through my eye-brows…  I really think that they work their stings like the needle of a sewing machine. Maddened, I struck myself a fearful blow with both hands in the face… I was getting weak; a storming party had now taken possession of my right ear; I clenched my fist, and with a swinging blow, cleared the ear, but knocked myself down.”

Ashe wrote about imagined discussions among the mosquitoes about the best places to feed on him as the hours dragged along. He even wrote a song from the mosquitoes’ point of view:

“The blood of the Indian is dark and flat,
And that of the buffalo hard to come at;
But the blood of the astronomer is clear and bright:
We will dance and we’ll drink the live-long night.
Chorus: How jolly we are with flights so airy;
Happy is the mosquito that dwells on the prairie.”

When sunrise came, Ashe reported that the mosquitoes “staggered off to their respective marshes.” He slept well from dawn until 6 a.m.

Work began again. The 42-inch telescope was mounted on a sturdy platform, a dark room was made, and doors with locks were installed.

On “Eclipse Day,” the crowd moaned

When the Saturday of the eclipse finally came, the morning was hazy and overcast. The clouds eventually broke, but the air was still hazy. At 3:38 p.m. local time, the eclipse began, and the scientists took photographs of the partial eclipse and two of the totality, but haze was still a problem.

Ashe wrote, “A crowd had followed up from the town, and took a position near the observatory…on the last glimpse of day-light vanishing, the crowd gives expression to their feelings with a noise that is unlike anything I have ever heard… There is an expression of terror in it. It is not a shout; it is a moan.”

It was noticed that livestock gathered to meander back to their stables, and chickens went to roost.

The Jefferson Era newspaper reported that “all through the totality, a halo shot forth from around the moon, perhaps caused by the mist, and prevented the darkness from being as complete as it might otherwise have been. O! What a somber, sickly darkness was over the earth for about three minutes… The larger stars shone forth brightly near the place of eclipse.”

Some in the crowd had small telescopes or field glasses, but many watched the eclipse with the aid of a piece of colored glass. Others used only a smoked glass made by coating a broken window pane with the soot from a lighted candle or kerosene lamp. These helped to shield the eye from the intense light of the sun.

The Era noted that a local carpenter asked, “What are those notches in the moon?” That, of course, was the big question, which wasn’t answered by astronomers until much later. Eventually, it was found that the moon has mountains and craters, which the carpenter had noticed.

Jefferson in the London Illustrated News

The London Illustrated News reported on several viewings by astronomers in various parts of America, including the one in Jefferson.

“We have engraved a view of the temporary observatory used by the party at Jefferson city, which is a thriving little town of 800 people and three years’ growth,” the Illustrated News reported.

better-inside-observatory-outside-jefferson

Ashe’s eclipse photographs did not look like some taken in other locations. He had sent the negatives of the total eclipse to an observatory in Cranford, Middlesex, England, for a “Mr. De la Rue” to examine.

Later, Ashe had to endure an accusation by De la Rue that the images were defective, due to movement of the telescope during the photographing, or his rapid shooting was at fault. Ashe was outraged.  Immediately, he replied, giving lengthy evidence to “clear myself of these crimes.”

After several letters to De la Rue, including those from the other astronomers in his party, it was concluded that the local haze contributed to the photographic differences. His expedition was a proclaimed a success.

Area residents had their own ideas about the great eclipse.

A few days after the event, the Jefferson Era reported, “An old lady came to town the other day and in speaking of the eclipse said she hated awfully to see the sun in such a bad fix.”

The author Mikki Schwarzkopf is a member of the Greene County Historical who says, “Can you tell I love digging into research?” She first learned about the 1869 eclipse “while I was transcribing an early Jefferson Era newspaper.  There was only a paragraph or so about the eclipse, but it did mention E. D. Ashe from Toronto. I started digging from there, and found the text of his report on his trip, given to the Royal Society of Astronomy in Toronto. I was expecting very dry, technical stuff, but it was both interesting and funny! I was intrigued that Ashe presented that song as if the mosquitoes wrote it.  Ha!” The engravings of the Ashe observation structure and the view of Jefferson were originally published in the Illustrated London News of Oct. 9, 1869. “The Iowa State University library had a bound copy of the volume!” Schwarzkopf said. “I visited there and a librarian scanned them for me.”  You can write her by email to learn more about this project at rschwarz@netins.net.

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Our historical society needs members (and donations, too!)

JEFFERSON, Iowa, Dec. 7, 2016 — As this year comes to a close and 2017 is set to begin, it’s time to purchase or renew memberships in the Greene County Historical Society. And it’s also a great time to make donations to the society and be able to claim the donations in your income taxes.

