When I was in high school and felt closed in by the smallness and meanness of others, I would drive to the cemetery, one of the highest points in my home town, and look out on the horizon and think “I can’t wait to get out of this place.”
Eventually I did leave that place and it took leaving it to understand how Iowa compares to the rest of the communities my life has taken me.
Even though I’ve lived where I am now for nearly seven years, if people ask me where I’m from I always say Iowa. Of course, I am nowhere near the league of famous Iowans such as Ashton Kutcher, Johnny Carson, Ann Landers, John Wayne, and a hundred plus more that could be listed. So my Iowa endorsement doesn’t bring any star power to it. I’m a run of the mill Iowan with parents who came from the tiny towns of Eldora and Knoxville and where I grew up during the summers with my grandparents and in Colfax during the school months with my parents.
As I’ve traveled past the river boundaries which contain Iowa, I hold on tight to my home anchor because it keeps me tethered to a moral compass which has provided me direction in what respecting human dignity looks like in groups of diverse people. Where I live now, no vocal moral outrage is heard from a town of 45,000 people, that 18 people, several of them under the age of 18, were murdered in the past three years. This is two shy of the number of people murdered during the same time period in Iowa’s capital city, Des Moines, a city 650 percent larger.
When I placed my son in an on-line public school option this year, I did so for a couple of reasons:
- I wanted to feel more secure about his physical safety and quality of education, and
- Iowa had vetted the organization and had given it the green light.
The school’s rep made a point to talk about the rigorous process they endured to be allowed into my home state. In my mind, if Iowa gave the on-line school the green light, then I knew I could have confidence this organization would deliver a quality education.
If you ask if Iowa is heaven, even with my intense admiration, I will tell you almost. It’s had its challenges over the course of its history to make it slightly less than idyllic. Weather-related natural disasters in winter and summer frequently make it challenging. The economy tanking, especially in the agricultural and manufacturing industries in the late 80s and through the 90s, shuttered businesses, schools, and communities. The departure of young people, like myself, as a result turned Iowa’s demographics a little more grey. So, it is rebuilding a first in the nation reputation for education.
But something about these hardships personal to Iowa is what has built in its strong character. Iowa people respond to their own personal crises and, consequently, they diversified the economy early enough that it pretty much weathered the 2008 economic bust. They can now boast of being the sixth best place to do business, the first best in the cost of doing business and an unemployment rate under five percent.
Iowans also pay attention to the world around them and consider it a calling to be pivotal in moving the direction of the country forward. You can either cheer Iowa or throw a pox on the house of the Iowa presidential Caucus every four years. But Iowa is fiercly protective of its political tradition and consider it worth the fight to keep its first in line place on the January schedule for the heat-up of these political races.
When you read of Iowa’s low crime rate, it’s because Iowans watched what other parts of the country weren’t providing to the least of their citizens. They take notice of this lack and make sure the infrastructure, such as education and jobs, are put in place to provide a way for people to climb out of a no choice other than violence to meet their needs.
My being from Iowa is a quirky twist of fate. I could be one of six billion people from somewhere else in the world. But, fortunately and gratefully, I’m not. So, while I may have some more of the world to see to compare it to my Iowa, on my last day, I hope my spot high on the hill in that cemetery will still be available for me.