Home Life

Build the Fire House

Firefighter Gear

I encourage readers to contribute financially to the fund to build a new fire station.

During my four years as a Big Grove Township Trustee, where part of our work was to manage the Solon Tri-Township Fire Department, it became clear the need for a new facility is real.

The current property tax levy will not cover the expense of building a new fire station along with everything else in the budget. Because the service is not managed by the city, exclusive use of city funds would be inappropriate. Management falls to the Solon Tri-Township Emergency Response Agency whose minutes are published regularly in the Economist.

Set funding issues aside and the need is there. When the current facility is ready for deployment on a call, equipment is crowded everywhere, potentially delaying response time. Additional space would make it easier for our firefighters to respond. Training is a crucial part of managing volunteer firefighters and the proposed enhancements to training facilities would serve that purpose.

At the Dec. 12 agency meeting, Chief Siddell reported 428 calls had been made in 2018, 50 more than they have ever made in one year. The combination of a growing need for emergency response and a volunteer fire department makes it important we provide what resources we can to support the effort.

Contributing to the capital fund to build the new fire station is a pragmatic way to do that. Any contribution would be welcome.

Find the campaign at

~ Published in the Jan. 10 edition of the Solon Economist

Living in Society

Last Winter as a Township Trustee

Oakland Cemetery, Big Grove Township, Johnson County, Iowa. Dec. 17, 2016
Oakland Cemetery, Big Grove Township, Johnson County, Iowa. Dec. 17, 2016

BIG GROVE TOWNSHIP — The Big Grove Township Trustees don’t sell many grave plots.

One of our responsibilities is a pioneer cemetery called Fackler’s Grove where no one has been interred for several generations. Oakland Cemetery, near the City of Solon, was expanded with an additional acreage before I was elected to the board of trustees.

At the current rate of sales, we’ll have space for more than a century.

My four-year term as a Big Grove Township Trustee ends Dec. 31.

Stopping by Oakland Cemetery on Saturday, on the way home from the orchard, I noticed the new section was colorful with artificial flowers. We haven’t posted the new rules asking people to remove grave decorations before winter. The signs are made and hanging in the clerk’s garage until being installed. While decorations shouldn’t be there, they are — evidence of modern lives no trustee seeks to suppress. Maybe the new board will install the signs next year — or not.

The main activity in the older section was squirrels building nests in mature trees. Old limestone monuments stood stark and weathering in the day’s wintry mix. With the Memorial Day remembrance moved to the American Legion field, fewer people visit the cemetery.

Drawn by our school system, a strong religious community with three church congregations and proximity to work in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and Coralville, new settlement continues with young families arriving every year.

A township trustee has a relationship with the living and dead. We hear more from the living and spend time with the dead.

I learned a lot during my tenure.

2012, the year I was elected, was the high water mark of my political work. I was helping Dick Schwab with his campaign for state representative, and when it came time to run for office myself, I knew how to win without being on the ballot. I doubt I’ll ever be as active in politics as I was that year.

In addition to managing the cemeteries, the trustees are responsible to manage a budget, levy taxes, provide fire suppression and emergency services, and resolve lot line disputes. While the township form of government was the earliest in Iowa, consolidation of services may better serve residents. At the same time, the long-standing political organization is slow to change — the same way limestone monuments weather in sun and wind.

In society we experience an impulse to serve a greater good and seeking elected office can be that. It was for me. Every area of responsibility was addressed during my tenure.

We encouraged the Ely Historical Society to begin restoration of Fackler’s Grove Cemetery, we signed a long term contract for Oakland Cemetery maintenance, we formalized creation of an agency to share emergency service responsibilities between three townships and the City of Solon, and there were no scandals.

As I walked among the graves on Saturday I couldn’t help but think of the inevitable end of my own life. There is so much more I want to do. At least I can point to this work and say we did something for the greater good.

As the cold front moves in, that may be the best we can offer.

Living in Society

Letter to the Solon Economist

Big Grove Township Trustee Ballot
Big Grove Township Trustee Ballot

If you have been thinking of running for elected office, a slot is open on the ballot in Big Grove Township.

Mark Haight is the lone candidate seeking re-election as township trustee for two open seats. Mark has unique skills suitable for being a trustee, so I hope you’ll flip the ballot and vote for him.

I announced my decision not to seek re-election six months ago. To date no one has been recruited to fill my seat and that creates an opportunity.

Is it too late? Not at all.

On the first day of early voting in 2012 I noticed there was only one candidate for two seats. I decided in the voting booth to write myself in and campaign to become a township trustee.

I issued a press release, made a post on my blog, and made one speech at a political event on Cottage Reserve where State Senator Bob Dvorsky allowed me to speak to Big Grove residents. I sent a note to friends and neighbors and won the election with 71 votes.

