Cedar Rapids a Stronger Community

Cedar Rapids is no stranger to floods. For as long as anyone can remember, the Cedar River has wreaked havoc on those who live and work close to its banks.

KCRG Photo
KCRG Photo

When a foot of rain fell in communities in northern Iowa two weeks ago, meteorologists predicted the Cedar River would challenge historic levels, and flood the communities along its banks.

It was apparent that Cedar Rapids was on the verge of another major flood only 8 years after the Cedar River rose 20 feet above flood stage. Many found it hard to believe it could happen again so soon.

(It cost the city over $2 billion to restore the downtown area and took it years to recover.)

But instead of panicking, the entire community sprang into action, filling sandbags and moving items from businesses and homes in the downtown area.

Some located available resources and sought shelters for displaced citizens. Others made meals for those who were hungry. Everyone opened their homes and their hearts to those affected by the flood.

In other words, we did the same thing we did 8 years ago, only better. We knew now what to do, and we did it.

Cedar Rapids held its breath as the river began to rise. Drones and social media kept citizens up-to-date on the areas hardest hit, including Ushers Ferry, Seminole Valley and Ellis parks, and areas southeast of the river.

And as the river crested, Ron Corbett, Cedar Rapids’ mayor, that if the Hesco barriers (which they used to build a wall around the downtown area) held, “they would have saved the city.”

The barriers did hold the flood waters back (though there was some controversy about how the city determined where to place the barriers) and the majority of the downtown area was spared.

But it wasn’t just the barriers, the pumps, and the sandbags that saved our city. It was the countless volunteers who poured positive energy into filling sandbags, moving furniture and equipment; those who brought food and water to the volunteers, and worked around the clock to make sure our homes and businesses were safe; these are the real heroes.

It is because of them that we are emerging from this close-call an even stronger community.

Local band, Four Star Fate, wrote a song to pay tribute to the people in our community: “We Rise Above”

IRS Phone Scams on the Rise

I have received at least a phone call a week within the last month warning me that the Internal Revenue Service was filing a lawsuit against me. 

Of course, the first one shook me up, and I immediately googled it to see if it was legit.  What popped up were dozens of web pages warning consumers of potential scams that might be occurring, including scams about the IRS.

The most current warning was from the IRS itself, stating:

“The Internal Revenue Service today (Aug. 2) warned taxpayers to stay vigilant against an increase of IRS impersonation scams in the form of automated calls and new tactics from scammers demanding tax payments on iTunes and other gift cards.

The IRS has seen an increase in “robo-calls” where scammers leave urgent callback requests through the phone telling taxpayers to call back to settle their “tax bill.” These fake calls generally claim to be the last warning before legal action is taken. Once the victim calls back, the scammers may threaten to arrest, deport or revoke the driver’s license of the victim if they don’t agree to pay.

“It used to be that most of these bogus calls would come from a live-person. Scammers are evolving and using more and more automated calls in an effort to reach the largest number of victims possible,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “Taxpayers should remain alert for this summer surge of phone scams, and watch for clear warning signs as these scammers change tactics.”

In the latest trend, IRS impersonators are demanding payments on iTunes and other gift cards. The IRS reminds taxpayers that any request to settle a tax bill by putting money on  any form of gift card is a clear indication of a scam.

Some examples of the varied tactics seen this year are:

  • Demanding payment for a “Federal Student Tax.” See IR-2016-81.
  • Demanding immediate tax payment for taxes owed on an iTunes or other type of gift card
  • Soliciting W-2 information from payroll and human resources professionals. See IR-2016-34.
  • “Verifying” tax return information over the phone. See IR-2016-40.
  • Pretending to be from the tax preparation industry. See IR-2016-28

Since these bogus calls can take many forms and scammers are constantly changing their strategies, knowing the telltale signs is the best way to avoid becoming a victim.  

