Sunday, November 19, 2017

Dobson & the resurrection of Casavant Opus 3105


I'm a big fan of Dobson Pipe Organ Builders of Lake City, an Iowa treasure that too many folks are unaware of. And I've been following with special interest lately Dobson's part in the resurrection of Opus 3105, the mighty Casavant Freres pipe organ that once presided over Clapp Recital Hall on the old University of Iowa arts campus, down along (and fatally close to) the Iowa River.

Dobson builds some of the most acclaimed pipe organs in the United States, but also rescues, revives, repairs, reconditions and in some cases relocates older instruments by other builders for a variety of clients across the country.

Opus 3105 --- a 56-stop tracker instrument with 3,758 pipes --- was built in Quebec during 1971 by Casavant Freres and installed in the gallery of the new Clapp Recital Hall during 1972. More than 30 years later, in 2008, flood waters devastated the University of Iowa arts campus, including Clapp, and the decision was made to relocate its components for the most part on higher ground and demolish the damaged and flood-prone buildings.

The pipe organ, because of its gallery location, was not damaged by flood waters. But the question arose of what exactly to do with it. 

Along came Iowa City's St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, planning a new church and in the market for a suitable musical instrument. The congregation decided to give the magnificent organ a new home and incorporated it into the design of a new sanctuary where its location is similar to the gallery setting it formerly enjoyed at Clapp.


Dobson was employed to disassemble the instrument (aided by volunteers from St. Andrew Church and elsewhere), handle minor reconditioning and for several weeks now company workers have been re-installing it in the new St. Andrew.

The St. Andrew congregation is scheduled to occupy its new quarters in early December and the Casavant should be ready by then. I've borrowed a couple of photos here from the Dobson Facebook page to show how the instrument looked as it was being reassembled. The video below, produced by St. Andrew Church in 2014, tells more of the instrument's history.

Casavant and I go back a long way in Iowa, sort of. I was a sophomore at the University of Iowa when the the state's first Casavant, Opus 2830, a smaller 22-stop instrument with some 1,630 pipes, was installed at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church. I am in no sense a theological purist, so divided my Sunday morning time, at the time, between that wonderful new instrument and the more traditional pipes at First Methodist (First Methodist had --- and still has --- better stained glass, another consideration).

I arrived back in Iowa City after a tour of Vietnam in time to watch the new music campus arise along the Iowa River, but finished my graduate degree before the Clapp Casavant sounded for the first time.

Now, some 50 years later and firmly in the Episcopalian fold, I'm delighted to report that the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Des Moines is home to one of the Midwest's finest Casavants, a joy to experience.  

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Keeping Otterbein Church on its feet ...


The natural inclination of any old building is to fall apart and when that starts to happen, the best defense is a strong offense. Which is why G.M. Builders & Son were digging, replacing timber, crawling around under, pushing, jacking up, bolting and in general doing what was needed Friday to keep Otterbein Church on its feet.

Otterbein is one of seven buildings on the Lucas County Historical Society museum campus and we'd been noticing for a couple of years that the center section of the facade, between the two doors, was starting to bow outward, it was becoming increasingly difficult to open and close the doors and a distinct crack was opening between wall and floor.

Temporary fixes kept the building operational during the open season, but once fall began to turn toward winter and tours were infrequent, it seemed like a good idea to see what was going on --- and fix it.

Otterbein was donated by its congregation, moved to the museum campus, restored and  partially rebuilt by the Lucas County Bicentennial Commission during 1975-76. This incarnation of Otterbein actually was built in the 1940s with materials in large part salvaged from the original 1889 church building, which had fallen into disrepair. Church contents in large part were moved from the original building.

While under restoration, it was decided to make the facade look more like that of the original building. So a foyer was removed, a second front door added to the south, fish-scale shingles and fretwork added to the gable and a cupola with bell placed on the roof.

