ByNatalie Krebs / Side Effects Public Media and Iowa Public Radio |
On the eighth floor of Iowa Methodist Hospital in downtown Des Moines, 56-year-old Russell Braley watched daytime TV in one of the recovery units, breathing through a tube running from his nose to an oxygen unit. “I’ve been in motorcycle wrecks. I’ve almost died several times in my lifetime. This was the scariest thing I’ve ever been through,” Braley, a resident of Des Moines, said about his recent battle with COVID-19. He said the virus nearly killed him.
The requirements for becoming a teacher were always straightforward: Earn a college degree in education, take enough classes in your area of specialty, practice your teaching skills for a semester as a student teacher. Politicians have added a new skill this year in some states: Be a mind reader. That’s what teachers in a Texas school district concluded recently after receiving guidance for how to comply with a law passed this summer by the Texas Legislature and signed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. The law, known as H.B. 3979, restricts how topics like race, sex, diversity and discrimination are taught and discussed by Texas public school employees and in textbooks and other course materials teachers use. A companion bill, S.B. 3, discourages teachers from addressing current events in their social studies classes.
URBANDALE, Iowa – IowaWatch is taking nominations for the Stephen Berry and Randy Brubaker Free Press Champion awards. The awards are being presented this year after a break in 2020 due to COVID-19. “We are thrilled to bring these awards back after a year off,” Suzanne Behnke, editor of IowaWatch – the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism. “These awards recognize the Iowans who bolster democracy as journalists and open records advocates, often persisting through opposition. I can’t think of a more important time to honor those who do this important public service work on behalf of Iowans.”
Nominations can be sent to Behnke at Suzanneemail@example.com by Oct.
Iowans who spend time working on small-town vitality in the state say small, rural communities will not survive urban flight without taking risks or community leaders willing to take them. “I have concerns that places that want to grow are doing it based on a strategy of stand-pat-edness, I guess,” Bill Menner, a former Obama administration U.S. Department of Agriculture state rural development director for Iowa, said. “If you think you can grow your community by staying the same, you’re probably not going to grow your community,” Menner, of Grinnell, said in an interview for an IowaWatch series, Small Town Solutions. He is executive director of the Iowa Rural Health Association. The IowaWatch series reported that Iowa towns with fewer than 5,000 people but remaining vital, despite losing population in some instances, benefitted from one or more factors that included: creative businesses, updated infrastructure, readily available health care, child care, the arts, recreation, a sense of being safe, strong local schools and a sense of community pride.
Richard Deming, the son of a grain elevator worker and grocery store clerk from small-town South Dakota, is a modest, soft-spoken man. He has spent the majority of his adult life with people when they are most vulnerable — when they or loved ones are fighting cancer. Ron Fournier came out of a different background. The son of a Detroit, Mich., cop has spent much of his working life as a big-time political reporter, covering our nation’s political leaders, including several presidents. While you might think the two are as different as Madison, S.D., and the Motor City, they are quite similar in one important way: Each has become an eloquent, soul-searching advocate for keeping life in the proper perspective.
BySky Chadde and Eli Hoff, Investigate Midwest; Mark Ossolinski, Watchdog Writers Group |
In May, senior executives at the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation finalized a little-noticed financial maneuver that could boost their income for years to come. While a nonprofit, the Farm Bureau owned a highly profitable, publicly traded insurance business, FBL Financial Group. For nearly a year, the executives — whose incomes depended on FBL — had wanted to privatize the company. But the move spurred several lawsuits, with a major investor publicly accusing the Farm Bureau of low-balling the remaining shareholders it was attempting to buy out. To settle, the Farm Bureau paid investors more, and the deal closed this spring.
Relaxing with a cup of coffee at Madeline’s in Riverside, Iowa, you could hear Morgan Rodgers chatting with customers one recent August morning. She knew them all. “We just appreciate our customers and the continued support they’ve given us,” Rodgers, an 11-year resident of Riverside, said about the shop she and her husband, Andy, opened in May 2019. Lyle Muller/IowaWatchMorgan Rodgers realized her dream of being a baker she she and her husband, Andy, opened Madeline’s coffee shop in Riverside in May 2019. The shop is named after her late grandmother, whom she baked with as a child.
PARKERSBURG, Iowa – After a killer tornado in 2008 and the murder of a beloved community leader a year later, many folks in Parkersburg felt they could take just about any punch thrown at them. Then came the coronavirus pandemic. It claimed lives and took a bite at businesses. But as was the case with those prior tragedies, the people of Parkersburg weren’t about to be defined by this latest challenge. Instead they defined themselves by what they would do to overcome — support one another.
BELMOND, Iowa – Rob and Melissa Arnold are emerging from the pandemic of the past year and a half. Instead of waiting it out, the Arnolds took advantage of the opportunity to retool and renovate their restaurant, Sugarpie Bakery & Cafe. The restaurant reopened again to dine-in business in late July. The Arnolds could have reopened sooner. But buoyed by Melissa’s skills with wedding cakes and bakery items, they made ends meet on carryout business and took their time to do the renovation the way they wanted it.
While local incentives can bring businesses to small Iowa towns, they are no guarantee that the town can be vital or bring visitors, a summer-long IowaWatch investigation of towns with fewer than 5,000 people showed. The reasons vary.