Along Our Way
For the 20th year, a group of us continued a Holy Week tradition of meeting at the YMCA Camp northwest of Boone, sharing lunch, then climbing up a towering bluff there to Chapel Point, which overlooks the Des Moines River valley. Up at the top, there are a few reflections, a few stories, we sing ''This Is My Father's World'' and then Stan Moffitt of Boone plays taps on his bugle.
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Chuck Offenburger was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins follicular lymphoma cancer on July 10, 2009, had six months of chemotherapy & started a maintenance program. Carla Offenburger underwent surgery on April 26, 2010, for removal of a jaw tumor which was found to contain adenoid cystic carcinoma cancer. She underwent six weeks of follow-up radiation in June and July, 2010. Since then she has returned to good health, but she continues to have close medical observation. Two days after Carla finished radiation, Chuck noticed a pain in his left hip, and within days, a small mass near his tailbone was diagnosed as more aggressive large-cell lymphoma. In the fall of 2010, he underwent intensive chemotherapy, and had a stem cells transplant in November, with follow-up radiation in January, 2011. Since then he's been doing well, too, but continues to have regular check-ups. We post updates frequently here, including brief insights from Chuck, Carla and at least one of you readers.
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Along Our Way
Out in Greene County, Iowa
Young leaders have stepped up in Dawson, “giving back” to the west central Iowa town
By CHUCK OFFENBURGER
November 2, 2011
A shorter form of this story was first published in this month’s edition of “Family Living,” the monthly feature magazine of the Iowa Farm Bureau, for which our columnist has written the past five years.
It is time for municipal elections, and in the small west central Iowa town of Dawson (pop. 131), where local politics have been especially interesting lately, they’re going to stay that way.
Mayor Colton Morman, a 20-year-old sophomore at Drake University, has decided not to seek re-election because his government duties are crowding his study time. He is apparently going to hand over the town’s leadership to his 22-year-old first cousin Breanna Morman, a junior at Iowa State University who is running unopposed for mayor.
“It makes me feel very proud that Colton, and now Breanna, would step up and help out a small town like Dawson,” said their grandfather Clarence Morman, 67, who serves on the city council. “I’ve always talked to them about how, in a small town like this, there aren’t a lot of people to get involved in keeping the town going. And most of us are older people, so we need these young people to step up.”
|Breanna Morman (left) is hoping to succeed her cousin Colton Morman as mayor of Dawson. Their grandfather Clarence Morman is a former mayor who is still on the city council in the west central Iowa town.|
Having young people step-up like that seems to happen more in Dawson than most other small towns, and it’s not all because of the Morman family heritage of service.
Another member of the city council is Heather James, who is just 24. “You know, I actually enjoy it,” James said. “I see a town here that we can kind of revamp and improve a little bit, and keep it going as a good place to live. Some of us who are younger can do that and give back some of the service, like the older people did earlier.”
She, Clarence Morman and two other current city council members – Dan Hupp and Glenda Hiddleson – are all running for re-election. Seeking the fifth council position is Frank James, who is not related to Heather James and who has not held office previously. All five will likely be elected, since there are no other opponents on the ballot. The election will be held November 8.
The “youth movement” in Dawson town government started in 2009 when Clarence Morman decided he’d been mayor long enough. He’d served five terms, starting in 1999, plus he’d served two earlier terms as mayor in the 1980s.
When his grandson Colton Morman expressed an interest in running for mayor, Clarence said he’d be glad to step down and run for council. Colton, then a senior at nearby Perry High School, had always been a bright student who was interested in government, and he was a stand-out on the school’s mock trial team. He even gave up a position on the wrestling team so he’d have more time for mock trail and other academic competitions.
|The skyline of little Dawson on a recent fall day, when it was easy to see that the biggest business in town is the West Central Cooperative grain elevator.|
Before that ’09 vote, Colton and Heather James went door-to-door campaigning together in Dawson. No one had ever done that before in a city election in the town. That helped Colton narrowly defeat his mayoral opponent Jeff Anspaugh, 29-21.
The election of an 18-year-old high school student as mayor made international news, and videos of him being interviewed while wearing Slipknot T-shirts – hailing his favorite heavy-metal rock band – were seen coast-to-coast. I wrote a story about him in the December, 2009, edition of “Family Living,” the Iowa Farm Bureau’s monthly feature magazine.
Of course, everybody in Dawson already knew Colton Morman – or knew of him – since he’d spent his whole life in the community. How is he generally regarded in his hometown?
“They know I’m not the conventional small town person,” he told me in 2009, “but that I do like the small town values.”
When the rest of the state and nation were introduced to the new Dawson mayor in TV interviews the day after the election, it was clear to all that he is indeed a little different from most small town Iowa mayors.
