Weekend Sports: Stories you didn’t find anywhere else

A compelling reason to take in an Iowa women’s basketball game is Megan Gustafson. The 6-3 center from Port Wing, Wis. (on the shore of Lake Superior), is impressive to watch on TV, but simply awesome to see on the court

Elaine and I got to see her in action Sunday, when the Hawkeyes visited Northwestern University. Despite being double- and triple-teamed Gustafson scored, rebounded and found open teammates. Against the Wildcats she had an “average” game: 25 points, 16 rebounds. With her junior year far from over, Gustafson has netted 1626 points and pulled down 901 rebounds at Iowa.

This week she was selected Big Ten Player of the Week for the eighth time this season – a Big Ten single season record.

The DePaul Blue Demons – Chicago’s women’s basketball powerhouse – marked two milestones on the road over the weekend.

In a victory Friday over Butler (86-68), coach Doug Bruno notched win number 700.  A passionate advocate for women’s basketball, he coaches an entertaining fast-paced game with lots of 3-point shooting. They call it “DePaul Ball,” and we’ve been hooked on it since 2006. Twenty-win seasons and NCAA tournaments are routine for DePaul. The team has made the Sweet 16 four times, most recently in 2016.

Two days later in a close win over Xavier (73-72), senior Amarah Coleman tallied 1000 points in her college career (including a year at Illinois). That puts her in an elite club of 36 Blue Demon players.

More interesting than the number of points is the bumpy road Coleman traveled to reach that mark.

Out of high school she accepted a bid from the University of Illinois in what proved to be a turbulent season for the program.

Coleman transferred to DePaul as a sophomore. An off the bench player the first year, she now admits to being stubborn and at time butting heads with Bruno. But by her junior year, she had figured things out and become an important starting guard/forward. She’s fast, agile and can hit a three. This season she’s averaging 12.2 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.

And she now knows what comes after DePaul – playing overseas for as long a she can.

A second reason for attending the Iowa-Northwester game was to watch Makenzie Meyer. The sophomore is the Hawkeye’s starting point guard. Her basketball awareness was readily apparent Sunday.

I’ve followed her because, in addition to both of us attending Iowa as undergraduates, we have one – and only one – other thing in common: We are both graduates of the Mason City (Iowa) High School – just 55 years apart.

Today, Mason City – a modest-sized school that graduates about 275 students a year -- has a successful girl’s basketball  program, including a state championship. Last year, three MCHS graduates played on women’s teams in the NCAA tournament – Iowa State, Drake and Creighton. (Iowa got an NIT bid.)

The girls in my Class of ’61 could participate in golf and tennis. Period.

A half-century later, Meyer represents how things have changed. High school girls can now dream of going to college on an athletic scholarship at a Division I school and playing on a big stage, like Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

Just like the boys.


The Exceptional Class of '61

Members of the Class of ’61 are proud of what they accomplished after graduating from Mason City (Iowa) High School. It may have set a gold-medal standard rarely, if ever, matched at MCHS.

The 55th reunion, Sept. 16-17, served as perfect time to compile a record of those achievements:

Coleman Hicks worked as a personal assistant to Henry Kissinger (1971-1972), when he was assistant to President Nixon for national security affairs. During the Carter Administration he served two years (1979-1981) as general counsel of the Navy.

In private legal practice, he is credited in U.S Supreme Court documents for preparing the winning brief in Hazelwood (Missouri) School District v. United States, a 1977 discrimination case. (According to an August 2004 obituary, Hicks prepared the brief in Hazelwood (same school district) v. Kuhlmeier, a major case involving censorship of high school papers. That is not confirmed by Supreme Court documents.)

Stephanie (Dibble) Starrett worked in the Office of the Secretary when Kissinger was Secretary of State. In a 2011 post on the class’ website, she describes Kissinger as fascinating and great fun to work for. “When he was relaxing his sense of humor was marvelous, when not relaxing he could be terrifying.”

In their separate assignments, Starrett and Hicks both traveled to Portugal for a pre-Moscow summit meeting in 1972. Their duties for the day completed, these two classmates from Mason City had dinner together – in the Azores.

Gary Burhite served 25 years in the Air Force, retiring as a colonel. His piloting experience included a wide range of aircraft, from helicopters to two-engine supersonic T-38 Talons (later flown by the Thunderbirds). Of flying jet trainers, he writes: “loved the formation flying and aerobatics, but hated spin recoveries.”

