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On The Road Again. Is This Heaven? No, It’s Iowa!

Article and photos By Jim Schlett

Most movie buffs always recall this line from Kevin Costner
in Field of Dreams. Iowa was part of my recent summer road trip and yes, in many ways it was almost like heaven.

In the spring of this year, the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site in the small community of West Branch Iowa, notified me that I would be the sole Artist-In-Resident (AIR) for the month of August and along with my wife Gail we started our adventure.   For the better part of the month, we would wander around the park, taking images of the village, Hoover Hometown Days, Hoover Ball, the cottage, the grave sites and the blooming flowers on the prairie at sunset.  I came to appreciate the saying, “No two walks on the prairie are ever the same.”

This Park is where President Hoover was born and raised in the early years of his life and later buried.  As with most Americans, I had only associated Mr. Hoover with the Great Depression of the late 1920s and 30s.  In fact, Mr Hoover later joked that he was the only President to have a Depression named after him.   Little do most Americans know that Mr. Hoover had an incredible and fascinating list of business, political and humanitarian accomplishments by the time he passed away at the age of 90.  

The National Park Service manages this site, which consists of the Visitors Center, a small historic village, and an adjacent prairie.  This land contains the tiny 2-room cottage that Mr. Hoover was born and raised in for a few years in Iowa.  His father died when he was six and his mother passed away before he was 10.  He was then raised by his relatives nearby.  At the age of 11 he boarded a train by himself from West Branch with 2 dimes in his pocket and a suitcase of clothes on a long and lonely trip to Oregon to be raised by an uncle.  Through his own determination and grit, he graduated in the very first class at Stanford University and became one of the most sought-after mining engineers in the world.  Within a short span of time, he had traveled around the world several times managing mines in California, Australia and China, while becoming a millionaire in the process.

But Mr. Hoover never forgot his modest and humble roots and Quaker background of service to others.  With the United States involvement in WWI, he initially helped coordinate efforts to get tens of thousands of stranded American visitors and tourists out of Europe and back to America.  From that point on, he would be known as the “Great Humanitarian,” who would save tens of millions of people from starvation during and in the aftermath of WWI and WWII.  So in awe of his work by the people he saved, many fountains, streets, and plazas in Europe are still named after him, which puzzles most Americans who are not aware of his work outside the presidency.   His humanitarian works eventually resulted in the creation of the United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF).   He then secured the first contribution to UNICEF of $15 million from the United States.

The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum is located within the National Park site, and houses a great deal of information, papers, letters, special exhibits, displays and an excellent movie on his life. 

In addition to my time at the park, we made side trips to many other sites and I can attest to the fact that Iowa has many beautiful and stunning attractions.   Some of the sites include the Amana Colonies, a cluster of seven villages built and settled by Germans in the mid 1850s, the Amish community of Kalona, where horse-drawn carriages are still a way of life, and we even spent an entire day at the Iowa State Fair and by the way, didn’t run into a single politician.   Iowa sure knows how to do a state fair.  We even managed to make a side trip up to Dubuque, a picturesque town looking down on the Mississippi River and a stop-over at the site of the movie Field of Dreams, which reinforces one of the messages of the movie, “If you build it, they will come.”

As with my other AIRs, time passed way too quickly and I will have one more AIR this autumn that will be a great end to 2019 with regard to my association with the National Park Service.

To see more of my work from my Artist-In-Residencies, check out

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