Art and Connie's 2008-2011 Adventures travel blog

Herbert Hoover birthplace

Quaker Church or Friendship Center

Kalona

Sidewalk quilt patterns

Amana communal house


We’ve been here at the Coralville, Iowa COE Park for a week. When we arrived, the temperature was 95 degrees with a heat index of 100. I was really feeling the effects of the heat and the humidity while we were getting settled in. Whew. Since then, we’ve had temperatures in the 70s and rain just about every day. One night it rained 6 hours straight. Not just a sprinkle or two but a non-stop hard driving rain. We finally saw the sun for most (not all) of the day on Sunday.

The weather hasn’t been bad enough to stop us from sightseeing and we’ve been doing so in between the rain. One day we drove 20 miles to West Branch to visit the birthplace of Herbert Hoover. It is also the location of his presidential museum and library. Hoover’s home and other structures are preserved as a National Historic Site. About the only thing I remember about Hoover are the “Hoover” tent camps that sprung up along the Washington DC Mall during the depression. I recall that Hoover was seen as an ineffective president who held office for only one term. But there was more to the man than what I remembered. The museum was laid out well and did an excellent job of educating its visitors.

Hoover was a Quaker who was well-traveled, well-educated, and wealthy. He was very successful at organizing relief efforts during WW1 and WWII and was deeply respected by the people he helped. It was this success in helping others that prompted people to encourage him to run for office. However, after visiting the library, I’ve concluded that he wasn’t “presidential material” – he just didn’t have the political finesse for the job. He was successful in his relief efforts only because he was the one in control and called the shots. In some ways, he is similar to Jimmy Carter. They both did more good out of office than while in office.

On another day we visited Amana, one of seven villages now designated a National Historic District. The Amana Colonies were settled by Germans who fled Germany in the late 1800s because of religious persecution. The Amana Colonies were considered not only a religious colony but a Utopian Community. Up until the 1932 it thrived. But then the depression hit and a devastating fire burned down several factories. The colony could no longer support themselves. That same year the residents voted to cease the communal living and form profit-sharing corporation in order to remain viable. Think about all of the things they had to wrestle with – teaching themselves the value of a dollar, owning a home, paying taxes. It is truly amazing that they actually pulled it off!

Most people who visit Amana do so to shop. Not us. We sought out the few museums there to learn more about how this community was formed, their culture and their religious background. I felt the museums were so-so until I got to the last museum which was one of the original churches. It was there we met Harriet who is a third-generation resident. What a vibrant, energetic woman. Now 78, Harriet recalled life growing up in the community, the struggles it faced with the encroachment of society and the struggles it still faces. She filled us in on the history but was so positive in her outlook despite the changes she saw. She filled us in on her religion, its ceremonies and its structure. For nearly 45 minutes, she weaved interesting stories and we walked away knowing so much more. We told her that we live in our RV. She immediately said “So you are a like a tortoise with a shell on your back”. I love that phrase!

Finally, we visited the area around Kalona. Kalona has the largest Amish and Mennonite population west of the Mississippi. We strolled the small village, consisting of about 5 blocks, and stopped at one of the bakeries for a very rich, decadent slice of cheesecake. We visited a cheese factory and stopped by a small grocery store owned and run by Mennonites. We couldn’t resist buying a home-made Rhubarb pie. So delicious. It was a laid-back day in the country.

With all the snacking we have been doing, we felt the need to get some exercise. There is plenty of open space to walk around the COE Park but we were really happy to find that one of the towns had a recreation center opened to non-residents. And they even have a group that plays pickleball! After playing with them for a couple of hours, our bodies were aching but it was well worth it!

I’ve really been enjoying our visit here.



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