I was born in Sioux Falls at McKennan Hospital on March 27, 1940, and for the next 21 years, I was considered a child of South Dakota.
To the best of my knowledge, I only took two trips more than 40 miles from home all through my grade school years.
One was to Omaha, NE, with my mom, dad and grandmother to attend a wealthy distant relative’s extravagant wedding. The other was with my immediate family: Mother, father and older brother to the Black Hills for a long weekend vacation.
Later, while in high school I managed to expand my travel experience to Minnesota with a quick trip to Minneapolis. It was a last-minute road trip with a few senior class buddies.
The only three things I remember about that trip was the long drive, how impressed I was with downtown Minneapolis’ Dayton’s Department Store, and staying two nights at some friend’s brother’s house.
On the farm each summer, my cousins would make fun of Iowa and Iowans. I really don’t know why, but the cousins and I would sing “Iow–o-way, Iow–o-way, that’s where the tall corn grows” with a sort of smirk in our words. Maybe area farmers were just envious of the much greater yields framers got from their rich, black, soil. Maybe it was just my cousins.
I discovered one huge difference soon after I settled in Osceola County. Jake Vos, an advertising customer who owned a hatchery and a feed store in Sibley, suggested I ride along with his son John on a late afternoon feed delivery to a farm a few miles south of Sibley.
Imagine my surprise when we reach the farmyard. Back in South Dakota, many farm buildings — no longer needed — went unused, had gone years without paint or repairs, and were left to rot.
Most N’West Iowa farms, I learned that afternoon, were in good repair, freshly painted and had some purpose even if they had been creatively repurposed.
More interestingly, where many South Dakota farmyards were just a large dirt yard riddled with deeply cut tire tracks, that Iowa farm had a neat, one-lane gravel road leading to the outbuilding and farmhouse through a beautifully mowed, lush grassy area.
I may have been born in South Dakota, but I consider myself an Iowan through and through. I’m glad Connie didn’t hold me to my promise we’d move somewhere more exciting after one year.
Fifty-seven year later there is much I’ve learned to appreciate about being a citizen of my adopted state.
Iowans are special people. They are friendly, visionaries and have a fantastic work ethic. I’ve also learned, coming from the outside, that real Iowans — at least in Sibley where I live — are some way related to half the people in the community. Say anything good, or bad, about someone in town and you’ll quickly learn the person you’re talking to is an aunt, sister, grandfather or cousin.
Des Moines is a wonderful capital city. It has great shopping, wonderful restaurants, exceptional entertainment, a minor league baseball team, beautiful parks, an exciting Saturday farmers market and every four years is literary flooded by the nation’s leading journalists who put it in the limelight for another 15 minutes of fame. Those same journalists can’t even pronounce Pierre — the name of the South Dakota Capital — correctly, let alone visited it.
And speaking about name recognition, I received a good education at the University of South Dakota, but nobody turns an ear when I mention the Coyotes, the mascot for the school’s athletic teams. Compare that to the national attention given the Hawkeyes and Cyclones.
I probably appreciate things differently because I am so much older, and I know there are many very religious people in South Dakota, but I love the depth of faith that is found in Iowa.
From eastern Iowa’s Amana Colonies inspirationism to N’West Iowa’s deeply rooted conservative denominations, the people live and share their faith in ways not always seen elsewhere.
And don’t forget the open opportunity for individual economic development. I don’t believe Connie and I would have received, anywhere else, the groundswell of support for our publishing business that we’ve had here in N’West Iowa. I love how Iowa places such importance on family. I am touched when I hear from someone how as a newly married couple they moved away to enjoy the bright lights and big city employment opportunities. But they chose to move back to Iowa to have and raise their children.
I annually look forward to both the Iowa State Fair and Clay County Fair. Where else can you find such tremendous outdoor fun, delicious food, big tractors, the smell of pigs and other creators of Iowa’s dollars, things to buy that you will never use and everything from giant size horses to famous country singers?
Finally, I love the way all Iowans show their community pride. Every town has some sort of special summer celebration featuring parades, barbecues, grandstand shows, fireworks and more.
It is possible, I have learned, to attend a hometown celebration somewhere in N’West Iowa every weekend of summer.
So, forgive me South Dakota, but having lived in Iowa during the most important years of my life, I have to now say, “I am an Iowan and proud of it.”
Peter W. Wagner lives in Sibley. He is the founder/publisher of The N’West Iowa REVIEW and may be reached at email@example.com.