The IRS will never:

    • Call to demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
    • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
    • Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
    • Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer.
    • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money and you don’t owe taxes, here’s what you should do:

  • Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
  • Contact TIGTA to report the call. Use their “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page or call 800-366-4484.
  • Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes

It’s good to be aware of the scams, but most people can’t help but feel a little violated when they receive a call like this. You could block the calls, but the scammers just keep changing the callback numbers. 

The best way to handle phone scams is not to answer the phone if you don’t recognize the number. And if they leave a message demanding you call them back, research the information first. Chances are it’s just a scam.


A Bit of History

Greene Square Park in Cedar Rapids has seen a lot of changes. Once the highlight of the downtown area, it had become a simple walk-thru for years before the city attempted to renovate it, and did their best to breathe life back into it.

And though it took some time for the City to get it the way they wanted, I think they finally managed to give the community what it needs.  Since the city unveiled the new community space in May, scores of people have ventured down to enjoy the colorful fountains, the creative artwork, and relaxing atmosphere.

Green Square Park: "Humans of Cedar Rapids" project. Photo by Cynthia Petersen
Green Square Park: “Humans of Cedar Rapids” project. Photo by Cynthia Petersen

The popularity of Pokemon Go and the cool splash pad have only added to the popularity. On any given night, groups of kids and adults alike can be found wandering the Square or relaxing on one of the many chairs and benches that line the walkways. (Strings of lights light up the center of the Square, and the free wifi are definitely a plus.)

It has taken a few years, but Greene Square has once again become the hub of the downtown community. With the public library on one side of the park and the Mueum of Art on the other, the heart of Cedar Rapids is becoming a meeting place for friends and colleagues, a place for kids to play, and a spot to just relax a few minutes before heading back to work.

Cedar Rapids’ oldest park, now referred to simply as Greene Square (named for Judge George Greene), was once home to a train depot, Union Station, built in 1897. (The depot was torn down in 1961.)

In those days, visitors got their first glimpse of Cedar Rapids as they stepped off the train, with the old Washington High School (now the site of the CR Public Library), the Carnegie Building (home to the CR Museum of Art, which used to be the library).

old washington high school
Old Washington High School Across from Greene Square. Photo Courtsey of Cedar Rapids History Center

According to an article on saveheritage.org, “a fountain with electric lights was one of the park’s early amenities, but it was removed by the 1920s and replaced by a pavilion.”

My mother moved to Cedar Rapids in 1936 when she was 5. The family moved into my great-grandparents on 8th Ave and 8th St. SE, while my grandfather looked for work. On Bank Night, while the grown-ups went to the Strand Theater (eventually the World Theater) to listen for the numbers to be called (she said Bank Night was like the lottery), the kids played in Green Square Park.

green square park before 2014
Greene Square Park, before the recent renovation. Photo Courtesy of the Cedar Rapids History Center.

A old cannon once stood in the square, which of course, was an attraction for kids. She said she remembers getting hurt once or twice on that old cannon, which remained in the park for several decades.

I like the new Greene Square. And as I sat at one of the tables and watched my grandchildren play, I realized how much I had missed it.

For years it had just been a large space in the middle of town, but with the addition of sculptures and other artwork, a colorful fountain, and beautiful landscaping, it can be enjoyed by everyone.



Go Where Pokemon … Goes

I resisted. I really did. And then my grandson, Thomas, sucked me in. It’s that simple.

But as interesting and fun as Pokemon Go sounds, there is no way I have time to fully commit to the game (because it sounds like you kind of have to). I can just see me shirking all my other duties just to join the teeny-boppers down in Green Square at 3 in the morning. (who, by the way, are displacing the homeless because of the game, according to a recent Gazette article).

My boss was the one who introduced me to the game when she started playing it a few weeks ago. “Have you heard about that new video game? Everyone’s playing!” she told me excitedly. “I even found one here in Czech Village!”

No, I told her. I hadn’t heard. But it wasn’t long before I got tired of hearing about it. I am not a follower, a fad-ist, or whatever you want to call it. I don’t do something just because someone else is doing it. Or I try not to, anyway. But sometimes I find myself, through no fault of myself, being sucked in, just like I did today.