Burhite says his most rewarding post was working on SARSAT, new technology that narrowed the search area for a downed aircraft from 600 miles in diameter to five! (It is now closer to one.)  His duties included attending quarterly international conferences all over the world, including in Moscow where, he writes, “I was thankful to be traveling in a civilian suit, but my room was still bugged and my bags were searched every time I left the room.”

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Nancy (Pearson) Gunther embraced then-new computer technology at Sperry Univac, and spent a 35-year career working on command and control systems for the Navy, first on surface ships and later submarines. She lists as especially rewarding supervising an application for Tomahawk cruise missile targeting widely used in the Gulf wars.

But Gunther writes her two proudest accomplishments were starting offices in Montreal, Canada, and Camarillo, California, where she had the task of staffing the offices while trying to perform to schedules.

Judy (Kapke) Liston was one of three vice presidents of systems development at MCI WorldCom, supervising 350 employees in several U.S. cities and London.  The work included making systems in the U.S. and Europe “see” circuits around the world.

At a time when opportunities for college-educated women were limited – teaching or nursing – these MCHS classmates embraced new technology, and entered a world dominated by men.  Gunther was the only woman hired into a department of nearly 200 men and for years was the only female in any type of technical management. Each had one female boss during a 35-year career. These two classmates were pioneers.

Robert Peterson likes to say he changed the way the earth is moved. In 1972, working for FMC Link-Belt, he suggested putting joysticks on the ends of armrests to control the bucket and boom arm of backhoes. The joystick would replace six or more floor-mounted levers, difficult to operate.

His concept was introduced on a new excavator at the World Construction Industry Exposition in 1973 and in three years it was the industry standard. Peterson writes: “Every time I drive by an excavator, I have a bit of a smile on my face…knowing that I invented the control system that’s used worldwide.

William Hannaman, a nuclear engineer, traveled the world advising the owners of nuclear reactors in foreign countries on ways to keep their aging facilities safe.

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Eight classmates became physicians. David MacMillan, who provided the list, and Mike Gregson had family practices. Dick Adams was a general surgeon and Jim Puhl became pediatric surgeons. The other four and their specialties: Dick Pitman, radiology; Gerald McCoid, ENT (ear, nose and throat); Jim Hall, obstetrics-gynecology; and Ronald Hansen, pediatric dermatology.

Hansen is the co-author of “Pediatric Dermatology” which he calls the “gold standard” textbook in its field. Hall delivered 4307 babies over four decades and is proud he was never named in a malpractice suit.

In related health care fields, William McArthur spent a career in dental education, much of it at the University of Florida where he was an associate dean and director of the school’s Periodontal Disease Research Center.

David Martin, the class president, was a podiatrist -- after a first career in music education.

Dudley (Skip) Farrell earned his doctorate in audiology and worked at Veterans Affairs medical centers, including more than 25 as unit manager in Omaha. He supervised the student intern program and for 10 years was on the University of Nebraska-Omaha graduate faculty.

Only now is hearing loss being more widely appreciated as boomers a ge and medical research points toward a link between hearing loss and dementia.

Reflecting on the education of the M.D.s, MacMillan counts five members of the Class of ‘61 who started at MCJC (Mason City Junior College, then under the school board) and moved on to the University of Iowa College of Medicine. “We were fortunate to have MCHS and MCJC both in our community with so many outstanding teachers and classmates!”

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Dick Angel was vice president and general manager of the industrial division of Schaeffler Group, N.A., the largest manufacturer in the world of bearings. He managed 1500 employees at five plants in the U.S. operation of the German company, turning out bearings for customers like GE, John Deere and Harley- Davidson.

Roger Heimbuch retired from General Motors as Engineering Director for Global Materials, Fastening and Vehicle Recycling Engineering. He writes he received outstanding engineering achievement awards from Iowa State University and the University of Michigan.

Bill Swift served as vice president-finance at Ford Motor Company. He started as Ford introduced the Mustang and left as the last model of the Thunderbird rolled off the assembly line. In 2000 the automaker recorded record profits.

Marvin Goldstein had a long successful career in the retail business – before stumbling. In 1989 he was named president of Dayton-Hudson (now Target) and a year later to chairman and CEO. He left Target in 1994.

In 2003 he entered a guilty plea to charges of insider trading. A federal judge sentenced him to one month in prison followed by five month’s home detention. Goldstein agreed to pay $1 million in fines and donations.

