Friday, August 19, 2016

Veterans of Foreign Wars new Quartermaster General

Our Daughter Breaks a Glass Ceiling
 We always have enjoyed traveling to visit family. Our latest trip to beautiful Charlotte, N.C., to see our daughter, Debra Anderson, was outstanding.
On July 27, we basked in the admiration of thousands of people as Debra was elected the quartermaster general of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. She is the first woman to break that particular glass ceiling.
The VFW is a not-for-profit veterans service organization with 1.3 million members. The quartermaster general serves as the chief financial officer and is responsible for a variety of functions, including information technology and asset management.
“I am thrilled that this position gives me an opportunity to use my diverse skills developed over many years while serving a great organization and our country’s veterans,” Debra said.
As parents, we were impressed with the number of activities Debra participated in during her time at Rock Bridge High School. We were even more impressed when at dinner one night she announced she was to be the valedictorian of the school’s first graduating class.
She attended the University of Missouri, joining the ROTC and in her senior year becoming cadet battalion commander.
She graduated cum laude and earned the George Marshall award.
She served as an Army officer at a time when leadership opportunities were opening for women. She was commander of an equipment repair company in Nuremberg, Germany, and inspector general at Fort McPherson, Ga.
Her combat experience came in Desert Storm, and she received a bronze star for her work as a division strength management officer in the 1st Infantry Division. She also received two meritorious service medals, four Army commendation medals and various other honors.
She left the Army as a major and for years held various management and administrative jobs in private industry.
Her husband, Steve Bourque, took a teaching job at Fort Leavenworth’s Command and General Staff College, bringing the family to Kansas City. She took a job at the VFW National Headquarters, quickly moving up the ranks and gaining recognition for her innovative ideas on improving the VFW’s effect on the lives of veterans.
Charlotte was a beautiful city for a convention. Like Kansas City, it has many fountains and statues with the addition of half dozen quality art museums. Fine hotels and restaurants line the streets around the city’s convention center.
While we were there, several thousand veterans crowded the elevators and lobbies, most from the Vietnam War. We were impressed that they all knew our daughter and some even recognized us as her parents based on our name tags.
Debra had the opportunity to get her picture taken with presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, who spoke at the convention on separate days. Those pictures will join the photo of her with President Barack Obama on our dining room wall.
During her installation, her nephew, Sean Anderson Harper, a marine lieutenant, and her husband, Steve, were both part of the presentation. Her acceptance speech that emphasized the future of the VFW received a standing ovation.
My two older sisters and my aunts were all talented women born at a time when few doors were open for women to develop that potential. We have been so pleased to see all four of our daughters achieve their goals in life.
Debra Anderson with her husband Steve Bourque and Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton
Debra Anderson with Presidential Candidate Donald Trump and Vice Presidential Candidate Mike Pence

Travel as Education

Travel plays a role in educating children

We have been fortunate — sometimes on a shoestring, but many times with lucky opportunities — to be able to offer our children and grandchildren a variety of world experiences to help them understand and succeed in life.

This obviously is not the case for many children who don’t have the resources to experience the world. I empathize with children living in impoverished areas who have relatively few opportunities to see more than their own neighborhood.

Our first two daughters started to learn about the broader world as we traveled around the United States, initially camping in tents. After adding two more daughters, we had to start traveling with a trailer housing a toilet, a shower and sleeping space for six.

We later worked in five European countries for several years, allowing our children to learn quite a bit about other cultures. We encouraged them to give us feedback, which was mostly positive, but we also got comments such as “Cathedrals in France are beautiful, but we really don’t want to walk through another one,” or “The Spanish guys in the bullfight were treating that bull terribly, and I don’t want to come back here again.”

Our children also had the occasional opportunity to live for brief times with their grandparents in a rural community. Our grandchildren also live in families where they are exposed to a variety of lifestyles. We once took two of our grandchildren camping in northern Minnesota, where we took a ropes course, boated, hiked and generally enjoyed the great outdoors.

