Marshalltown, IA through Elburn, IL
In Marshalltown, IA, we first met with City Administrator Randy Wetmore, who shared a number of community success stories with us. In the years after three children drowned in the Iowa River, the local YMCA raised funds to teach approximately 600 fifth graders basic swimming techniques. Through private donations, the Marshalltown Educational Partnership offers high school students the opportunity to have half of their tuition covered at a local junior college through GPA maintenance and a high attendance record.
Police Chief Michael Tupper discussed the purpose of an unusual humvee outreach vehicle: after acquiring the surplus military humvee at no cost to the city, it was restored and repainted as a way to start conversations with citizens at community events. The police department works with local churches to help connect with the city’s significant Hispanic, Sudanese and Burmese immigrant population (many of whom work at the nearby pork packing plant).
Both Mr. Wetmore and Chief Tupper brought up the city’s involvement with ‘Not in Our Town’, a national anti-bullying campaign. We met with Times Republican Publisher/General Manager Michael Schlesinger, who spearheaded an effort to proactively engage Marshalltown in creating a safe, hate-free community. A committee comprised of public servants, elected officials, local business leaders and citizens continues to meet to research statistics, discuss how bullying impacts the community, and brainstorm methods of bullying prevention. Marshalltown is the first community in America to adopt the ‘Not In Our Town’ guidelines prior to a major incident.
In 2008, Cedar Rapids was hit unexpectedly hard when many rivers in eastern Iowa flooded. We learned about both the flood’s impact and the city’s recovery during our meeting with city council members Susie Weinacht and Justin Shields. More than 10 square miles of the city were impacted, 1,360 jobs were lost, 6 major city buildings were damaged and displaced, and many homes were destroyed. The city’s quick response (partly thanks to frequent nuclear disaster drills) resulted in zero deaths, and while the community was emotionally and structurally distraught following the event, local leaders actively promoted an attitude of resiliency. During our visit to a city council meeting, the council voted on the final flood project, nearly six years later: the location of a new community recreation center. We also enjoyed meeting with Stephanie Neff and learning about the city’s involvement with the Blue Zones Project , which aims to make healthy living choices accessible and affordable to the community.
In Iowa City, we were hosted by the Zeitler family and treated to a meal at the famous Hamburg Inn No. 2, home to the Iowa Coffee Bean Caucus and site of a ‘West Wing’ episode. We enjoyed running through the Quad Cities area and crossed into Illinois over the Mississippi River. Our first stop was in Prophetstown, where we met with Police Chief Bruce Franks. The town hosts an annual kid’s fishing derby and a large July 4th celebration. In 2013, a fire destroyed a portion of the downtown area, which is now in the process of being rebuilt. Our final stop outside of Chicago was Elburn. After a visit to the town’s wonderful public library (they even have a donation-based coffee bar), we had a great time speaking with local firefighters. They are truly some of the kindest and hardest-working people we have come across during our journey, and we are always honored when they take the time to tell us about their community.