Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Marion County Fair

The kids and I went to the Marion County Fair over the weekend. Having lived outside of the state for many years, I have a special appreciation for our county fair, as well as for the Iowa State Fair. When I lived in New Mexico, I attended the New Mexico State Fair every year. I remember teasing my wife Annie (a native New Mexican) that the “New Mexico State Fair would rattle around inside the Iowa State Fair like a BB in a rain barrel.” And it’s true. It 's also true that while the New Mexico State Fair is larger than the Marion County Fair, the Marion County Fair has more representatives of every farm animal except perhaps horses.

We wandered the fair entries and admired the handiwork of our fellow residents who chose to share their creativity with us. The animals caught the kids attention as they marveled at the size of the horses and cattle and the playfulness of the goats. The bent over cages and spoke gently to rabbits, and laughed out loud at a rooster they decided to call "Elvis" because of his hairdo.

Of course they rode some rides, and played some games on what I presume is called the midway--I don't know what else to call it, but I thought it a fine midway for a county fair. I was pleased to see some old fashioned games--tossing dimes in dishes brought back some memories, but what really caught my attention was the game where one tosses darts at balloons in an attempt to win a stuffed animal. An old man with a soft voice took my couple of bucks and handed the kids darts. They threw, threw again, and again, as the man continued to hand them darts as the kids continued to fail to pop a balloon. Finally, my son popped a bright blue one, and the man handed him the biggest stuffed animal on display, saying "Congratulations! You win the grand prize!"

My daughter continued to toss darts, to no avail. Finally the man said, "Want me to pop one for you hon?" She nodded, and the man popped a big yellow balloon in the middle of the board, smiled, and asked her to take her pick of stuffed animals. I don't remember which stuffed animal she chose, but I do remember the smile on the man's face as the kids gleefully waved goodbye as we walked away, stuffed animal treasures under their arms.

Dr. Bob Leonard

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


In Pella yesterday an eight year old girl pedaled her bike out onto a street in front of an oncoming car at the intersection of Woodlawn and Hazel. I arrived at the scene shortly after the ambulance, and saw a few people gathered around the front of a gray SUV. The ambulance was parked to the side, and I could see a Pella Police car blocking the street, prohibiting traffic from passing through. Pella PD officer Paul Haase was moving about the accident scene calmly taking notes and photographs. I parked a block or so away, and walked a bit closer, but not too close. Those gathered looked concerned, yet calm, and I felt a bit of relief, hoping that the injuries to the child were not serious. Ambulance personnel were working quickly, but I detected no urgency. Occasionally I caught a glimpse of a small blond head, and saw it nod once. Everything is going to be OK, I thought. The girl was loaded into the ambulance, it drove off slowly up the hill to Pella Regional, and the crowd dispersed. A purple child's bike lay up off of the curb, a helmet close by.

The scene was now quiet, and Officer Haase was sitting in his squad car filling out paperwork, so I walked up to talk.

"She going to be OK?" I asked.

"Yeah," he replied, looking relieved. "Maybe broken arm, that's it. She was wearing a helmet. Could've been lots worse."

I noticed that he had smiled and nodded when he said "helmet."

"Eight years old," he added.

"Any charges?"

"No," he said, shaking his head. "She just pulled out and rode right in front of them--nothing they could've done."

I thanked Officer Haase and walked back to my truck, and pulled away slowly. I turned around and drove back to our studio on the Molengracht a few blocks away, but one thing in my world had now changed. It seemed that everywhere I looked, were kids on bicycles. I had never noticed it before, but Pella is a city full of kids on bicycles. Kids of all sizes and shapes, on bicycles in a rainbow of hues. Swooping in and out, up and down, on side streets, main streets, sidewalks and parks. Bicycles everywhere, and I had never seen it.

Until yesterday.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Phone Call from Paul

State Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley (R Chariton) called this morning. Paul is Senator for District 36, which includes Marion County. I was working in our Pella studio, and when my cell phone rang and I saw the name “Paul McKinley” flash on the screen, I knew why he was calling. He called to announce that he is “aggressively exploring a run for Governor.” I have heard rumors that Paul might be thinking about running for months, and when he stopped by our Knoxville studios a couple of weeks ago for an interview I asked him about the possibility of a run, and he told me (and eventually our listeners) that he was undecided, but “keeping all options open.” As Paul was leaving the studio that day, I requested that if he hadn’t made any promises to other media outlets to please call KNIA KRLS first if he decided to run. He smiled and nodded at the time, and I’m pleased to report that the Senator remembered that promise when he called this morning—and that he reminded me of it.

Regular listeners know that both Paul and Representative Jim Van Engelenhoven (R-Pella) join our Knoxville and Pella News Directors in weekly Let’s Talk Pella and Let’s Talk Knoxville news programs when the legislature is in session.

So it’s official. Paul McKinley has taken the official first step in a run for Governor. Based upon our conversation, it’s clear that he has put much thought in his decision, and he brings lots to the table entering the race—his background in manufacturing, business, knowledge of agriculture and education, among other issues. He also knows Marion County and Iowa well.

Of course his likely opponents in the Republican primary also have much to offer to many potential constituents—both those candidates who have declared, and likely some who have not. Today Paul joined Bob Vander Plaats of Sioux City, state Rep. Christopher Rants also of Sioux City and Cedar Rapids businessman Christian Fong in announcing that they will be or have filed papers. And then there is the likely Democratic nominee, Governor Chet Culver. As all Iowans know, it is difficult to defeat a sitting Governor. Regardless, it should be an exciting primary and subsequent general election.

Party politics aside, I believe that the election is going to be particularly interesting for everyone in Marion County simply because we have a local “horse” in the race. Of course, we at KNIA KRLS will not favor one candidate or party over another. I have already extended interview invitations to two of the other three likely Republican candidates (the last invitation will be extended as soon as I finish writing this), as well as Governor Culver. I hope for the news staff at KNIA KRLS to be able to interview all candidates on our Let’s Talk and In Depth programs—hopefully more than once—so we can help our listeners have the information they need to cast a responsible vote for the candidate that they feel will best represent the people of the state of Iowa.

The power of small market radio will likely make a big difference in this race, and I hope that all of the candidates recognize this. If I remember correctly, I interviewed a total of nine presidential candidates during last year’s election. Only the campaigns of two candidates declined the interview opportunity I offered them—now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Senator John McCain. A staffer on McCain’s campaign told me that Senator McClain “didn’t do small market radio.”

I interviewed President Barack Obama twice.

Dr. Bob Leonard

Photo: Paul McKinley at the Bussey Fourth of July Parade, 2009