Alterations to the framing made when the front was rebuilt seem to have been responsible for the fact the center section of the front was no longer secured to the rest of the building as it should have been and was beginning to move out and downward. 

The sag now has been corrected, the wall pushed back into place and everything bolted together. That's Andy at work here; Willie was under the building.


The wooden ramps leading to the two doors, starting to deteriorate after 40 years, have been removed. 

In the spring G.M. & Son will be back to install new concrete ramps. We also plan to have the brick platform in front of the church and the brick sidewalk that leads down to Puckerbrush School from it replaced with concrete at that time. This part of the project will be funded in part by a gift from the Coons Foundation. Last year, part of that gift was used to pave the parking area adjacent to the Lewis Building in order to improve handicap accessibility.

These brick areas, constructed from vintage pavers, were atmospheric --- but hazardous to our guests who have difficulty walking. We'll reuse the pavers elsewhere on campus, but not in high traffic areas.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Exchange Block's rear wall will rise again!


Chariton received some very good news on Wednesday involving a derelict building on the west side of the square --- a $75,000 Main Street Iowa Challenge grant that, with local matches, will fund rehabilitation.

The rear wall of the building --- south half of a double-front structure built in 1883 as the Exchange Block --- collapsed a couple of years ago. Although the balance of the building is sound, the alley side has been hanging open while ownership and financial responsibility cases made their way very slowly through district court.

The grant, which goes to Chariton Area Chamber/Main Street, will be matched by the city of Chariton and financial commitments made by the owners of the buildings that flank the wounded structure. Total investment in the rescue phase of the project is estimated at $155,000. Without the grant, most likely the city would have ended up bearing the entire cost of either repairing the building or demolishing it and shoring up the structures on either side. The previous owner lacked funds to do either.

The project will involve rebuilding the rear wall of the building, providing access to its second level via a rear stairway and balcony that will serve both halves of the Exchange Block (divided on that level by a wide central hall) and necessary repairs to the roof and other elements of the building. The long-term goal of rehabilitation is to create a "white box" commercial space on the first floor and return the second floor to use as upper level housing.

It is believed that failure to deal with roof-drainage issues allowed water to penetrate the brick rear wall of the building, dissolve mortar and result in the collapse.

The grant was one of 14 awards by the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) totaling $933,300 announced at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden on Wednesday. All will help fund comparable projects --- fa├žade upgrades and restoration, upper floor rehabilitation, building stabilization and repairs and remodeled spaces for expanding downtown businesses.

“The Main Street Iowa Challenge grants have proven to be catalysts for the revitalization of Iowa’s historic main streets,” said IEDA Director Debi Durham. “These projects demonstrate the ongoing financial commitment the people of our state – both our elected officials and private citizens – have made to the revitalization of our historic downtown districts. Rehabilitated downtown buildings create opportunities for new business and new residences in the core of our communities.”

The grants are administered through IEDA’s Iowa Downtown Resource Center and Main Street Iowa programs. The estimated total project cost of the 14 bricks and mortar projects is over $2.7 million. Chariton was eligible for the grant only because it is a Main Street Iowa community.

The Challenge Grant program is funded through an appropriation from the Iowa Legislature. Since the first appropriation in 2002 through 2016, approximately $6.8 million in state and federal funds have leveraged over $45 million of private reinvestment. Over the life of the program, 138 projects in 49 Main Street Iowa commercial districts across the state have received funding.

A majority of the grants announced Wednesday were for $75,000. The other recipients were Des Moines, Ames, Burlington, Grundy Center, Jefferson, LeMars, Manning, Marion, Mount Vernon, Oskaloosa, Ottumwa, Washington and Woodbine.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The best taco soup in the whole wide world


I think this is the third year the Lucas County Historical Society has prepared and served taco soup during the annual November Soup and Bread Tasting Fair fund-raiser for Lucas County Health Center Volunteer Services, held yesterday.

