Teachers retire and students graduate; however, most educators will continue to mold the minds of their former pupils and others for the rest of their lives.
An example from my world is Alice Bennett — who will be referred to as Mrs. B for the rest of this column, same as it was when I was in school.
I met Mrs. B during the second semester of my freshman year at Washington High School in Kansas City, KS, when I took her speech class.
Coincidentally, a friend of mine, Ericka Chatman, also was in this class and without her influence, I might be doing something else for a living.
Mrs. B also was my yearbook and literary magazine teacher in high school and as a guy who works at a newspaper for living, you probably can guess those classes were pretty important to me. Those were my first experiences taking photographs of people, writing stories and conducting interviews. It may have paid off a tad.
I graduated high school in 2005 and Mrs. B has continued to keep tabs on me. She has let me know she’s pretty proud of how I’ve progressed in my career and it’s been awesome having her in my corner.
Recently, Mrs. B stumbled across Art Cullen’s book “Storm Lake” and she enjoyed it so much she sent me a copy of it along with a loving letter filled with all kinds of questions.
I figured I can use my column space to answer questions while also publicly thanking her.
So here we go, I’ll post Mrs. B’s questions followed by my answers:
Q: Were you familiar with the paper?
A: Absolutely! The Storm Lake Times is one of the papers published by my paper’s sister company, White Wolf Web, so I’ve read it for a long time. Additionally, a friend/former co-worker of mine from Storm Lake properly schooled me on The Times way before it became nationally known. Yes, I just went newspaper hipster.
Q: Have you read Cullen’s editorials?
Q: What did you think of them?
A: While the news team at The Times does a fantastic job, I love reading those editorials. You can feel the fire coming off the keys and Art is so incredibly in tune with his community and this region of the state as a whole.
Q: Did you know or have met the author?
A: I’ve never formally met Art; I saw him once in 2015 during an open house tour for the new White Wolf Web facility. I thought Mark Twain had come back to life. However, I will get to meet Art on Sept. 20 when the Leo Mores Newspaper Leadership Institute, of which I’m a participant, meets in Storm Lake.
Q: Was rewarding the Pulitzer to this paper/author justified?
A: Without a doubt. As a guy who has mainly worked for community papers in my career, it felt like we all won when Art and The Times received the Pulitzer. Going against Big Ag in Iowa is a risky endeavor and it paid off for The Times.
Q: What is your opinion of the paper?
A: It’s another prime example of why strong local papers are vital. I also recommend reading/subscribing to the Iowa Falls Times-Citizen, Carroll Daily Times Herald, The Dickinson County News, Newton Daily News and, of course, all of the Iowa Information papers.
Q: Is your paper part of this chain?
A: Nope. The Times and all of Iowa Information papers are independent and family-owned.
Q: Did you agree on his chapters regarding the culture/population change in Iowa?
A: I have not read the book yet. (I know, I know.)
Q: Did you agree on how the political vote has evolved in the state?
A: Again, I haven’t read the book but I’ve read enough of Art’s columns to know what you are getting at. He’s correct in that most mainstream Democrats have forgotten their blue-collar roots and have given up on rural votes. I’m friends with reporters across Iowa and many of them have already covered close to a dozen presidential candidate events. Meanwhile, we’ve covered two here. Guys like state auditor Rob Sand and former congressional candidate J.D. Scholten understood why reaching out to rural voters mattered. That outreach got Rob elected and nearly did the same for J.D. Art and Douglas Burns, a columnist and co-owner of the Carroll paper, have been preaching this message of outreach for a long time.
Q: What is your opinion on changes in the state you have been working there?
A: I’ve been in Iowa for six and a half years now. The biggest change I’ve noticed is the gap between rural Iowa and urban Iowa continues to grow. While the cities are booming, a lot of the smaller towns, with a few exceptions, aren’t able to keep pace. The ones that are seeing growth have benefited from immigrant populations moving in and becoming productive citizens as well as a healthy mix of natives coming back home to raise their families and contribute.
Q: Positive and negative changes?
A: The positive of the city growth is that people can see that Iowa is more than farmland and has a lot to offer, but the detriment to the rural parts of the state is a blow. As a dude who was born and raised in a metro area but has spent a good portion of his adult life living and working in smaller towns I know why this is a mixed bag. Rural communities are proud of their histories and want to see those legacies live on, which is why you have school districts that look like alphabet soup on paper.
Q: Is agribusiness still a status quo way of life?
A: No question, which is what made Art’s editorials so bold. You write anything about ag that can be perceived as a knock and best believe Farm Bureau will come a knocking. (See the July 6 issue of The N’West Iowa REVIEW.)
Q: Who might be leading changes, cultural and political, in the state?
A: The cultural change leaders in Iowa have to be millennials. A lot of that growth in the urban parts of the state is millennial driven and when that demographic does the same thing in rural areas, you get a new bar in Ashton, a tattoo parlor in Akron, a comic book/game store in Orange City, and cool coffee shops and boutiques on main streets. Politically, since I’ve been here, Iowa has went from purple to red to sorta red-purple, so it will take time to see what happens there.
Hopefully, these answers are adequate, Mrs. B. Thanks for always being one of my biggest supporters!