In Search of …. the Perfect Sugar Cookie

I was 6 or 7 when I tasted the perfect cookie. And I have been trying to replicate it since. They were bought at the SunMart store on Mt. Vernon Road in Cedar Rapids, where DrugTown stood for years when SunMart closed, and where Goodwill is now located.

Business started declining at SunMart after Hy-Vee moved in up the street, and I was sorry to see it go. I got my first lesson in “rights” and “wrongs” when I was caught shoplifting, before I knew the consequences for breaking the law.

I have many fond memories of the store; my first Hostess pies and Snowballs; the flavored tabs that fizzed when you put them in water to make a concoction similar to Kool-Aid; the fresh-baked donuts that melted in your mouth; and SunMart’s amazing sugar cookies.

Fifty years later, and I still haven’t found a cookie, nor a recipe, that comes close to it. Funny how our taste buds hold a memory; as if I will know it’s the one when I finally taste it again.

I’m going to do my best to find the perfect sugar cookie this holiday baking season. And even if I can’t find the perfect sugar cookie, I hope I come close.



Community Combats Hunger with Little Free Pantries

A few months ago, I read a story about someone who took the initiative to build a Little Free Pantry. The idea came out of the Little Free Library concept: “Take a Book; Leave a Book.”

The Little Free Pantry’s goal is the same, but with non-perishable food items instead of books.

The Little Free Library began with the goal to promote literacy, while the Little Free Pantry was born to not only to help those in need, but to raise awareness about the hungry some people face on a daily basis.

Kid-Powered Kindness is the organization behind the Little Free Pantries in the Hiawatha and Cedar Rapids communities. According to the Hiawatha Library website, it was created in 2014 after 4 year old Annabelle opened her Christmas presents and looked around at all of her new toys.

Alicia Mangin, Youth Services Librarian for the Hiawatha Library, said Annabelle told her Mom, “We have so many toys and there are kids who don’t have enough.” Annabelle reached out to her friends, gathered toys they no longer played with and donated them to kids in need.

“Kid-Powered Kindness is driven by the philosophy that kids can make the world a better place. Annabelle’s belief in this simple but mighty premise led the group to their newest world-bettering project.”

Hiawatha Public Library is just one of four sites that will be home to a Little Free Pantry.  Other sites include Hy-Vees on Edgewood, Collins, and Mt. Vernon roads.

The ribbon-cutting will take place at 2 pm today at the Hiawatha Library, 150 W. Willman Street in Hiawatha.   Lemonade and cookies will provided by Hy-Vee.


Tommy’s West Restaurant Believes in Traditions

Tommy’s West Restaurant, 393 Edgewood Road NW, has been a mainstay in the Edgewood Plaza in Cedar Rapids for many years, but tucked in the corner of the strip mall, it sometimes gets overlooked.


Chef Adam Mykris

But it shouldn’t. Tommy’s employees not only believes in good dining traditions, the amazing kitchen staff dish up home-cooking style cuisine that is comparable only to Mom’s.

Tommy’s dishes include Broasted Chicken, Meatloaf, and Chicken-Fried Steak, as well as Tenderloins, Philly Cheese Steak and Hot Beef sandwiches. They also offer a variety of traditional breakfast items and homemade pie.

And even though the folks at Tommy’s provide their customers with the best food and service possible, they are stepping up their game even more. There is a new chef at Tommy’s, who not only loves to create new dishes, he also believes in the value of traditions.

Adam Mykris started at Tommy’s earlier this year. He is the mastermind behind the restaurant’s current special, Summer Salads, which he created uniquely with Tommy’s customers in mind; a fresh twist to healthier eating.

The Spring Salad is made with fresh spinach, candied walnuts, fresh strawberries, and dried cranberries, with Chef Adam’s special poppy-seed dressing.

The Teriyaki Chicken Salad starts with shredded lettuce and is topped with a chicken breast marinated in teriyaki sauce. It also includes mandarin oranges and almond slivers, and is topped with Chef Adam’s Ginger Dressing.

The Fruit Nut and Cheese bowl is a variety of fruits, feta cheese, and candied walnuts with a raspberry vinaigrette.

The Creamy BLT Salad is an old favorite with a new twist; a Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato, without the bread. It is also topped with cheddar cheese and croutons.

The Greek Salad begins with fresh spinach, Kalamate olives, feta cheese, and croutons, and tossed with Caesar dressing. You can add a grilled chicken breast for an even better flavor.

The salads are available for a limited time, so come in soon and experience one for yourself!

About the Chef

Chef Adam grew up in the Marion area and graduated from Linn-Mar High School in 1999.

“I’ve been interested in cooking most of my life,” he said. “I started helping my mother when I was little. As I grew older she let me help a little more, making pasta, cutting vegetables, things like that. I just really enjoyed it.”

After graduation, Adam said he took some time to figure out what he wanted to do with his life and realized his passion was with cooking.  He looked into the program at Kirkwood and knew that’s what he wanted to do.

Chef Adam worked at the Doubletree Hotel for two years before coming to Tommy’s. He started as a line cook, and was promoted a few months later as a sous chef, or assistant to the head chef. He has also held positions at Granite City and New Pioneer Co-op.

Besides creating the Summer Salads, Chef Adam recently introduced a homemade strawberry lemonade pie, which is made with a lemon meringue base and fresh strawberries.

“Tart and sweet; the best of both worlds.”

Chef Adam is also beginning plans for a fall menu, which will feature a few new dishes.

“Most people like to try new things, while others like things the way they are. We want to make sure everyone is happy, so if you have a favorite, we would love to hear from you!”

In his spare time, Chef Adam enjoys spending time at home creating new dishes and experimenting with the recipes he already knows.

“I can take an ordinary recipe, add a few new ingredients, and make them even better than before.

“It’s what I love to do.”


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”

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 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 (, 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 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