Volunteer Services coordinates most of the volunteers who help keep our organization afloat, especially during the May-September tourist season; this is one way we can show our appreciation. And although many of our board members help out, office manager Kathleen Dittmer is the historical society's chief cook and coordinator.

So we decided as the event was winding down last night to share the recipe --- and here it is. This is the basic recipe that serves 10. To serve more --- and we do --- just multiply it.

1 pound ground beef
1 large onion (chopped)
1 package dry taco seasoning mix
1 package dry Hidden Valley ranch dressing mix
1 can pinto beans with juice
1 can whole-kernel corn with juice
1 can Ro-Tel tomatoes with chilis
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 14-ounce can water.

Brown the ground beef and onions, add the seasoning and dressing mixes and stir well, then add the rest of the ingredients, stir, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for at least an hour (the longer it simmers the better it gets). Serve with shredded cheese, sour cream and taco chips.

We serve a mild version of this soup, but you can turn the heat up by using one of the hotter varieties of Ro-Tel tomatoes with chilis and adding other seasonings. We also substitute ground turkey for some of the ground beef in order to lighten the product up a little.

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If I'm counting right, nine or ten soup and bread combinations were available at yesterday's fair, In addition to our own soup, I especially liked Volunteer Services' Italian vegetarian, Chariton Area Chamber/Main Street's chicken and dumplings and Homestead Assisted Living's smothered baked potato soup. Carpenters Hall provided ice cream. Martha Milnes was on hand with her world-famous homemade Swedish rye bread (the best I've ever eaten), so I sneaked a couple of slices of that without actually sampling the broccoli-cheese soup that accompanied it.

Various organizations handle the preparations in their own ways. In some cases, volunteers prepare the soup at home, then carry it in roasters to Carpenters Hall. We divided the meat and onions among three cooks (keep in mind we're preparing to feed a couple of hundred people) --- Lucinda, Kathleen and Ann --- who prepared the meat and onion combination at home, then refrigerated it. Beans that needed it also were drained and rinsed at home.

Then Kathleen, Ann and I met at Carpenters Hall at 8 a.m. yesterday with two roasters and all of the intredients to assemble the soup. I am an accomplished opener of cans, so did that. It simmered all morning, then was ready to serve at 11 a.m.

Kathleen watched the soup throughout the day; Kay, Rex, Jim, Ann and Kathleen served it. All in all, it was a great day. Thanks to all who helped out.

From left, Kathleen, Kay and Rex.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Waking with Randy Rainbow & manageable scandal


Well, Tuesday was a mixed day newswise. In Australia, voters endorsed gay marriage resoundingly.

In case you've not been following the news down under, the vote was commissioned by the Australian government before the issue was tackled legislatively. Among the electorate, 79.5 percent of eligible voters participated, 61.6 percent endorsed gay marriage and 38.4 percent opposed.

The vote was non-binding, but Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull now has promised that same-sex marriage will be the law of that land before Christmas. Opponents, of course, are scurrying to protect the endangered rights of florists and bakers to discriminate.

Neighboring New Zealand, where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2013, foresees a drop in tourism now that its gay neighbors will be able to marry at home.

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Out in California, the early-week mass shooting claimed only four lives, hardly worth reporting.

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And if Facebook is any indication, we're already gnawing at each other about how best to greet during the joyous season now approaching. So let me be among the first to wish you happy holidays.

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Meanwhile, I've been watching and listening to Randy Rainbow's nostalgic trip down memory lane, back to those good old days of manageable scandal. Perhaps you'll enjoy it, too.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

George Musick to Harry Randall: Just after D-Day


If I'd had my wits about me, I'd have shared George Musick's 1944 letter home to his pal Harry Randall during September, when three Lucas County men killed in combat during the Korean War but whose remains never have been recovered were commemorated on National POW/MIA Recognition Day. Sgt. Musick is one of the three; Elmer A. Rowe and Roy R. Kirton, the others.