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To turn personal, my 35 years in broadcast news involved covering a wide range of stories. Most emotional were farmers in fear of losing the family farm and older auto workers – too young to qualify for retirement and too old to retrain, wondering how they would put food on the family table.  We followed parents and wives as they agonized over the fate of their loved ones who were held captive at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979.

A colleague put it well: It was so rewarding to have the opportunity to make two or three minute movies that helped the 15 million people who saw them on NBC Nightly News understand their world.

Robert Reynolds, as an Army radio/television reporter, helped military personnel stationed overseas, sometime under difficult circumstances, understand their world. He interviewed a wide range of newsmakers, from generals to celebrities, including President Reagan during a trip to Korea.

J.J. Long developed an interest in genealogy in high school, with no idea how close to home his research would end. In 2010 he published a 526-page book, “My Long Family History,” and presented a copy to the Mason City Public Library. The Globe Gazette covered the presentation and featured it on the front page.

The twist to this story is what he and his parents didn’t know while living in Mason City: Long’s great-granduncle, John B. Long, Sr., co-founded the community in the 1850s, laid out the plat of the city and gave it the Mason City name.

Jim Brust, a middle school principal at Linn-Mar, Marion, Iowa, headed two schools honored as First in the Nation, a state of Iowa award the goes to three or four of the state’s 280 school districts.

Nancy (Reed) Wehr, was exceptional for the time by merely earning a Ph.D. in science – botany – and taught high school science for 21 years, a chance to inspire a few of her female students.

Judy (Slade) McCaskey was a first grade educator for more than 40 years. She was nominated for a Golden Apple award, a program to recognize the best teachers in Illinois. She and her husband, Ray, provide scholarships for Chicago inner city youths to attend Wartburg College, Waverly, Iowa.

Over the years, Slade served on the boards of 10 not for profit organizations. Beginning in the late 1990s she was a member of the Governor’s Commission on the Status of Woman under two Illinois governors – a Republican and a Democrat.

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Becky (Smith) Booth limited herself to one not for profit organization – for very personal reasons. Beginning in 1987 four members of her immediate family were diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Disorder Hyperactivity Disorder).  She started a small support group of other parents, as she wrote, “bewildered” about parenting and school difficulties. Over the years it expanded in size and scope.

The chapter affiliated with CHADD, a national ADHD non-profit. Smith attended nine international conferences to learn the latest research about the disorder, and was named CHADD Coordinator of the Year in 1996. She concludes: “I have received priceless counsel and support for our family’s journey.”

Mary (Paulson) Kramer started in retailing at an expensive, high end department store in New York City. But after a few years, she got tired, as she wrote, of “convincing the public they needed to buy something they may not need, spending too much money, and then telling them two months later it was out of date.”

She returned to school, got a B.S. in Nursing and worked for nearly 40 years as a nurse and manager in coronary care. She taught courses and established programs, including a state certified stroke program. “At the end of the day,” Kramer says, “it feels good to know that along the way I have touched people’s lives in times of crisis…”

What made the MCHS Class of ’61 so exceptional that it can lay claim to a gold-medal standard? At the top of the list, classmates write, was an exceptionally strong, often inspiring faculty.

The class came to learn, took lessons to heart, went out in the world, and did good work.


An Iranian Hostage Flashback

A story this week jumped out of the headlines and took me back 35 years – to Christmas Eve 1980.

The headline: After all these years, the 52 Americans taken hostage at the U. S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held captive for 444 days will finally get compensation.

In 1980 I was in my first full year of working as a field producer in the Chicago Bureau of NBC Network News, doing stories that appeared on NBC Nightly News and Today. Each bureau was assigned to keep in touch with the families of hostages that lived in their area. Some would not talk at all, others did from time to time. By far the most cooperative with us were the wife and parents of Staff Sgt. Mike Moeller, who was in charge of the Marine detachment assigned to provide security at the embassy.

For Christmas, wife Elisa joined her in-laws, Keith and Doris Moeller, in their Loup City, Nebraska, home. Hopes were high that following the defeat of Jimmy Carter and impending inauguration in January of Ronald Reagan, the Iranians would at the least release video of some of the hostages – a sort of holiday gesture. So correspondent Norma Quarles, a crew of two and I flew to Nebraska on the chance the family would see their loved ones Christmas morning.

