Two fun historical events: Friday’s “Trivia Team” challenge, Saturday a free matinee of “Whitcomb’s War” movie made here

The Greene County Historical Society is shifting into some real summer fun for gatherings this Friday, Aug. 5, in Grand Junction and Saturday, Aug. 6, in Jefferson.

Friday’s regular monthly meeting will be at the United Methodist Church in Grand Junction, with a lunch followed by the return of the historical society’s undefeated “Trivia Team” to challenge all members and guests with questions on local history. 

The team of Roger Aegerter, Nancy Hanaman and Chuck Offenburger is 1-0, having baffled the members and guests of the Greene County Farm Bureau at their annual picnic meeting a year ago. However, the team will be without Hanaman on Friday, as she’s recovering from an illness, and she’ll be replaced in the line-up by new board member Denise Harberts.

Aegerter, of Jefferson, the society’s executive director, says he has trivia expertise in “Jefferson history going back 12.2 billion years, art, the Historic Lincoln Highway and other things that are too much, too odd, too nuts.”  Offenburger, of Jefferson, boasts of his knowledge of “Greene County sports — because I know Doug Rieder, Iowa history, politics, journalism, fight songs, and controversies around Cooper.” Harberts will bring expertise the Pleasant Hill community, traditional foods, music and spirituality.

Friday’s RSVP lunch, for $10, is at 12 noon.  The program, which is free, should start about 12:45 p.m.

The historical society’s “Trivia Team” for this Friday’s competition — Chuck Offenburger, Roger Aegerter and Denise Harberts.

Saturday’s event promises especially fun – a free 2 p.m. showing on the big screen of the Sierra Community Theatre in Jefferson of a 1980 movie “Whitcomb’s War,” which was filmed mostly in Jefferson, with a few scenes in Fort Dodge, and then released and shown nationally. 

You’ll see several Greene Countians appearing in small roles in the movie, and a few others had prominent jobs in its filming and production here.  Those you’ll see who are still living include Pauline Borst, Jed Magee, Bob Telleen and Rolfe Blaess.  And Muriel Lehman worked in arranging and delivering props the actors used.

The storyline of the movie, according to one old review, is that “Pastor David Michael Whitcomb is assigned to a church in Harrah, Iowa (think Jefferson), that is dealing with employer Phil Esteem, who changes the work week to Wednesday through Sunday.” Pastor Whitcomb leads a campaign against working on Sunday, and “three comic demons” are “assigned to see that the pastor fails.”

The movie cast included a dozen or more Hollywood stars, led by Patrick Pankhurst, Leon Charles and Bill Morey – all with a long list of credits.  The writer, producer and director was Russell S. Doughten, Jr., a native of Carlisle, Iowa, who lived most of his adult life there while making films across the nation and beyond.  His production credits stretch from 1958 to ’84 after he studied literature and movie making at Drake University and Yale University.

“It was a surprise when it was finally announced that Jefferson was going to be the site of a movie that would bring in these stars and a full production company,” said Jed Magee, then a young attorney in Jefferson, now a retired Iowa District Court judge who moved back to Jefferson in retirement. “We’d all heard rumors earlier, but then sometime in the 1970s, here they came.  It seems like they were here filming, mostly at the Greene County Fairgrounds, for at least a couple months, but maybe as long as a month.”

He said the Hollywood people all stayed at the Redwood Motel on the north side of Jefferson, and ate most of their meals at the Redwood’s fine steakhouse restaurant, visiting with local folks as they did.

He said for the scenes when Pastor Whitcomb’s war is raging with the demons and the devil himself, “they used one of the fairgrounds buildings and made it look like Hell, complete with flashing red lights, smoke and a lot of noise.”

Magee said that while the movie was not a major hit, it did have a good run nationally.  “At the time, most of us here thought it was a really interesting story, with quite a plot.”  It runs 67 minutes.

The idea to show “Whitcomb’s War” here again – more than 40 years after its debut – emerged at a brainstorming session the historical society’s board of directors were having a year ago about what historical incidents in county history should be featured in upcoming programs.

“For some reason, I thought of that old movie and said, ‘Why don’t we see if we can get ‘Whitcomb’s War’ and show it at the Sierra?’ ” said Magee, who is on the board.

Then local movie buffs Mike and Dianne Piepel, who are historical society members, got excited and that led to the scheduling this Saturday.

Magee will lead a brief discussion of the movie at the theatre before it is screened.

Admission for the movie is free.  Concessions will be available for purchase.

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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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