Celebrating the people behind an Iowa community’s living history


(SBA) - They held a garden party. I didn’t go. Not because I did not want to see old friends, but I wasn’t invited. I could have gone anyway, and I would have been welcomed. I, however, would have felt like the kid who showed up for the first two practices for football, dropped out and then wanted to sit up front at the victory celebration. I did not attend because I hadn’t earned my letter.
The party of which I write was held May 18 at Washington Park in Cedar Falls and was termed a Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reunion. I know many who were there. Among the gathering were Tim Jamison, who knows more about city budgets than any other Iowan; and Pat Kinney, who has interviewed in the last 20 years all people of achievement in the Cedar Valley (and still believes Leo Rooff, the former mayor, got us the Avenue of the Saints).
I know they probably said to each other things like “Where are you now?”; “Are your parents still with us?”; “Do you remember Phyllis Singer? Or the Iron Duke? What about a fine political reporter Bob Casey or the sportswriter known as Sully?” I am sure they discussed the circumstances of their departure of employment from Lee Enterprises. But here is what I bet they didn’t take time to reflect upon: What they did.
You see, to understand newspapers, you must realize that for 24 hours, that document you read is alive. I don’t care if 30 years ago you watched a kid riding a bicycle in a snowstorm throw it in the general direction of your front porch, picked it out of a special Courier mailing tube or got it last night on your telephone, you are reading about yourself, your town, and your neighbors. You are reading a document that is immediate and timely.
You are told what is happening in the nation and the world. All brought to you by a group of people (we call them journalists) who framed the most important paragraph, sometimes under the pressure of a deadline, the lead, decided what was relevant and attempted to include the view of proponents and opponents. Then turn around and do the same thing again for the next publication. Unlike TV or the computer, a paper, once printed, never disappears, and is not replaced instantaneously to race on to the next, perpetual, “breaking news” story.
And what a story this paper has told about us. I can still see The Courier picture of the sheer joy of the crowd that gathered at the intersection of Fourth Street and Jefferson when victory in World War II was announced. The descriptions of the booming punts of Reggie Roby or the hostility of people when some, more courageous than others, marched for civil rights. (Dave Dutton, a local attorney, told me that when he was seen by an important client marching, the fellow terminated his relationship with his firm the next day.)
We learned of the hard times when Rath shut down and Deere laid off thousands. The Courier writers chronicled the economic recovery of the 1990s and the fight against the flood of 2008. In a nutshell, what we did then and what we are doing now.
Sam Rayburn, the long-serving speaker of the United States House of Representatives, said what we are when he defined a small town. He said it is a place “where people know it when you’re sick and where they care when you die.” I maintain that a town, our town, the Cedar Valley, reflects that truism because we have The Courier, which holds the garment of our community together.
When the people left the garden party I was not at, I hope they remembered the good work they did in their time with The Courier. Edmund Burke, the British member of Parliament, once said of a man who did something of achievement that, “He may live long, he may do much. But here is the summit. He never can exceed what he does this day.”
To the gathering, I would say only that may you live long and well, but what you did in your time at The Courier will always stand out. Your community should thank you.
That’s 30.