There was the matter of his young age, and then also, he’s bi-racial. He is the son of an African-American father “who’s never been in the picture for me,” and Caucasian mother Michele Morman, who lives and works in Des Moines and with whom he has a good relationship. She is the sister of Breanna Morman’s father Bob Morman.
Through the years, it worked better for young Colton to live in Dawson with Michele’s parents, his grandparents Clarence and Belinda Morman.
|The Raccoon River Valley Trail has been extended west from Perry to Dawson, and the old railroad depot has been completely renovated by the Dallas County Conservation Board to serve now as a trailhead reception station.|
So how did the past two years as mayor go for Colton?
“I’ve enjoyed most of it,” he said. “We weren’t really looking to radically change anything because the town was in pretty good shape. But we fixed up the water tower and pump house when we needed to, we put in a new park, we put in a bus shelter for the kids who wait for school buses, we made the town look a little better, and we kept the budget low.”
The most difficult part of the job, he said, “has been that in a town the size of Dawson, everybody knows everybody else’s business. So you can be telling someone what some situation is, and they think it’s something different because that’s what somebody else told them. It’s hard to persuade them what’s really right, and they get frustrated, which is only natural.”
Did he ever get chewed out by one of his constituents?
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I did,” he said. “We were cleaning up the streets and trimming back grass that had grown out on them. When we cut back this one clump of grass, it left a kind of bump in this lady’s yard about four inches tall. She got mad. My grandfather was there with me, and first she chewed him out. So I stepped up there to try to explain, and then she chewed out both of us. When that happens, you just stand there and try to keep your cool.”
The mayor had a good start as a student at Drake, where he is majoring in law, politics & society. “It’s been an experience to be serving as mayor while I’m taking politics classes, and realizing I’m part of the system,” young Morman said. He said few other students have known of his position back home, but several of his professors do and have encouraged him. He had a 4.0 grade point average his first semester at Drake, then a 3.8 in his second semester and is a Dean’s List student.
“It was always a challenge to manage my time,” he said. “I found that I couldn’t drive back and forth to Des Moines every day, so I started living with my mom in Des Moines three nights a week, and then getting right back to Dawson for long weekends. And I was in touch with people in town all week long when I needed to be.”
But the difficulty of it all came in on him last May “when I had a city council meeting one night during finals, when I also had two papers due the next morning. I was up until 5 in the morning, and I realized I just couldn’t keep doing that,” he said. That’s when he decided not to run for re-election on November 8.
Most in Dawson give him good reviews as mayor. “He’s done a fine job,” said City Clerk Sherry James, 53, who is married to new council candidate Frank James. “Colton knew parliamentary procedure from school, and having grown up watching his grandpa as mayor so many years, he understood city policies and procedures.”
A year before he was elected, Colton Morman pursued and was given the contract to mow the grass in Dawson’s city park, playground and other public areas. That also gave him an idea of how city government worked. And, interestingly, his cousin Breanna Morman, the one now running for mayor, followed the same path – she had the city’s grass-mowing contract this past summer. She and her boyfriend Andrew Gonzalez, a sales associate for Farm Bureau Financial Services in Perry, also came before the council in the past year to get approval for a flower garden they volunteered to take care of and for a sign they built in the city park.
|Here's Dawson City Park located in the heart of the community.|
“I attended four or five council meetings in the past year,” said Breanna. “From that, and from being around Colton and my grandpa when they talked about the town, I’ve had an interest in how it all works. Initially, I was thinking of running this year for city council. When Colton said he wasn’t going to run for mayor again, I assumed my grandpa would take over again. But then he said he wanted to stay on the council, and nobody was running for mayor. I thought, well, I want to serve my hometown, I think I can do the job, so I’ll run for mayor.”
Cousin Colton’s political advice to her was “to talk to everybody in town, even if nobody is running against you. Get their ideas. That shows people you’re really interested. You start when you go out to get signatures on your nomination papers. In a town this small, you only need about eight signatures on your papers, but go see everybody. Breanna did that and came back with, like, 40 signatures. She’s a mature girl. She knows how this works, and she’ll do well.”
Breanna Morman had started her college career at the University of Northern Iowa, but transferred to Iowa State to major in “child, adult & family services.” She has another year of studies ahead of her before she would pursue a career in social work. She commutes to campus in Ames three days a week, and she works at the Hy-Vee food store in Perry as a pharmacy tech, but she is back home in Dawson every evening.
What does she offer as a mayoral candidate?
“What I can bring is a younger perspective,” Breanna said. “I’m someone who has lived in Dawson my entire life, and I want to see this community stay alive and grow.”
You can write the columnist at chuck@Offenburger.com.