The Big Grove Township Trustees are responsible to provide fire protection and first responder service for the township, manage the Oakland and Fackler’s Grove cemeteries, and to resolve lot line disputes. Our main activity is preparing and approving a budget each year.

If you’ve been thinking about running for public office, here’s your opportunity to campaign and win. The non-partisan board of township trustees is a great place to get started in politics.

Work Life Writing

Meeting at the Cemetery

Rural Cemetery
Rural Cemetery

BIG GROVE TOWNSHIP— There was trouble last night at the cemetery, the first such trouble since I was elected township trustee.

It had to do with who could be buried in whose plot, and the trustee who coordinates plot sales and burials wanted to discuss the issue. The funeral is Friday, so no time for dalliance. We are meeting at 8:30 a.m.

Two years into my term, being a township trustee has provided a steady stream of learning about our community. There has been time to consider things, and almost no controversy—just repeated expression of wills about what should get done and how. Any conflicts that surfaced were quickly resolved.

I’m confident we will figure this one out.

Yesterday it was shown that Mary Landrieu did have 59 votes to proceed on Keystone XL, and that’s all she had. The bill overriding the executive process on evaluation and approval of the project now goes into the dustbin of the 113th Congress. It likely will be back next congress.

I spent part of the last two days transcribing testimony to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, carbon dioxide particularly.

“I began my career as a summer intern at EPA 42 years ago under what has euphemistically become known as Russell House One,” Dianne Dillon Ridgely said. “I was a 19-year old kid. And what is most dramatic is much of what we addressed that summer—in terms of air pollution, in terms of the public’s engagement on power production—are exactly the same things, particularly in terms of coal, that we are still addressing and fighting 42 years later, and to me that is really a sad commentary.”

Ridgley is a 42-year veteran of governmental action (or inaction) on clean air and clean water, having been appointed by Presidents Clinton, Bush 41 and Bush 43 to international delegations to address environmental issues. We’re still addressing them. There is hope the EPA’s actions won’t be blocked by the 114th Congress, something the presumed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated is high on his to-do list. Time will tell, but I believe we are on the right side of history regardless of what the Congress does.

My last workday at the local paper was Sunday. It will feel a little weird to be able to focus on my writing on the weekends instead of proof reading the paper. The bucket of part time paid jobs is down to three, and one of those is finished the second week in December. When the number surged to eight last summer, it was too much to juggle. Having found a bottom, the goal for next year is to keep what remains, and use it as a base. In addition, I will seek paid writing jobs and temporary positions and opportunities that can add a few C-notes to the treasury each month. What remains is that I work to support my ability to write.

Hope against hope, I want to get out in the yard and mulch the leaves, and shorten the grass. For that to happen, the snow needs to melt, the yard dry out, and half a day of warmer temperatures roll in. In these days of crazy weather, that is possible, however improbable. That’s where this Wednesday finds me.

Work Life

Township Weekend

Arriving for Breakfast
Arriving for Breakfast

BIG GROVE TOWNSHIP— Memorial Day weekend is a big one for the township trustees, in that we help manage the fire station, where the annual firefighters breakfast took place this morning, and the cemetery, where the American Legion will hold a ceremony tomorrow. Our work is on display in both places. I never thought much about the connection until I became a trustee.

Our garden has usually been planted by now. This year, it is about 50 percent finished, mostly because of the late start and a work schedule that makes it impossible to get into the soil and get it done directly. We’ve had radishes, chives, spring garlic, spinach and lettuce already.

The primary elections are being held next week— another marker in the political cycle. I spent a lot of my morning proof reading articles about political candidates for this week’s newspaper, the last edition before the election. My article about the city council meeting and a pair of articles about the Democratic House District 73 candidates, are to be published.

I plan to vote at the polls in order to see how the last days of the campaign develop. A last minute development could change a vote or two, but I doubt it. The real political work won’t start until the end of summer, unless one is a candidate. I accept the popular wisdom that this weekend is the unofficial start of summer.

Supper tonight was asparagus, Yukon Gold potatoes and a veggie burger. Fit food as the weekend unfolds. Tomorrow, if I am lucky, I won’t leave the township.

Living in Society

Maintaining a Pioneer Cemetery

George Fackler Marker
George Fackler Marker

FACKLER’S GROVE— What should be done with an old cemetery? Fackler’s Grove is a pioneer cemetery that has not been used for interment for more than a hundred years. There are that many years of neglect. The remains of George Fackler, the first person to die in the township, are here, along with those of more than three dozen others. Some think we should do something with the cemetery.