Thomas and I went to the Hiawatha Farmers Market this morning. After we bought some tomatoes and peppers, Thomas looked at his phone and turned to me. “Can we go to the park? It says there some over by the park sign!”

What great luck that the farmers market was in the park’s parking lot!  Thomas tried to explain the game and catch them as we walked through the park, but I could tell it was hard for him to play and explain at the same time, especially since the Pokemon terms were hard to understand if you didn’t know much about the game to begin with.

The game does have a good side; it gets people out walking. We covered the entire park in less than 20 minutes, and it’s a good-size park. But still, I didn’t think I would get anything else done if I started playing.

Pokemon Go reminds me of Farmville, where you had to visit the farm every day and feed your animals or tend your garden. If you missed a few days, your crops died and you missed out on the rewards.

I have a feeling that’s what happens in Pokemon Go, too.




CR Cold Cases Hit Too Close to Home

Matt Pusateri seemed like a nice kid. He was tall, and had nice eyes, black wavy hair, and shoulders so broad they belonged on a man, not a 13-year-old kid. Matt and I went to school together at Johnson Elementary and McKinley Junior High, and Washington High  schools.  

What I remember most about Matt is his shyness. He hardly said two words to me while we were in school together. The only time he did speak was because we were in a group for an assignment, and I asked him a few questions about what we were doing.

I sometimes passed him walking to and from school, his eyes focused on the ground as he moved onto the grass to let me have the sidewalk.

Matt was murdered in 1988, 7 years after graduating from Washington High School. A driver for Yellow Cab, Matt was shot in the head while sitting in his cab about 3 a.m. Nov. 12, in a parking lot in the 800 block of Sixth Street SW in Cedar Rapids. Matt was 26 years old.

I heard about the murder on the evening news, finding it hard to believe that something like that could happen to someone I knew. I didn’t know Matt personally, but what I remember of him, he was quiet, didn’t make trouble, an all-around good guy.

I have a hard time understanding why how someone could do that to another human being, with no regard to human life. Do they even have remorse for what they did? Unfortunately, the world may never know. Matt’s file is among 38 other Cedar Rapids Cold Cases, unsolved murders or missing person reports, since 1959.

Michelle Martinko is another unsolved Cedar Rapids murder. Michelle was in the class ahead of me at Kennedy High School. She was shopping at the newly opened Westdale Mall in December 1980, and when she went to her car, someone was waiting for her. 

Several witnesses were interviewed and though there were one or two suspects, the murder remains unsolved.

I didn’t know Michelle personally, but she was a friend of a friend. The day after the murder, the entire student body walked around in a stupor, trying to get our heads wrapped around what had happened. It could have been any one of us. I think that was the first time I really thought about how precious life is.

Other cold cases include Paula Jean Oberbroeckling, who was killed in 1970.  A book was written about her, (by her friend, Susan Taylor Chehak) that includes details about the murder and the people involved.

I was only 7 when the murder happened, but I have heard about the cold case throughout the years and decided read her story, which is interesting, but sad, at the same time.

Another cold case involves a boy named Guy Heckle. He was 11 when he disappeared February 3, 1973, during a Boy Scout camping trip near the Duane Arnold Nuclear Energy Plant (now Next Era Energy) in Palo, just a few miles to the west of Cedar Rapids.

Guy’s parka was found, snagged on a log on the banks of the Cedar River, but Guy’s body was never recovered.

I remember when the Kum & Go store on Mt. Vernon Road was robbed, and the cashier, Brian Lee Shappert, was shot and killed. Brian had just started his senior year at Coe College and was working the last shift alone that night. He had been promoted to assistant manager only two weeks before.

A customer came in at 3:15 am  to buy some gas and found Brian’s body.