After meeting with the family, we retired on Christmas Eve to our very small rooms in a very small motel in a very small town a long way from friends and family. The price of working in network news.

Christmas morning the family's hopes were dashed, no video, we returned to Chicago emptyhanded.

Our inconvenience was nothing compared to the agony of uncertainty the hostages and their loved ones lived with those 444 days. And once back home, the adjustment process was often difficult. Elisa and Mike divorced within a year. Both remarried and divorced again.

After reading this week's news, I searched the internet for an update, and found a year-old story in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Mike, retired and back in Loup City, kept his experience to himself for decades. He did not grant interviews until last year, when spoke up in support of the compensation bill. Such silence is not uncommon.

Elisa, who lives in Nevada not far from their two adult daughters, says she has health issues and struggles with post-traumatic stress.

My lost Christmas eve was nothing compared to their life-long issues.

 


Canada: One Visitor’s Random Observations

For our fall vacation this year we explored Eastern Canada. After five weeks living amongst our neighbors to the north, here are a few impressions.

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In Quebec, it was easy to identify which women were locals and which were tourists.

The visitors, my wife included, had blond hair. Quebeckers appear quite content to keep the natural dark hair associated with their French ancestry.

Canada is officially bilingual. But most residents are just like we Americans: They speak one language.

The closest we came to a bilingual community was in Cheticamp, Nova Scotia, an Acadian (French) fishing village at the western entrance to Cape Breton Highlands National Park. In the grocery/hardware store, residents moved easily between French and English.

Fortunately, most Quebec residents who have frequent contact with tourists speak some English.

Like most of the modern world, Canada uses coinage instead of paper for smaller denominations. A “toonie” is worth two dollars and a “loonie” a buck. The U.S. could save $185 million a year by using only a dollar coin. Canadians can be forgiven if they think its southern neighbors are a bit loony for sticking with the paper bill.

Like most of the world, Canada has long required credit cards with embedded chips, and the use of hand-held terminals that require the customer to enter a PIN. Much more secure.

Only after the security of millions of Target users was compromised in 2013, were U.S. retailers pressured to spend the money needed to join the modern world. Beginning this month, larger retailers who don’t have chip readers are liable for fraudulent transactions in their stores.

I almost shouted a cheer when, for the first time, I was instructed to chip instead of swipe in the U.S. It was in a Home Depot in North Conway, New Hampshire, on Sept. 26, ahead of an Oct. 1 deadline. Way to go!

As our trip through Canada came to an end, we saw a marked increase in the number of campaign signs ahead of the Oct. 19 election. The Liberal Party, led by Justin Trudeau, jumped from a distant third to a clear majority. The Conservatives were swept out of power and the New Democratic Party fell from second to third.

I’ve always admired Canada, England and Germany for having three or four significant political parties. The parliamentary system is so much more democratic.

It would be great if the U.S. had a healthy third party – no matter its position on the political system.

Only in my dreams.

 

 


Thoughts on Turning a Half-Dozen Dozens

I did not turn 72 this January. The numbers were just too even and tempting to not think of life, and life passages, in dozens.A half a dozen dozens.

Dozen 1: The one thing that stands out is a conversation with my father. As best I can remember, it must have been in 1953, when Mason City, Iowa, where we lived, turned 100. I recall talking about 2000, which seemed an eternity away. I would be all of 57 – ancient – and my father, who would be over 100, would most likely be dead. It was an unpleasant reminder of mortality.

Dozen 2: During the second dozen years, my mind was closer to infinity. Mason City, despite rough edges, was at it’s peak population. The school system was strong, and my high school class was nothing short of outstanding. In that environment I was able to excel in debate/speech enough to earn a modest college scholarship. In music enough that it became central to my college experience at the University of Iowa. And during my senior year at MCHS, thanks to an exceptional teacher, I discovered journalism – opening the door to a most rewarding 35 year career in broadcast journalism. Win, win, win!

Dozen 3: At age 26 I put on skis for the first time, thanks in part to the prodding of a Tatro cousin. I took to it, and thought this is something I might do for maybe 15 years, until the early 40s when I would be too old! In March I got in three days of great skiing. The skis are by no means retired.

Dozen 4: The bridge from 36 to 48 was exceptional. I discovered running and that I could do a marathon fast enough to qualify for the gold standard, the Boston Marathon, and win age group honors at shorter distances. Most important, running marked a lifestyle change in my commitment to fitness.

