Wednesday, January 11, 2012

One of the more poignant moments of our trip to Iowa was our visit to Coon Rapids, IA, where Russ spent his growing up years.    The town offers just enough "extras" to make it interesting.  I guess it doesn't just seem like "another small town in Iowa".    

Coon Rapids is notable for its seed company.  The Garst & Thomas Hybrid Corn Company was founded in 1930.  It has since been bought by a Syngenta (2004), and a new production area was recently built.  The town reminded me of Mitford with its own "Miss Sadie Baxtor."  They didn't have just one rich woman benefactor of the town, but a couple of families who owned the seed company that gave back to the community.    In the middle of town among all the "normal" small-town houses sits one house and yard alone on an entire block.  Although no longer owned by the Thomas family, the quaint brick house and matching side building (office?) as well as the stone edged garden and huge yard really stand out in stark contrast to all the other homes in the area.   In this day of huge homes, big cars, and elaborate landscaping/yards it probably doesn't seem like much.  But if you consider when it was built and compare it to the surrounding homes it must have stood out previously as a sort of "rich people" estate.   

Along with its notable industry Coon Rapids also has historic significance.  The town was visited by Khrushchev in 1959 to fulfill a promise made to Elizabeth Garst to visit their farm.  The visit was important in helping open agricultural/grain trade with the Soviet Union.
Coon Rapids also offers a somewhat picturesque beauty as it sits among the hills right on the Raccoon River.   We enjoyed walking over the bridges and in the wooded area along the river.

The town is progressive.  The whole school complex area is quite nice with the fairly new town pool in the same area.  A new biking/walking trail runs along the river and then all the way out of town to the Garst farm.  I was also impressed with how large the library was for the size of the town.

Although progressive, it has that small-town charm that makes so many of Iowa towns neat.  It has a cafe/diner where I am sure everyone knows everyone else.  The family owned grocery store has also been around for years, still managing even though a Walmart, HyVee, etc are all in nearby Carroll, IA.

But most of all, it has memories.  On that beautiful afternoon Russ was able to show the kids and I the house he grew up in, the route he walked to school (and it really is up hill both ways!), and where he went to elementary school.   Russ pointed out where the preschool playground once stood, as he fondly remembered his preschool years with his mom as his teacher.  I tried to imagine what he must have been like, or looked like as a little guy walking to school, playing football in the street, running desperately home from the neighbor's house as he was late for supper yet again, mowing the neighbor's lawn, or visiting the elderly ladies at his mother's insistence.    I guess I don't have to imagine too hard.  I can just imagine Nicolas with bigger and uglier glasses (although Russ insists his Battlestar Galactica glasses were all the rage).   

I wished I had gotten my camera out sooner and taken more pictures of the house Russ grew up in, and just of the town in general.  I guess that means we just have to go back.  Maybe Russ will even share a few more stories!

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