The Ely Historical Society initiated a project to clean up Fackler’s Grove, and their first project day is Saturday, June 1. Check out the Ely History Blog post about the cemetery cleanup here. The group has been thoughtful about their approach, and have phased the work so a better understanding of the needs can be gained through their engagement.

The question for the Big Grove Township board of trustees is how many tax dollars should be spent to maintain a cemetery that many local residents don’t know exists? Today, the answer is unclear.

One line of thinking is to move the remains to a designated section of the Oakland Cemetery near the town of Solon. This has been investigated previously, and there are legal obstacles to consolidating the two cemeteries. Another way to look at it is the cemetery is sacred ground and should not be touched, except to remove brush, and to maintain trees, fencing and what artifacts remain there. The historical society project leads in that direction. A third way to look at it is to do nothing. Fackler’s Grove has been neglected for more than a hundred years, what harm is there in leaving it alone for a few more?

The thing is that when people are interested in donating time and money to maintenance of township property, the resources should be used to supplement the operating budget. I welcome the Ely Historical Society initiative. How the work will unfold over time is something in which I will engage, and report on from time to time.


Memorial Day 2013

Oak Tree and Flag at the Cemetery
Oak Tree and Flag

BIG GROVE TOWNSHIP— In May 2011 I wrote a post on Blog for Iowa that represents my thoughts about Memorial Day. This morning’s rainy forecast brought no new ideas on the topic, so read it there if you have an interest. It’s my best offering regarding our war dead, whose lives we remember today.

The American Legion ceremony is at nine o’clock. The flags at Oakland Cemetery have been flying in anticipation since Saturday. Each flagpole bears a plaque with the name of a deceased local veteran. For the first time, as a trustee of the cemetery on Memorial Day, I feel I should attend. At our recent board meeting there was discussion about the landscaping service preparing the grounds, although these things seem to take care of themselves in rural Iowa once the contract is let. Yesterday the cemetery looked ready for the expected crowd from the highway.

As years pass, the unchanging order of service and empty language have eroded my interest in the local legion’s ceremony. It is more for the friends and relatives of the World War II and Korean Conflict generation, who show up each year in diminishing numbers. Aging veterans take it easy in a row of chairs along the course of service flags while speakers utter hackneyed pabulum for those gathered. The ceremony has become a reflection of the distance society has put between the visceral reality of war and the ersatz patriotism of 21st century American society. We honor our war dead, but should we honor the living who enable our government to prosecute war? Perhaps my expectations are greater than rural Iowa can deliver upon.

Before we get wrapped up in the flag and “honor their service,” as is the commonplace, it is important to recall that war deaths are no abstraction. The living may decorate the graves of our war dead, but come tomorrow, some part of our lives must be devoted to waging peace. Otherwise those that died while defending our freedom will have died in vain.


Firefighter Breakfast

Rain-soaked Seedlings
Rain-soaked Seedlings

SOLON— The umbrella snapped open as I exited the car on Main Street, heading toward the fire station and the 50th Annual Firefighter Breakfast. It was a steady rain and the breakfast traffic was light at 6:30 a.m. Despite the fact that eggs, sausage, ham, pancakes and beverages are not my usual breakfast fare, I like attending, being part of the community we have come to call home.

Firefighters tend to be on the bossy side. Given their work, they have to be. For example, I declined a raffle ticket and instead suggested a donation, laying some money on the table. The attendant responded, “here, take a ticket and fill it out inside.” How could I refuse? The hard sell is on the fried eggs, prepared in a pool of enigmatic oil. The cook asked three times if I didn’t want a fried egg with my scrambled. Resisting was hard, but I remained a firm no thank you. Coffee was served in a commemorative ceramic mug which diners could take home if they wished. Mine is in the dishwasher now.

During election years, the breakfast is awash with politicians. Since this is an off year, the only elected official (besides myself) was one of the town council members who was serving pancakes. There was a local businessman making the rounds, talking to people he knew. Otherwise folks were focused on the food and polite conversation. The tables began to fill up by the time I left.

As one of the Big Grove Township Trustees, I am responsible to help manage the fire station budget along with other townships served by the department. The fire station seems to get most of what the captain says they need. Our board only meets when we have to, which is mainly to approve the budget for the fire station and cemeteries, and to attend the quarterly fire station meetings with all of the townships.

Today’s fundraiser is like mad money for the department, which means buying equipment they could use, but for which they don’t have a budget. There are likely enough tax revenues to get the firefighters everything they need without the fundraiser, but the annual breakfast has become a popular community event.

Today’s rain is a hopeful sign that last year’s drought has finished. The annual firefighters breakfast is the unofficial kickoff of summer, and a fun event. It is worth stopping by on a rainy day.