But by far the most significant event was meeting Elaine. 33 years later – yes, a third of century – we share that special bond with a mate that makes life so complete.

Dozen 5: Short and sweet: At 60 I retired. Absolutely no regrets!

Dozen 6: Both retired, we enjoy good health so we can travel the country (all the way to Alaska) in our RV and fly to foreign countries. We also acquired Moraine Elaine, a getaway property 140 miles north in Wisconsin, where we enjoy the country life seven months a year. A pleasant contrast to city life. Life is good, we are fortunate.

Dozen 7: Looking ahead to the next 12, I am determined to fight the good battle and hope for the best. My parents marked turning 84, and I hope to do the same in better physical and mental health than they did. I can still run three miles, now with two 3-minute walking breaks, in a combined total of 39 minutes on a good day. Not bad for 72. I will run until I cannot and then do whatever I can. I will read. I will write – more than I’m currently doing – all to keep mind and body active.

My motto: push back, do as much as you possibly can as long as you possibly can.

I’ll post an update in a dozen years.

 


U. of Iowa Gift Alters Image of Frank “Action News” Magid

When I read the news, I was shocked: Frank Magid’s name linked to a writing program at the University of Iowa.

Magid earned degrees in sociology from Iowa (1956 B.A., 1957 M.A.) and immediately hung out a shingle in nearby Marion, Iowa, announcing the creation of Frank N. Magid Associates.

For half a century, for better or worse, no one had more influence in shaping local TV news. He advised station managers looking for a quick cure to low ratings from “the news doctor” on the format, content and presentation of their newscasts.

He often prescribed “Action News,” a fast-paced format big on what I came to call Blood, Bang and Burn – crashes, shootings and fires. The anchors should be friendly, engage in happy talk and cut and color their hair just so.

From my experience – I frequently worked in the newsroom of Magid-advised stations -- no emphasis was placed on writing. Good reporting and writing were, at best, afterthoughts. Magid’s service wasn’t about the message, it was about the delivery of it.

After his death in February 2010, his wife, Marilyn, also and Iowa graduate (1957 B.A.) donated $1 million to the University through the Frank N. Magid Undergraduate Writing Center Fund, which helped the school launch last fall a program offering an Undergraduate Certificate in Writing.

Open to undergraduates regardless of major or college, it requires a commitment of at least 21 semester hours of writing courses. It’s the kind of program that will allow students to develop the critical thinking and writing skills so important to success – and which so many undergraduates lack.

In announcing the program, the University’s newsletter quotes Marilyn:

“’…in all the years in the business, he realized that writing was an inadequacy among many job applicants and clients. Frank always believed that a key component of an excellent liberal arts education – and any successful career – is learning to communicate effectively.’”

To this day, I detest “Action News” as hostile to the good journalism needed to encourage civic engagement and an informed electorate. That is part of the Magid legacy.

But I have a more nuanced appreciation of the man behind the concept.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Spring RV Trip: Retracing the Trace

The highlight of our annual spring RV trip was a journey along the Natchez Trace. It’s thousands of years old and played an important role in the development of the United States. You can be forgiving if you have never heard.

I figure this fascinating story is an appropriate way to restart my blog.

Much of the Trace was originally animal migration trails which Indians used for thousands of years before any white Europeans set foot on them.

Not long after the Revolutionary War, adventurous colonists began crossing the Appalachian Mountains and settling along the Ohio River. But they could not carry their corn and products back over the mountains. Too rugged. The only way to get corn from, say, Louisville to Philadelphia was via New Orleans.

These early settlers built barges and flat-bottom boats and used the currents of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to float their goods to Natchez or New Orleans. After selling their cargo, they disassembled their boats and sold them for lumber.

Strong currents on the two rivers made it impossible to navigate upstream.

So from about 1795 to 1820, these pioneers walked the 444 miles from Natchez to Nashville along the Trace, a 30-day journey. For those fortunate enough to have a horse, the trek took 20 days. Once in Nashville they still had a considerable journey to their farms along the Ohio River.

Today the Natchez Trace Parkway, administered by the National Park Service, runs from Natchez, Miss., 444 miles north to Nashville, Tenn. Think of it as a linear park, a minimum of 800 feet wide, with a two lane road running down the middle. A 50 mph speed limit and a ban on commercial vehicles combine to offer a peacefully, picturesque journey through three states (including the northwestern tip of Alabama). We drove the southern two-thirds, from Natchez to just north of Tupelo, Miss.