Although learning opportunities are not possible for children in many areas, there are a few good models of ways to create those opportunities to learn about the wider world. We had an inside view of one of these programs in Hillsdale, Mich., when we attended a Road Scholar music program coordinated by the Michindoh Conference Center. In our spare time, we explored what the center was doing for children.

The campus at Michindoh Outdoor Education School covers about 250 acres. There is housing for more than 300 visitors at any given time. The children come in for four or five days from a variety of support systems. Some come with religious groups, some come with school groups and others visit through Scouts.

The outdoor adventure often is the first time many kids from large cities, such as Detroit, have a chance to get away from an urban environment and into the wild.

Campers can go for a swim or cruise around in canoes or paddleboats. On our hike through the woods, we passed a ropes course with a zip line at the end. An indoor ropes course with a climbing wall also was available.

Out in the woods, we saw groups of kids learning survival skills. Some looked like they were learning about the life of pioneers. There appeared to be as many girls participating in the activities as boys. We noted the dining hall was arranged so girls and boys would sit at the same tables.

We also visited a nature center, where a young male docent brought varieties of snakes out to be handled as he talked about several different types of turtles in a nearby pool and a variety of other small animals. A swampy area nearby features a variety of birds and reptiles.

We were impressed by the variety of experiences and learning opportunities available to the visiting children, many whom are from disadvantaged homes. Four or five days was great, but we felt they would benefit from even more time at the camp. Our meals were planned, so we didn’t have to stand in the long lines that plagued the children’s side of the dining hall.

While not specific to any one denomination, many programs at the camp include some element of Christianity. Part of the fees we paid to attend our program help support the program for children who need financial aid.

Des Moines Living History Farms

Living History Farms: Des Moines, Iowa

Visitors enter the millinery shop at the 1875 town of Walnut Hill, part of several attractions at the 500-acre Living History Farms in Urbandale, Iowa.

Living History Farms, a 500-acre outdoor museum covering 300 years of the agricultural past, is one of the finest attractions of its kind for adults and children in the United States.

The museum has four sites — a 1700 Ioway Indian farm, an 1850 pioneer farm, a 1900 horse-powered farm and the 1875 town of Walnut Hill — housed on its property in Urbandale, Iowa, 8 miles west of Des Moines.

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When we stopped at the entrance to Walnut Hill, a tour guide suggested we take a tractor-towed cart to the farms to save some energy.

At the tractor pickup, a large crowd of 4- and 5-year-old children awaited a tour. The guide told us the museum is open daily from May 1 to Aug. 28, with schools rushing to visit before classes end for the year. The venue is open for a second season from Aug. 31 to Oct. 21, though its days are more limited during that period.

Part of the appeal is the expertise and enthusiasm of the staff that includes students from local colleges as well as retired seniors. They wore period dress but were not re-enactors, interacting with visitors while answering questions about how things were done in the time period.

When the cart dropped us off at the 1700 Ioway Indian farm, we explored three shelters: one for deep winter, one for summer and one for when they were following the buffalo. A large drying rack held beans, corn and squash, which the Ioway people would bury in jars to use during the cold season.

A walk through the woods brought us to the 1850 pioneer farm, complete with a cowshed, a chicken coop, a smokehouse and a small log cabin. Two women in the cabin were preparing onion bread and steak — steak because a raccoon had gotten into the smokehouse and ruined the pork that had been inside. The recipe for the bread sounded so good that we asked for it. The ladies said steak was relatively uncommon at the time, noting pork was the primary meat pioneers consumed.

Two re-enactors prepare onion bread and steak for dinner

Rather than ride, we walked along a long path to the 1900 horse-powered farm. Great changes had been made in 50 years. This farm had a large barn and other smaller buildings, a windmill and many more animals. The house had four rooms downstairs and two upstairs.

A worker makes a corn broom at the Living History Farms. The brooms are built with corn that produces a sturdy straw rather than traditional ears.

We recognized the equipment from our own childhoods, including a wood stove and butter churn. The lady of the house was making brandied carrots and planned to serve it with steak.