But the letter didn't come to mind until yesterday, when I was filing something in the archival box where it is kept. Harry's daughter, Sue Demichelis, placed the letter in the Lucas County Historical Society's care during 2012. Written from a foxhole "somewhere in France" six weeks after D-Day, it is a rare survival.

The letter dates from the first phase of Sgt. Musick's  military career. He had served with distinction during World War II, survived, then re-enlisted for service in Korea where he was killed in combat at Yongsan on Sept. 3, 1950, at the age of 33.

George and Harry were the same age, so may well have been boyhood friends. Harry (1917-1977) also served during World War II, called up during June of 1945 as the war was winding down.  He's probably best remembered in Chariton because of his 35-year career as a barber.

George had beautiful penmanship, but was a deplorable speller. You can read the original letter, above and below. Or the transcript below. I've corrected spelling errors; couldn't help myself.

Sunday 7/23/44
Somewhere In France

Hi Harry,

You will probably be surprised at getting a letter from me, but over here a man don't get much time to write & when he does he don't feel like writing because, hell, there just isn't anything you can write about only the weather & who in the hell cares about the weather only that it's been raining over here ever since D-Day & that's no lie (this pen is just like its owner, not worth a damn & it isn't mine).

Well Harry I sure hope you never have to witness anything like this little show we are having over where it's just plain hell. I don't know how anyone ever lives through it. Those Jerries are a tough bunch of customers even if we are kicking the hell out of them & another thing, I don't care very much (for) living in a foxhole but damn it you have to or not live.

Man you should see those dive bombers work. They really do a nice piece of work. They really run the German nuts especially when they strafe them, but still some of them manage to hold out.

(The hell with the war.) How was fishing this summer? I'll bet the bass couldn't get to those plugs fast enough. Sure would like to do a little fine fishing or hunting; it's been a long time since I've done any. When & if this war ever ends & I get through it OK I'll make up for lost time.

Well Harry I guess I'll have to close. Can't think of anything to write about. Ans(wer) soon.


Lots of good Luck,
T/Sgt Geo. Musick


Monday, November 13, 2017

Building Muslim-Christian bridges at St. Andrew's


Dema Kazkaz, of Waterloo, considers her work as a builder of bridges between religious cultures to be among her responsibilities as an observant Muslim. On Sunday afternoon, she drove two hours south to Chariton, accompanied by friend Hasina Waziri, to do just that.

"I am motivated out of my Muslim beliefs,” Kazkaz told The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier in an interview earlier this fall. “I see myself as a seed-spreader," she said, "the seeds of love, understanding, tolerance and peace.”


Dema was in Chariton on Sunday at the invitation of the Rev. Fred Steinbach and the parish of St. Andrew. And St. Andrew's church was filled with a crowd from several churches and beyond who gathered to listen to Dema's presentation, engage in a lively question-and-answer session thereafter, then retire to the parish hall for refreshments.


Dema is a native of Hama, Syria, who lives in Waterloo with her husband, Dr. Muhammed Masri, an oncologist, and two children. She holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Northern Iowa and earned her master's degree with specialty in Muslim-Christian relations from the Hartford Seminary, Hartford, Conn. She currently serves as president of the Cedar Valley's Masjid Al-Noor Islamic Center.


Hasina, whose husband also is a physician, is a native of Kabul, Afghanistan, who came to the United States when she was 14, living in California before work brought the family to Iowa.

Both have experienced the anti-Muslim sentiments among some of their fellow U.S. citizens that followed extremist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, exacerbated by political rhetoric that accompanied the 2016 presidential campaign and has stretched beyond it.


"My faith has been hijacked by extremists," Dema said in regard to perceptions regarding it. Her current work involves healing some of the resulting wounds.