Individual memberships are $15, family memberships are $20 and you can really help us by becoming “Friends of the Greene County Historical Society” at the $50 level.  Additional donations are welcomed for any amount, of course.

You can get all the details about memberships and donations — including the new option of making these transactions online on this secure website — by clicking right here.

Greene County Historical Society officers for 2017 are (left to right) past-president Ces Brunow, vice-president & program director Nancy Hanaman, president Dale Hanaman, treasurer Becki Cunningham, executive director Roger Aegerter, and secretary Margaret Hamilton. Elections of the officers and board members were held at the year-end society meeting on Friday, Dec. 2, at the Greenewood Center in Jefferson.
Greene County Historical Society officers for 2017 are (left to right) past-president Ces Brunow, vice-president & program director Nancy Hanaman, president Dale Hanaman, treasurer Becki Cunningham, executive director Roger Aegerter, and secretary Margaret Hamilton.

Chuck Offenburger, a member of the GCHS board of directors, said he “used my credit card and the online payment method to buy our family membership for 2017, primarily just to test the system, and I was amazed how quick and easy it is. People should give it a try, both for memberships and for straight donations.”

And while you are on that memberships/donations page on the website, please take time to read the compelling story by past-president Ces Brunow published there.  Brunow concisely explains just what our organization’s financial obligations and challenges are.

Dale Hanaman, our current president, notes that our membership is very loyal.  “Using the membership list, we have 284 people who are members — people holding individual or family memberships,” he said. “During 2016, all but 37 paid their membership,” which is pretty good in comparison to most organizations that have members.   We figure that the 13 percent who did not pay in 2016 either didn’t get our reminders or just plain forgot.

Hanaman said he has to be aware and a bit concerned that our members include “a large number of people over 60 years of age.  I hope that we are able to attract many new members during this coming year,” and he added that current members can sure help recruit.

“Many of us are business persons, or involved in a community service group or connected to a worshipping community,” Hanaman said.  “And we all have friends and neighbors.  New historical members may come from our own contacts, so our members need to encourage others to join.”

He noted that “the historical society is a group of people wanting to remember our roots, help cherish our various backgrounds, and celebrate our history.  What of your history can we lift up and give thanks?”

We typically attract 50 to 60 people to the monthly historical programs we have April thru December.  We strive to make those programs informative, interesting and even entertaining.  And we make them accessible, too, as we schedule them into churches or other meeting facilities around Greene County.  The programs, over the year, span a wide variety of interests.  In addition, we feature up to a half-dozen special feature programs that are typically held at our historical museum in Jefferson, and those programs often attract more than 100 people.

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Justice Harris’ poem “Homecoming”

JEFFERSON, Iowa, Aug. 24, 2016 — We’ve been thinking ahead to this Sunday’s “Poetry Out Loud” program at our Greene County Historical Museum, featuring readings by members of the “First United Coven of Greene County” poets group. And that prompted a pleasant memory of one of Greene County’s most respected citizens, the late David Harris, who was known much more for his 27 years as a justice on the Iowa Supreme Court but was also a fine poet.

Justice David Harris mugshot
Justice David Harris

Justice Harris, who died in 2010, occasionally wrote reflections for the Jefferson Bee & Herald, and sometimes he included poems he’d written.  So we asked retired Bee & Herald editor and publisher Rick Morain if he happened to have any of Harris’ poetry handy, hoping we could share a verse with readers.

Morain gave us one that seems most appropriate, a poem of praise by Harris for his hometown of Jefferson.  The Morains have it framed and displayed on their mantelpiece.  Harris wrote it in 1973 and titled it “Homecoming.”  It is written with a rhyme scheme of a Shakespearean sonnet, and here it is to savor:

Our pride is not in us but in the place
That molded us and is our strength and pride
As we come home. We sing its lasting grace,
Thanksgiving sing, to town and countryside.
If there is good in anything we’ve done
Or said, or written here or anywhere
We may have wandered, any laurels won,
The words and deeds were not enough to bear
Our thanks. Kind fortune smiled most tenderly
Upon our gentle town, gave treasures rare,
To us for all the watching world to see.
Our sons and daughters, with so much to share,
Should lead this sad and weary world to live.
We, here, were given so much more to give.

You can enjoy the poetry reading this Sunday, Aug. 28, at 2 p.m. at the museum in Jefferson.  The program is free — and the refreshments will be, too.

And you can read more about it in another story on this internet site.

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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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