Sunday, April 5, 2009

Proud to be an Iowan: The 2009 Iowa Studies Conference

Did you know that all of Marion County lies on a geological feature called the Southern Iowa Drift Plain? It was shaped fundamentally by glacial deposits left over 500,000 years ago. Our hilltops are what remains of those deposits, and our valleys are the product of erosion. Some of that erosion comes from the melting waters of the subsequent glacial advance of the Wisconsin Ice Sheet, which came as far south as Des Moines about 14,000 years ago. In your imagination, take our highest hills, add a few feet of windblown sediment on top, and then fill in all of our valleys with earth. The flat plain that results is what the geological landscape of Marion County looked like several hundred thousand years ago, long before people arrived.

Friday I went to the 2009 Iowa Studies Conference at DMACC in Ankeny. Carolyn Formanek, Tom Schmeh (co-chairs of the Knoxville Historic Preservation Commission) and I joined over three hundred Iowans who had gathered to learn about and share their knowledge of Iowa (Tom was also a presenter. With Larry Ball, Jr. he presented a history of the Des Moines Speedway 1915-1916). The lesson I learned about the geological features of Marion County came from a presentation made by Ankeny High Social Studies teacher Taylor Anderson. A dynamic speaker, he presented aspects of his high school course called "Why Iowa?" Topics his class address include Iowa geography, Native Americans, explorers, settlers, the growth of cities, agriculture, industry, recreation, tourism, and the contributions Iowa and Iowans have made to the world.

Anderson brought sample materials to demonstrate student work, and Marion residents will be pleased to learn that Knoxville and Pella are seen as important Iowa places by Ankeny students, with mentions of the Knoxville Raceway, Elk Rock State Park, Slideways Karting Center, the Royal Amsterdam Hotel, Tulip Time, the Scholte House, Wild Rose Pastures and the Pella Opera House.

Taylor Anderson is proud to be an Iowan, believes that we as Iowans have lots to be proud of, and that we need to share this with the children of Iowa so they see home as a good place to stay and make contributions to when they become adults.

There were dozens of papers presented at the conference, including topics on Iowa military history, ideas for educators, historical archives (including radio), President Herbert Hoover, the homicides at Villisca in 1912, Iowa's Native Americans, immigration, the Little Brown Church in the Vale, how to learn from cemeteries, the women's suffrage movement, significant poets, Frank Gotch--the great Iowa wrestler, Chiefs Keokuk and Black Hawk, the underground railroad, among many others.

One of the highlights of the conference was the keynote speech by a dear friend of mine, Zachary Michael Jack, a fourth generation Iowan whose family owns a century farm in eastern Iowa. Zachary loves Iowa, and has compiled a new book of historical and literary readings titled Iowa: The Definitive Collection, Classic and Contemporary Readings by Iowans about Iowa. It's a thick book, a heavy book, with over 500 pages that celebrate our past and who we are today. World famous sons and daughters of Iowa join those long forgotten to tell our story. I've only barely opened the book, but have been pulled in--not into a dull history book--but into a lively tale that should be told and told again.

As I write this, a fresh pot of coffee is brewing. It's early Sunday morning, and the my family is beginning to stir. It's a comfortable time, as the sun rises very slowly into a day that will pass quickly. In a moment, I will shut off the computer and settle into my chair, and open Zach's thick new book on my lap, settle in, take a sip of coffee, and read. To learn more about us.

That moment is now.

Dr. Bob Leonard

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