In the early ’70s, we moved to 30th Street Drive. I heard about Lynn Schuller, who lived further up the road, in a scary story told to me by my older brother. He said that Lynn’s husband killed her and chopped her up in little pieces, and then fed them to their pet alligator.

I was 9, and I believed it!  Every time we passed the Schuller house, and I saw the pond sitting just a few yards from the house, I thought about that well-fed alligator.

Over the years, I forgot about the story, until I read about Lynn on the cold cases page. How ironic that the “urban legend” would have materialized into a true accusation? Could someone really do something like that in Cedar Rapids?

The article states:

“When Keith Schuller reported his wife Lynn Schuller missing in August 1972, police suspected murder from the beginning.

More than four decades later, they still believe Schuller is responsible for her death, but don’t ever expect to find her body. Why? The suspicions surrounding her disappearance sounded so much like that of local folklore that even police were reluctant to acknowledge Keith Schuller could have committed such an abhorrent act.”

It is a sad thing to see so many victims, whose killers are still walking around free, and the saddest part is, they may never be caught.



Unanswered Questions Surround Local Cemetery

I live on a street just off of Mt.Vernon Road in Cedar Rapids (Mt. Vernon Road was once known as the Oldbrockman Lincoln Highway). The neighborhood is like any other, until you turn the corner at 14th Avenue and onto Brockman Drive. Then it gets kind of creepy.

Every day I take my dog, Bindi, for a walk around the block, and though I have become accustomed to the blank space midway through the block between Brockman Drive and 38th Street, I sometimes stop and wonder about it.

A sign sits just off the road naming the space as “Brockman Cemetery.” I have always thought it odd that a cemetery would be placed mid-block in a residenti.al area like that. But that wasn’t the oddest part; from what I could see, there weren’t any tombstones.

I thought about venturing up the short hill to see if maybe the tombstones were thebrockman2 flat variety, but decided against it, just in case it was a real cemetery. (I might come face-to-face with a restless spirit.)

The other day as I was strolling past the cemetery, I decided to snap a photo and ask Mark Stoffer Hunter about it. (Mark works at the History Center and is an expert on the history of Cedar Rapids.)

I told him I looked up the Brockman Cemetery online (iagenweb.org), which stated, “Very little is known about this old cemetery.  Nestled among a quiet Cedar Rapids neighborhood, there are no stones visible and only a little wooden sign indicating the presence of a cemetery. 

“According to records in the Linn County Recorder’s office, the land was originally part of the property owned by W. L. & Ellen Brockman who in 1855 transferred 1 acre to Andrew F. Brockman, William F. Steward, Warren F. Brockman and John Robb to be used as a cemetery. It was recorded officially in the Linn County Recorder’s Office on September 1, 1862. 

As of 1954 the only identifiable stone visible appears to have been that of two wives of Wm. Stewart:  Ann Stewart, who died Mar. 23, 1847 at the age of 51 years; and Phebe Stewart, who died July 20, 1848 at the age of 31 years.”

Dairy Dale School
Edina Donohue stands with her students at the small red-brick Dairydale School. At the time, Dairydale was in the country but the location was at the northeast corner of what today is Mount Vernon Road (Mount Vernon Rd.) and 34th Street (34th St.) SE. Front row, from left: Carl Van Antwerp, Beryl Wood, Marie Kaylar, Allan Nelson, Lumir Stolba, Pluma Terrill, Harold Bean. Middle row: Ernest Wood, Joe Nelson, Walter Woolridge, Ferman Clark, John Grow, Frank Pachta, Marvin Nemecek, Viola Kaylar. Back row: (only six students in this row are identified): Ronald Prior, Lucille Manson, Mae Woolridge, Mae Zrudsky, Mable Van Antwerp, Elmer Nemecek. 1920. (Photo courtesy of Dorothy Nemecek, wife of Marvin Nemecek). (Gazette Article)

Mark wrote back: “Not too much more is known about this beyond what you found already. I did a little more digging on it and found a connection to the cemetery with the old Dairydale School and Church which were both once located at the NE corner of Mt. Vernon Road and 34th Street SE (where Little Caesar’s Pizza  is now). Apparently folks buried in Brockman were members of the Dairydale Church and went to the school.

