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”


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.”


Challenge #7-Iowa State Fair, a poem

Challenge #7 requires that I write  poem. Honestly, I have never been that great at writing poems, but I’ll give it my best shot. You’ve been warned.writing challenge7

Iowa State Fair

The smells, the sounds, the livestock shows;
The crowds as they rush through the gates;
welcome to the fair of all fairs;
only in Iowa state.

Cotton candy and food on a stick,
are just a few of the delights,
frozen lemonade and deep-fried desserts,
take temptation to whole new heights!

Crowds are entertained by well-knowns, too,
the Grandstand is the place to be;
Def Leppard and The Fray will rock the grounds,
While Carrie and Reba sing a little bit coun-try.

The rides, the food, the fun,the heat;
it all goes hand-in-hand,
And if you travel to the fair this year,
Make sure you see one of these bands.

And don’t forget the Butter Cow,
it’s really a sight to see;
Just one of the many attractions you’ll find,
During the week of Aug. 13.

I know. Not my best. It could very well be my worst. But then, I never said I was good at writing poems.

In any case, take a minute to check out our annual state fair on one of the links. As far as fairs go, it’s pretty standard, but for me, it brings back memories of hot, sticky days when we would seek out the shade. But just for a minute-then we’d be off, seeking out all the excitement the fair had to offer. And now they have deep-fried Milky Ways. Could life get any better?




Eye 380 beautifies portions of Cedar Rapids, Hiawatha interstate

Winter is probably not the best time to be thinking about planting or landscaping, but for Eye 380 it’s a year-round goal.

Eye 380 is a group of volunteers committed to improving the landscaping along Interstate 380 in Cedar Rapids and Hiawatha. The group has launched its annual drive to raise money for maintenance of four sites and add a fifth, if they are able to obtain support from the community.

The organization was formed in 2008 through the efforts of Dale Kueter, of Cedar Rapids, and others who shared his vision.

Kueter, a retired journalist, said he was vacationing in Tucson, Ariz. when he noticed how nice the landscaping was as he drove along their highways and interstates.

He brought the idea home with him and talked to a few people, who agreed to help him initiate the plan.

“We just weren’t sure where to go from there,” he said.

He researched programs they could initiate and saw that Davenport and Des Moines had a similar program through the Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT).

The small group invited more people to join, got the green light from the Hiawatha City Council, and asked the city to apply for grants that would help them fund the project. They found that while the grant would pay for individual landscaping projects, they would only fund the planting of the plants, not the maintenance.

Members of the group also took a horticulture class at Kirkwood, where they learned the different types of shrubbery and trees, and even had the class make up schemes for the landscaping projects.

Since the program began, the group has planted flowers, trees, and shrubs at the Boyson Road interchange in Hiawatha, the Kirkwood exit in south Cedar Rapids, and two sites south of Wilson Avenue SW in Cedar Rapids.

Kueter said that because access to the sites are dangerous, maintenance for the landscaping, such as weeding, watering, and pruning, must be performed by bonded landscaping companies.

Kueter, who will be serving as co-president with Leland Freie for 2015, said a fifth project is in the works, but maintenance for the other sites is also a priority.

The grants for the projects vary, but since it only includes the planting, the group needs help from the community to fund the maintenance of the plants to keep them looking good.

“Everyone wants it to look pretty, but no one wants to contribute,” he said. “But we’ll keep plugging along and raise what we can.”

Kueter said he believes that people who drive along I380 tend to judge the cities by what they see from the interstate.

“We see the interstate as our main street,” he said. “”What travelers see reflects Cedar Rapids and Hiawatha.”

Eye 380 meets at Trees Forever, 770 7th Ave., Marion, the first Wednesday of the month at 4 p.m.

For more information, call Dale Kueter at (319) 377-2630.

If you don’t vote, don’t complain

I have mixed emotions when it comes to voting. For years in the ’90s I avoided the lines at the polling place, justifying it with the excuse that I was too busy.  My candidate never won anyway, so what did it matter? This went on for several years, until my kids got old enough to ask who I voted for in a particular year (Come to think of it, I think it was the year George H. Bush was elected).

Iowa Flag

I started bad-mouthing the people’s choice and when my oldest asked who I voted for, I had to tell her that I didn’t vote. She muttered something and walked away, her 17-year old attitude showing through.

“What did you say?” I asked loudly, causing her to wheel around and repeat her statement.

“If you didn’t vote then don’t complain.”

I laughed, I think more out of shock than anything. “Yeah, well….” I started to say, but I had nothing more to say. She was right. I had no right to complain. I had been dodging my obligation by not voting and it was time to take responsibility.

Politics are confusing and though I took government in high school, it is still a struggle to understand them. I hate the ads and the way the candidates treat each other. But I know that’s just the way it is. As one colleague pointed out, “That’s the way they’ve always done it.”

I’m having a hard time knowing who to vote for this year. I am an independent and vote for the person I believe will do the best job. But because of the nasty TV ads it’s hard to know who’s being honest. Like so many others, I have to wonder why we would want people like that in office anyway. But once again, that’s just the way it is.

The Senate race is really the one to watch in Iowa this year. Whatever party wins will dominate the Senate. Both parties are slinging mud, so who do we believe?