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Kazkaz covered so much territory in a relatively short time that I couldn't even begin to report in any meaningful way upon it --- commencing with the history of Islam in what now is the United States (it had never occurred to me than an estimated 20-25 percent of the enslaved Africans brought into the Americas by slave-traders were Muslim).

I did know that several of those considered to be our founding fathers, including Thomas Jefferson, had studied the Qur'an but had forgotten that Jefferson attempted to learn Arabic in part so that he could read it in its own language. (Keith Ellison, of Minnesota, the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress, took his oath of office with his hand on Jefferson's Qur'an).

She covered some of the basics of her faith, including the Five Pillars (a statement of faith, daily prayer, charity, fasting and pilgrimage to Mecca) and the six articles of faith (belief in one God, belief in angels, belief in the revealed Books --- The Torah of the Jews, the Psalms of David, the New Testament of the Christians and the Qur'an, belief in the prophets, belief in a day of judgement and belief in God's decree regarding the destiny of each individual).

But the take-away points may have been that there are countless expressions of Islam among the estimated 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide, including more than 6 million in the United States, just as there are countless expressions of Christianity --- from extremist through benign to productive; that many of our western perceptions of Islam are based on cultural expressions that do not reflect its essence; and that the great majority of Muslims are people of good will doing their best to live their faith.


Dema Kazkaz, Hasina Waziri and Fred Steinbach before Sunday's presentation by Dema at St. Andrew's Church.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

On the edge of the great Armistice Day blizzard


I lived for many years in north Iowa, where for some memories of the great Armistice Day blizzard of 1940 remained vivid.

 Also known by some as "the day the duck hunters died," the human toll in the upper Midwest ranged between 150 and 200, many of them duck hunters frozen to death after having been taken by surprise by the storm and mesmerized by the millions of waterfowl driven down by the storm to cover, in some cases solidly, on open water.

The storm also claimed hundreds of thousands of head of livestock --- even a substantial chunk of Iowa's apple trees.

The illustration here is a painting by Minnesota wildlife artist Michael Sieve (poke around via Google and you'll discover where to buy this print and others by the artist). You'll find an excellent article about the storm by Tom Davis headlined "The Day the Duck Hunters Died" at Sporting Classics Daily.

Down here in southern Iowa, the hunting was good, too --- and many hunters were taken by surprise by the storm. But it was less severe and of shorter duration and everyone survived.

Here's a report of the the storm in Lucas County taken from The Leader of Nov. 12, 1940. If it seems a little myopic, keep in mind that the story was written and published before the days of instant communication. Iowans in the south actually did not have a clear idea of the situation in the north until a couple of days had passed. The story was headlined, "Heavy winds, snow drive mercury down."

The icy fingers of Old Man Winter choked short a long streak of mild fall weather last weekend and the old boy jumped on the Middlewest with both feet, sending the mercury dropping downward close to the zero mark.

Friday through Sunday had seen high marks in the 60's with the lowest mark, 33 above, being recorded Friday night. On Monday, the thermometer registered a frigid 12 above and today's low was 6 above.

The chilly weather followed close on the heels of rain last weekend which was reported as measuring .88 of an inch in Chariton and vicinity. The snow which fell blew so hard that no accurate measurement was possible, according to weather observer Harry Osborne.

The wind which accompanied the snow did considerable damage here it was reported. Several branches and trees were blown down. One of the trees fell on a telephone cable on North Grand Street, knocking it to the ground. Service, however, was not disrupted in that vicinity.

About 50 phones north of Chariton were put out of service briefly because of limbs falling on wires, but all lines were open by this morning, telephone company officials reported.

The Iowa Southern Utilities company also reported several cases of "local trouble," all of which have now been taken care of.

The county engineer's office said this morning that roads were all open and that there had been little drifting of the snow. The roads were slippery in some places, it was announced, but all were passable.

The weather was also expected to slow down if not halt entirely the work now being carried on by the Central States Electric Company of Chariton. This company, holder of the local gas franchise, is now replacing all of its old mains with new ones.

