Happy Birthday, Coon Rapids
Full slate of events planned for celebration through weekend
July 5, 2013
Jeff Storjohann | Daily Times Herald
Fireworks light up the night sky above Coon Rapids for an Independence Day celebration and for the town’s 150th birthday. The American flag is part of a memorial to fallen soldier and Coon Rapids native Shawn Muhr located in a city park west of Coon Rapids-Bayard High School.
Coon Rapids - Alison Conlon came from Chicago to visit the home of much of her family, Coon Rapids, as this southern Carroll County city celebrates 150 years of life with an ambitious schedule of events running until Sunday. A product of the concrete jungle, Conlon, 40, a commercial litigation attorney, has developed a fondness for Iowa over the years - particularly Coon Rapids. And after hearing Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey keynote Coon Rapids' Sesquicentennial Celebration launch Thursday night, she's armed with fact-filled retorts to all the denizens of Chicago daring to confuse Iowa with Ohio or Idaho.
"I can say, 'No, Iowa, it's the place that's made us as great as we are,'" Conlon said.
Northey talked of the growth of Iowa farms, first just across the Mississippi River, and then rapidly moving west. These farms, their people, fed Chicago the livestock and grain that allowed the Windy City to blow past St. Louis, Mo., as a leader in trade.
"This area, like my area, was settled around agriculture," said Northey, who farms in the Spirit Lake region.
He added, "The productivity of Iowa is flat-out amazing."
For instance, if Iowa were a nation, it would be the fourth-largest corn-producing sovereign entity on the globe, Northey said.
In his remarks, Northey went deep into the history of Coon Rapids and Carroll County, to a time when "all these hills were here, but they were covered in grass."
In 1880, Carroll County recorded 55,000 acres planted with wheat - yielding an average of 2 bushels per acre.
Within a few decades, corn became king, buoyed by the seed operations of places like Coon Rapids, Northey said.
Doug Carpenter, an economic development leader in Coon Rapids, said the community is proud to be part of the full county.
"For 150 years we've been working hard," Carpenter said. "We've managed to keep going forward."
Carpenter, a 1962 Coon Rapids High School graduate, recalled that 1963, the 100th anniversary of the city, the oldest in Carroll County, was a memorable year. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his "I Have A Dream" speech. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The Beatles started to emerge, and the movies "The Great Escape" and Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds," were big hits at local theaters.
Kathleen Headlee-Thuman remembers 1963 well. Now retired, the former personal secretary to Roswell Garst, captured the Centennial Queen honors in 1963 - which required endurance as much as any other trait. The young ladies competed in five nights of pageants during the celebration, she said.
Headlee-Thuman earned a raft of prizes as queen, including the use for a week of a bright white 1963 Ford Galaxy convertible.
"I couldn't wait for work to be done so I could go out and scoop the loop," she recalled.
Janelle Kracht, a Coon Rapids City Council member, helped oversee the opening of the 50-year time capsule from the Main Street boulevard. The contents where on display at the Coon Rapids-Bayard High School Thursday night.
In unearthing the capsule, Kracht and others quickly noticed a grayish, coarse, sand-like substance. She jokingly sent a letter to the Coon Rapids Enterprise newspaper informing publisher Charlie Nixon that an infamous national search may be at an end. "We found Jimmy Hoffa," the letter joked. In reality, the substance in the capsule came from the former Alex Sand and Gravel Pit east of Coon Rapids, Kracht said.
Many people gathered around the 50-year-old letters preserved in the time capsule, all of the them written during a tense period in the Cold War, with the threat of nuclear holocaust an everyday, kitchen-table fear.
"There was a letter from somebody who said she hoped the world was a lot calmer in 2013," Kracht said.
For his part, Nixon sported a robust beard. He's growing it as part of the "Brothers of The Brush" beard-growing contest this weekend. He doubts he takes home the trophy. But Nixon said it's a fun way to show solidarity with the community.
Carpenter went so far as to consider what Coon Rapids future may hold after another 150 years.
"I think we're at a bridge point now," he said.
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