Did Republican Joni Ernst really say that Iowa’s minimum wage doesn’t need to be raised? Is her campaign being funded by the infamous Koch brothers? Is Democrat Bruce Braley really against veterans? Is he really shirking his duties by not showing up for work when he is supposed to?

The questions go on and on. But one thing that has helped is Factcheck.org. This site shuffles through the misleading ads to find the truth to the many accusations.

Voting has always been a right and a privilege here in the United States, but many people don’t see it that way. I still hear, “It doesn’t matter anyway,” or, “They all do what they want; they never listen to what we want.”

But that’s why voting is so important. If we don’t vote for who we believe to be the right choice, how can we have ANY say in the matter? At least we can say we tried.






Iowans are just different people

There was a time in my life when I would have given anything to live somewhere other than Iowa, but now I’m glad I stayed.i love cr

I’ve lived other places, including Colorado and Tennessee, and still enjoy visiting other places in the US, but I’m glad I can come home. This is I belong.

I grew up in Cedar Rapids, which is the second-largest city in Iowa. (The largest is Des Moines, the capital). The 2010 Census counted almost 130,000 people living in Cedar Rapids, but I’m sure that has changed a little since the census was taken. The little towns next to CR, Marion (to the east) and Hiawatha (to the north), have grown quite a bit in the past 10 years, as has North Liberty (which is to the south). Come to think of it, they aren’t so little anymore.

I guess what made me so sentimental about my state was a post I saw on Facebook. Iowa native, Ashton Kutcher, an actor currently on the comedy show, Two and a Half Men, said in a video interview a few years ago that “Iowa’s greatest natural resource isn’t corn, it’s the people.”. He said he thinks that Iowans are the kind who, when something bad happens, don’t look for handouts. They pull up their bootstraps and get things done.

I’m sure it wasn’t just a public service announcement; Ashton really believes that about the people of Iowa. We’re different from most people, different from most states. We’re a proud people, but we know how to get things done. We are all about family, but we genuinely care about our neighbors, too.

We know one of the secrets to living a good life is working together to make it happen (whatever IT is). And no matter where we go or what we do, we will always have that.

I feel sorry for the people who have lived their whole lives in a big city. Do you think they have ever been on a hayrack ride? Or gone fishing in a “crick?” Do you think they get excited with the top two college teams meet every year?  Iowans have practically made the annual Iowa vs Iowa State Game Day a holiday!

We get made fun of a lot, but we usually laugh with them. (Another great thing about Iowans; our sense of humor!) We know we aren’t as glamorous as New York or L.A. But most of us wouldn’t want to be. We love Iowa just the way it is.

It’s like having to choose between coming home to a big, cold mansion, or a comfy cottage with a soft couch and a fire roaring in the fireplace.

If those are my options, I’ll take the comfy cottage any day.






Honoring the sacrifice of family, too

Retired Air Force Colonel Ken Rizer is a candidate for State Representative in District 68 for Marion, Bertram, and Ely here in Iowa.

He took it upon himself to hold a special event to honor veterans and their families May 23 that included presentations by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen (R-Hiawatha).

Retired Air Force Colonel Ken Rizer. (Photo by Cynthia Petersen)

Retired Air Force Colonel Ken Rizer. (Photo by Cynthia Petersen)

In a phone call last week, he told me that the reason he felt compelled to gather people together for the tribute was because he knew first hand the hardships that veterans and their families had to endure while serving in the military. Not only did they have to relocate often, but they had to be separated from each other for long periods of time. It’s hard to maintain that family unit while being divided for so long.

Rizer said his wife told him she sometimes felt like a single parent. But together they made the choice to stay in the military, for Ken to serve the country. He said he realized how much his family was sacrificing, too.

Rizer was in the Air Force 25 years, including 2 one-year stints in Korea. The family relocated 16 times during that time; his son attended 19 different schools. It was hard on them, he said, but it also gave them the opportunity to experience different cultures and opportunities they may not have had if they stayed in one place.

During the tribute, Rizer told stories about veterans who were being honored that night, each from a different era; Curt Hames, a World War II veteran; Sergeant Richard Bice, honored for his service during the Korean War, Specialist Jim Felker for his service during the Vietnam Conflict, Corporal Rodney Summers who served during Desert Storm, and Lieutenant Commander Paul Pelletier, who served in the military during the Iraq/Afghanistan conflict. Governor Terry Branstad and Speaker Kraig Paulsen also served in the military; Branstad as an MP, and Paulsen as a missile officer.

Paulsen spoke to the crowd about the Home Base Iowa bill, which was signed into law by Branstad during a Memorial Day celebration at Camp Dodge.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad. (Photo by Cynthia Petersen)

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad. (Photo by Cynthia Petersen)

The Home Base Iowa bill, a private-public partnership to recruit veterans and active duty service members for private-sector job opportunities in Iowa, means that Iowa is becoming more “Iowa-friendly.”

According to Paulsen, the bill sends a message that Iowa is open for veterans to come here,” to raise a family, and start a business if they want.

Gov. Branstad echoed the sentiments, that this law will show the nation that “we are committed to doing all we can to help veterans and their families.”

As it should be, considering all they sacrifice so the rest of us can be free.

Thank you to the service men and women of the United States armed forces, and their families, for giving so much, so freely.