The Armistice Day services planned for Monday morning were cut short with members of the local Legion Post merely holding a few brief ceremonies and dispensing with all speeches.

While the weather was giving plenty of people nothing but concern, sportsmen in this vicinity were happy about the whole thing for the duck hunting was never better than it was Monday.

Huge flights were reported yesterday on what some hunters described as the "best day's hunting in Chariton this fall." Most hunters bagged their limit. Late this afternoon, the CCC Camp reported that a flock of at least 500 mallard ducks were in the Red Haw State Park lake.

On Tuesday evening, three Chariton men who had gone to north Iowa to hunt returned home with stories of what they had encountered there, the subject of a (very) brief story in Thursday's Herald-Patriot headlined, "Hunters on polar excursion."

Fred Zimmerman, Guy Williby and Dean Ferguson returned to their homes in Chariton Tuesday evening after a two-day polar excursion to northern Iowa where they had gone ostensibly to hunt pheasants. Their venture led into Emmet County.

There they encountered waist-deep snow, crusted over but not sufficient to carry the weight of a man and occasionally the members of the party broke through.

Birds were killed by the thousands by the storm; cattle were frozen and many hunters gave up trying to hunt and turned to helping farmers save their livestock.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

American Anthem on Veterans Day


I've used this piece so often on Veterans Day --- and other occasions --- that it sometimes seems as if there's danger of wearing it out. But nothing more evocative turns up.

The presentation was put together during 2010 by Jason Eric Mumaw in memory of his late father, a Vietnam veteran. 

The song, "American Anthem," was written by Gene Scheer and performed by Norah Jones for Ken Burns' seven-part 2007 documentary, "The War."

Earlier this week, a friend both Facebook and otherwise posted something based on the thought that all who serve and have served in the U.S. armed forces in effect write blank checks to their country with their lives, hoping for a positive outcome but with no idea what the final cost will be.

Thank you ....

Friday, November 10, 2017

Reading of the names ...


If you were in Washington, D.C., this morning, standing in an assembly area near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, generally known as "The Wall," you'd hear the name "Dennis William Bingham" read aloud just after 8 a.m. (Iowa time).

Saturday, Veterans Day, will be the 35th anniversary of the memorial's dedication back in 1982 and appropriate ceremonies are planned.

In preparation, volunteers began reading the 58,318 names inscribed on the Wall at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, continued until midnight, and have been reading in 19-hour segments --- 5 a.m. until midnight --- in the days since. By midnight today, all of the names will have been read aloud.

A 1965 honors graduate of Chariton High School, Specialist 4 Bingham --- a Green Beret --- was serving as radio operator during a reconnaissance patrol in Laos four years later. His team, hit by enemy forces after moving about three hours during the morning of July 17, 1969, located a landing zone for emergency evacuation. As the weather worsened and the attack continued, Bigham maintained constant radio contact to guide the rescue helicopter in. When a team member was wounded, Bingham rushed to assist him. As the helicopter approached the landing site, he moved into the clearing to direct it --- and was mortally wounded.

His story is one of thousands represented by names on the Wall, which honors all who served in Vietnam by naming the dead --- living and dead united still as a family of sorts. A prologue introduces the names: "In honor of the men and women of the armed forces of the United States who served in the Vietnam War. The names of those who gave their lives and of those who remain missing are inscribed in the order they were taken from us."

The final names are followed by this inscription: "Our nation honors the courage, sacrifice and devotion to duty and country of its Vietnam veterans. This memorial was built with private contributions from the American people. November 11, 1982."

If you like to learn more about the Wall, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund --- the organization that took Jan Scruggs' idea and ran with it and continues to be instrumental in the Wall's care, maintenance and updating --- maintains a very informative web site here.

If you go there, be sure to take a look at the virtual Wall of Faces, an ongoing effort to connect faces with all of those thousands of names.