Cruising along in our RV, we were never far from reminders of the Trace’s past:

  • Several mounds built perhaps 1000 years ago by the Mississippian Indians, who became extinct about 1700.
  • Sections of the original Trace, maybe six feet wide and depressed as much as 30 feet, the soil compacted by all those feet and hooves two centuries ago.
  • Inns along the route. Since many who walked the Trace were of questionable character, they were served a corn-based mush to eat outside, where they also slept.
  • In 1806 Thomas Lincoln walked the Trace. Upon his return to Hardin County, Ky., he proposed to Nancy Hicks. They would name the middle of their three children Abraham.
  • About 1815 the first steamboats powered upstream all the way to Pittsburgh. The Trace would soon be obsolete.

But never forgotten. Thanks to the determined effort of preservationists, today we can drive the trace and get an appreciation what life was like in the Old Southwest (Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee) two centuries ago.

 

 

 

 


A Snapshot of my Home Town

Our 50th high school reunion started with dinner and drinks at Mason City’s best steak house. It was a perfect venue to launch three days of fun with great classmates.

From the restaurant’s parking lot one could look across an open field directly at one of the city’s two massive cement plants. In the soft glow of evening light, something didn’t look right. Some lights were on, but otherwise it showed no signs of life. Had this plant – once one of the four largest industrial employers – closed?

For the last two decades visits to my Iowa home town have been limited to class reunions every five years. Each trip I collect a handful of impressions, like the cement plant, in an effort to understand how Mason City has changed over the decades.

On this trip, in September 2011, the downtown Southbridge Mall seemed too quiet, the B&B where we were staying was due to close at the end of the month, and the very modest family home, which I sold 20 years ago, looked unchanged except for a few broken stones on the front porch.

Other images were more encouraging: The library, 50 years ago a source of great civic pride – both for the quality of its collection and the building that housed it – had been restored. So too had an architectural gem, the only remaining hotel building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, reopened as Wright in the Park.

Months later, the reunion a pleasant memory, I can now combine those images with a bit of online research to get a better understanding of how things are going in Mason City.

The Decker House B&B has reopened with new innkeepers who have expanded the scope of the business to accommodate meetings and parties on the first floor. Its Web site advertises a discount for business travelers who stay in one of its six rooms.

Wright on the Park, with 27 rooms, is just four blocks away. It is a must-stay for visitors wanting to experience the city’s rich, Wright-linked architecture. However, the hotel got mixed reviews from classmates who stayed there.

The nagging concern I have is that downtown Mason City may not generate the demand to regularly fill the 33 rooms of these two niche facilities. In addition, they seem too far from Interstate 35 to attract travelers just looking for a room for the night. I hope my fears prove unfounded.

The downtown Southbridge Mall is not a fair snapshot of Mason City retail. State Highway 122 (4th St. SW) is the main retail route, extending for miles from downtown to the airport, the Interstate and neighboring Clear Lake. That’s where the big boxes are. From what I saw during a Saturday drive, their parking lots suggested the stores were busy. A walk through Southbridge may only underscore a change in consumer shopping preferences.

Unfortunately, my reporter’s instinct about the cement plant was correct. Production at Northwestern State Portland Cement ceased in August 2009. According to the owners, Holcium, of Switzerland, it may resume production if demand for cement picks up. In the meantime, the lights remain on for a mere three employees. keeping watch over the mothballed plant, in part to keep permits and licenses from expiring.

Of the four major industrial plants that together employed close to 2000 workers in the 1950s, only one remains: the other cement plant. Lehigh, now part of the Heidleberg Cement Group, of Germany – employs about 165 workers.

The Northwestern hulk is, indeed, a ghostly reminder of decades of decline.

 

 

 


Two Thoughts on Images of Music Man Square

Thursday, five days before the Iowa Caucuses, scenes of Music Man Square made the national news. There in the background behind Mitt Romney was the distinctive awning of the Birdsall ice cream shop. On NBC’s Evening News, the reporter was standing live in front of the entrance to Music Man Square.

That took me back to mid-September when the Class of ‘61 took over Reunion Hall for two nights. Bryan Way reinforced that flashback New Year’s Eve when he posted updates, complete with new pictures, to our class website.

