What are Iowans like?

Country Roads

Some 35 years ago I was asked a difficult question: “What are Iowans like?”

The question came during a newspaper management training session in Rochester, New York. I was the westernmost participant among a group of some 50 folks, mostly from New England and the Mid-Atlantic States.

While many of the more party-hardy students enjoyed a nearby go-go joint in the evenings, I appreciated the company of a pair of non-partying New Englanders. Art was from Connecticut and Bob from Massachusetts. After enjoying dinner together in the hotel restaurant we spent evenings in the lobby swapping stories, talking about our families and solving the world’s problems.

On our last evening together Art said, “Awvid, you are the first Iowan I have ever met. What are Iowans like?”

I was hoping Art would not base his impression of the Hawkeye State solely on me so I tried to thoughtfully answer his question.

“Well, Art,” I remember replying, “I’ve never been in Connecticut but I imagine we Iowans aren’t all that different… except you eat better seafood.”

I tried to answer Art’s question by referring him to my home at the time, Sioux City. I can’t remember my exact words, but this is a close paraphrase: “If you come to Sioux City,” I explained, “you will see lawyers in fine business suits, bankers in western cut suits, farmers in bib overalls and at the Stockyards you’ll see cowboys on horses in jeans, boots and western hats. Our kids wear the same weird fashions of the day your kids do.” Art shook his head in an understanding fashion.

“If you come to Sioux City I will take you to a fascinating public museum and to the three college campuses. I can introduce you to some of the Midwest’s finest doctors and nurses at our two very well run hospitals and to the director of the Gospel Mission which does an amazing job of serving men who are down and out. I can also take you to factories where blue collar workers butcher beef and pork, package popcorn and manufacture automotive parts and tools.

“In Sioux City I will introduce you to Native American, African American and Hispanic friends along with lots of Norwegians, Germans and Dutchmen. I can take you to Pollack Hill where hundreds of Polish immigrants settled when they came to Sioux City to work in the packing plants at the bottom of the hill.

“I will take you to the community’s three Jewish synagogues, the beautiful diocesan Cathedral of the Epiphany, two Eastern Orthodox churches and scores of other churches of many denominations. And I will introduce you to the refugee priest at St. Casimir Lithuanian Roman Catholic Church, the second westernmost Lithuanian church in the world.”

I worried that my lengthy answer may have Art regretting his question, but he had asked so I kept on answering. “The people of Sioux City are generous. Every year I work for a group called the Order of the Little Yellow Dog to raise money to buy Christmas gifts for kids who otherwise wouldn’t get one. I also volunteer for the United Way of Siouxland. Sioux City is home to a regional Goodwill Industries headquarters, a Salvation Army Corps and a strong Red Cross chapter.

“In the smaller towns around us people are much the same and you will find this situation throughout the state. Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, Davenport – much like Sioux City. Des Moines is our state capitol and larger but still the same kind of people.

“Frankly, Art, I suspect the people in Iowa are very much like your neighbors in Connecticut.”

Art and Bob told me about their communities and neighbors on the East Coast and we agreed that there really isn’t much difference between us. In subsequent travels ̶ from coast to coast and from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border ̶ I have had my belief confirmed over and over.

While each region of our country has its own accents, favorite foods, activities and the like, people are much the same wherever I go. Iowa Nice is not patented.


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