Mark continued: “I wrote up some of this history and sent it to Linn County Conservation (which owns and oversees care of Brockman Cemetery) and they told me they were going to put up a new sign there with more history. I haven’t seen it put up yet so I will need to get back to them.

Always got the impression that Brockman Cemetery was essentially abandoned by the Civil War era but I love that the site is still preserved.

There were several of these little ‘family graveyards’ In what are now parts of Cedar Rapids, but many of the others were forgotten over time and new development was built where they once existed.”


Tribute focuses on the good

I’ve been busy the past few months. So busy, in fact, that I haven’t had much time to write my usual blogs.

I decided to go ahead with an idea I have had for several years and launch Tribute magazine. However, a friend advised that I not launch in the “J” months (January, June, July), so I decided to wait until August to put out the first issue.

But before I could start laying the pages out in InDesign for my magazine, I had to create a website that would promote it.

That’s when tributecr.com was born.

It was a task that was more difficult than I imagined. I had to decide the theme of the website. I already knew what the magazine was going to be about (people who make a difference in my community), so the website would have to somehow reflect that.

I created the website through Weebly, a site I like and have used before several time.  Unlike other do-it-yourself websites, Weebly is easy to use and navigate. It has a variety of unique responsive themes to choose from and includes several add-ons.

After deciding on a theme I liked, I had to design the pages and decide what would go on those pages.

What is it specifically that people want in a community website? What kind of pages would I have and what kind of stories would I have?

As I thought about it, I came up with an idea that fit with my character and personality, as well as a site that would help keep the people in my community informed, and show them there is good news all around us.

I would create a website that only reported the good and positive news in our community.

I came up with the idea after hearing so many people saying there’s nothing but bad news in the world. But that’s just not true. It only seems that way because the bad news is what draws the people in. The drama and chaos is what pays the bills, unfortunately, so that is what is most prevalent.

What I have realized in the past few months is that I am in competition with everyone else on the internet. I am in competition for everyone’s attention, and that means coming up with interesting content, as well as having exceptional writing, and marketing skills.

As a result, I know my website needs to be unique, which is probably the most difficult aspect of this venture. And I believe it is.

Tribute promotes the positive and focuses on the good; good news, good people; everything good. 

Mother Teresa once said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”

I may not be able to change the whole world, but maybe I can provide some peace in my little corner of it.

Tribute on WordPress











Sept. 6 was National Read a Book Day. I didn’t have time to read a book that day, but that’s okay. I don’t need a special day to make me want to read a book. But it is good to think about why reading is important.ChildrensBooksCollage1

Reading has always been a favorite pastime of mine. And since I was a little girl, I have wanted to write stories like the ones that allowed me to use my imagination in a thousand different ways.

I read every chance I could. And because I read so much, I was better at spelling, and grammar, and writing. I was a better student overall. The more I read, the more I wanted to read, to because not only was it my entertainment (as I am quite introverted), but it was my escape, as well.

There are a hundred different reasons why you should read, but the most important ones include:

  • Reading reduces tension and stress.
  • It improves the way you think, especially when it come to analyzing and problem-solving.
  • Reading is cheap entertainment.
  • Reading helps you do better in school. The better you can understand the material, the better your grades are.
  • It can also help prevent Alzheimer’s. A recent study found that people who read are two and a half times less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s later on in their lives.
  • Reading helps you to empathize with people from all walks of life. A study done by the University of Buffalo has found that reading fiction opens you up to new emotions and feelings.

According to Author and CEO, Russell Sarder, people who read are naturally more successful than those who don’t. In his video, he stresses the importance not only in reading, but in learning, and how do we learn? One way is to read! Knowledge is power, and the more you read, the more you know.