Looking at images of both events brought two thoughts – not connected to each other or politics – to mind.

First, in many respects the use of Music Man Square for a political rally is a natural. It projects downhome images candidates love: touring family farms, kissing babies and eating apple pie -- in this case with a scoop of Birdsall ice cream on the top. (Never mind that Professor Harold Hill, the lead character in the musical, was a conman.)

But wouldn’t it have been nice if the same rally had been in the meeting space of the Historic Park Inn. The only remaining hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, it has been so beautifully restored thanks to the tireless effort of proud residents and volunteers who formed the non-profit Wright on the Park. Wouldn’t it have been nice if that NBC Correspondent had stood in front of the hotel – giving the nation a glimpse of this architectural gem, and a hint of another dimension of Mason City?

Second, those who attended the rally had smiles on their faces. I don’t presume to assess how rewarding their experience was.

But, classmates, didn’t we have a great time? We didn’t just party. We had an opportunity to share a half century of memories, to learn – even after all these years -- more about each other, and to appreciate how far we’ve journeyed. Those were meaningful moments.

Politicians come and go. Memories are forever.

 

 


50/25: Two Very Special Reunions (in 2 Posts)

Two reunions this summer, celebrating events separated by 25 years, give me great memories of just how fortunate I am to know them.

I grew up with one group, and party and travel with the other. Because of their length, I’ve split them into two entries.

 

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Hit the rewind button, we’re going back half a century.

In September graduates of the Class of ‘61 celebrated the 50th anniversary of our high school commencement. Over four days, we shared stories of growing up in Mason City, Iowa, attending the city’s schools and decades of life after high school.

First and foremost, we had fun. Nothing says people with gray hair and a few more pounds can’t have a great time.

When I think back on the weekend, several things stood out in my mind: How quickly we started enjoying each other. We picked up conversations like we would with a friend seen every few months. Perhaps most amazing, our ever-open minds led us to discover classmates we never knew.

Technology helped. Most of us had contributed biographical information to a class website before the reunion. Just over 50 of us had also joined a Facebook page. At previous reunions – we’ve met every five – we picked up a reunion book on the first night and had no time to read it before the first gathering. This time we could do that “homework” in advance.

We may be on Medicare, but we do use a computer.

At the last minute, a Thursday night dinner was added. Some 60 of us, spouses included, dined at the city’s best known steakhouse, then adjourned to an upstairs space to have more drinks and a lot more conversation.

We had a head start on reconnecting.

No one came to the event to push an and agenda – political, religious or otherwise. An early attempt to do that on the website was quickly shot down. For this weekend, we put any difference aside to enjoy those days when our youth crossed the line into early adulthood.

 

Our memories don’t just go back 50 years. For some, who grew up in the same neighborhood, they pre-date school. For others, our lives crossed paths in elementary school or at the start of junior high. By high school (10th grade), even though we didn’t all know each other, we at least shared experiences being part of the smartest class in 20 years in a very good school system in a thriving city.

The reunion turnout was amazing. Of 357 graduates, 300 are alive and accounted for. And 127 – nearly 40 percent – attended a weekend event. That’s an amazing turnout. Was it because it was the 50th? Because most of us are retired and free to travel? Or because we have good memories of high school and past reunions?

Most amazing to me was connecting with classmates I never really knew -- with whom I didn’t share classes, social circles, neighborhoods or extra-circular activities. I traded stories about running with a retired CEO and his wife. Like me, he is still pounding the pavement at 68.

With another, I informed him the house he grew up in and recently had been a B&B was about to close, and he shared some of his professional expertize about hearing aids.

My best example is a nuclear engineer who works as a consultant to the operators of nuclear plants around the world, advising them on safety issues.

We went to different elementary schools before attending the same junior high school, but don’t remember each other from those days. By high school we were pursuing different interests and activities.

Somehow we connected at the reunion. We started talking on Thursday – he liked the blog entries I had written in advance of the reunion -- and by Saturday we sat at the same table and shared stories until the bitter end.

Like, when a limited number of honors classes were created staring in 9th grade, we were crushed that we didn’t make the cut. We were in that second class, just a notch below. After successful careers, we could laugh at that.

At one point, he turned to me and said something close to “where have you been all of our lives?”

Good question.

And one worth exploring. In the months ahead, and at the 55th reunion.

 

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[For the other half of this trip down memory lane, scroll down to the next entry in norblog, or click here.]