Reading offers so many benefits that you just can’t help but become a better person. Not only will you expand your vocabulary, but your imagination, too.

Between Worlds

A New World

It is a laughing matter

Facebook has reported that a study was conducted in May that shows the acronym LOL (laugh out loud) has gone the wayside, and using “haha” or even “hehe” along with emojis (the little faces that show what emotion you might be feeling at that moment) is much more popular, and according to one source, “way cooler.”graphics-lol-358887

I’m sorry, but I don’t really care if my statuses on Facebook are politically correct (unless it’s about politics), and I will continue to use LOL whenever I feel like it.

Will I be banished because I prefer the LOL over hehe or haha (which I use sometimes anyway, when the mood strikes me.)  At least I don’t use the vulgar OMFG or LMFAO  (my mother would be horrified) like my own kids do. (Do they not know I know what they’re saying?)

Maybe this is just another pitiful attempt to control the masses. Maybe the techs at Facebook are bored with their monotonous lives and sit around trying to come up with creative challenges for each other.

“I bet you can’t make millions of people stop using LOL….”

“Betchya I can.” 🙂 (LOLOLOLOL)



Cone’s ‘Little Bohemia’ a reminder of progress in New Bo

little bohemia
Little Bohemia, Marvin Cone, 1941

Hanging in the office of Cedar Rapids Main Street, located at the edge of the city’s historic Czech Village, is a reproduction of a painting by local artist, Marvin Cone.

“Little Bohemia Tavern” was inspired by the actual Little Bohemia Tavern, which is located at the corner of 2nd Street and 16th Avenue SE.

According to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, “the corner tavern was one of the first encountered by thirsty workers leaving the Sinclair meatpacking plant” after it opened in 1935. It became an icon when Marvin Cone painted it in 1941. The 1883 building was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.

After the New Bohemia neighborhood was flooded in 2008, Coe College and the Marvin Cone Art Club commissioned a reproduction of the 1941 painting, with proceeds from its sale supporting flood recovery.

Marvin Cone is an accomplished artist in his own right, but never became quite as famous as his good friend, Grant Wood, who painted “American Gothic.”

Cone was born in Cedar Rapids and lived there most of his life. He graduated from Washington High School in 1910. Cone graduated from Coe College in 1914 and traveled to Paris, where he did work as an interpreter.

He served in the Iowa National Guard’s 34th Infantry Division, during which time he won a training camp design competition with a “Red Bull” insignia that the unit wears to this day.

After his return to the United States in 1919, Cone helped to found the Stone City Art Colony along with Grant Wood. (The Colony was headquartered in the large, limestone mansion of the Green Estate, overlooking Stone City.)

Cone became a professor at Coe College in 1919, where he taught French and was responsible for starting the Art Department.

Most of Cone’s paintings can now be seen at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. Some of his sketches can also been found in the permanent collection of the University of Northern Iowa Gallery of Art in Cedar Falls.

Cone believed that nature was a “vehicle for revealing certain truths.” He once said that the purpose of art is not to reproduce life, but to present an editorial, a comment on life.

“The artist does not set out to imitate nature. What would be the purpose of that? Let the camera with its clever mechanism imitate. Art, such as poetry, music, and painting, is simply a portion of the experience of the artist. When we actually see ideals, they become real to us. Art traces an abstraction and makes it audible or visual. It symbolizes the whole of life. We believe in something we can see.”

little bos
Little Bohemia Tavern in Cedar Rapids, 2012

Cone’s painting of Little Bohemia says a lot about the neighborhood. The artist did an excellent job of creating a scene that depicted the simple, yet busy, lives of the people who thrived in that neighborhood in the 1940’s. The tavern was a meeting place, not only for the workers, but for the entire community. It helped to establish a culture that is still alive today.

Though the Flood of 2008 devastated the downtown neighborhoods of Cedar Rapids, the entire district is coming back, even better than it was before.

The painting not only serves as a reminder of what the neighborhood once was, but what it will be again.