An employee inside the barn briefed us about Living History Farms visits during the cold season, when exhibitions are closed. People can stop in for meals cooked in the style of the various periods.

After we rode the cart back to Walnut Hill, we first observed fifth-graders seated in a classroom with girls on one side and boys on the other — as was the style in 1875.

Our next stop was the broom factory, where we learned about a strain of corn that produces a sturdy straw rather than ears. A woman in the factory was making a variety of brooms using several machines. The brooms were for sale in several places around the village at prices much higher than they would have been in 1875.

When we visited an implement dealer’s building, we were familiar with much of the equipment. However, we were fascinated by devices for planting seeds, washing clothes and churning butter. One particularly amazing butter churn harnessed the power of a dog running on a treadmill to turn the plunger in the churn. The dealer said people also could put a sheep on the treadmill.

The guide told us that businessmen had been overcharged for equipment because it was so difficult to transport.

A group of farmers that called themselves the Grangers decided to unionize to buy the equipment for lower rates.

At the doctor’s office, we got a good overview of medicine in 1875. Most of a doctor’s work was done on the road, and he only spent one day a week seeing patients in his office. He mixed many of his own medicines and carried them in a saddlebag.

Probably the hardest job we saw was done by the volunteers setting type for the weekly newspaper. Both women working on the newspaper were knowledgeable, and we learned a lot. For example, how did they keep up on national and international news? Who were their sources?

It turned out that a major paper in a nearby city with proper contacts would send them the inside two pages already printed with articles. The local worker had to write and print only pages one and four of the paper. At 300 papers a printing, it was hard to break even. The paper made its profit by handling other printing jobs for people in the community.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Casy, Illinois and Guinness World Records

Big things in a small town

The largest chair in the world is Casey, Illinois

How did residents of a small town — previously overlooked by tourists — call attention to their community’s attractions and businesses?

In Casey, Ill., they built eight remarkable objects.

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The town of less than 3,000 people 135 miles east of St. Louis off of Interstate 70 constructed the landmarks, each to be the largest of its kind, according to the Guinness World Records book. They plan to build more massive attractions.

During a fateful stop at an Illinois tourist information center on I-70, a guide encouraged us to stop in Casey to view some of the unusually huge objects. To pique our interest, she told us the tale of the giant rocking chair.

Fanning, Mo., originally laid claim to the largest rocking chair in the world. Jim Bolin, vice president of the family-run Bolin Enterprise Inc. in Casey, spent three years working with a crew to win the title.

They used old telephone poles as the basis for the chair and eventually to build not only the world’s largest rocking chair, but it also is considered the largest chair in all of America at a towering 56½ feet. Fanning workers painted the chair red, making it the largest red chair in the world.

Despite their towering size, it was actually pretty difficult to find all eight of Casey’s wonders. We found the largest mailbox in the world off main street, its giant maw waiting for a big delivery from the post office, although a bit too high off the ground to actually receive a package. A giant birdcage was across the street, though the cage wasn’t large enough to set a world record.

World's largest mailbox

Being new to town, it took a bit of time to find the 55-foot wind chimes that weigh 8½ tons. They were hiding in a small park that in turn was in front of a workshop where the items are made.

The young man working there said his boss, the aforementioned Bolin, thought Casey could improve its economy by attracting visitors off the highway to see various world record-holders. He recognized that quite a few towns have one item that is the world’s largest, noting the attraction became an icon for those communities.  Bolin started to think that Casey didn’t have an icon. Instead, he thought an abundance of items listed in the Guinness World Records book might put the town “back on the map.”

With help from his family, co-workers and volunteers, they created eight big winners and a number of smaller objects. Visitors have been a draw to Casey, and Bolin continues to think up new creations.

Inside the shop, we could see a giant rocking horse. The horse doesn’t hold a world record, but it certainly was large enough that any children strolling through the store would stare in amazement and ask for a ride.

As we searched for the giant wooden Dutch clogs, several groups of teenagers were covering the same territory.

The town also has the world’s largest pencil, golf tee, knitting needles and crochet hook and pitchfork. As we left town, we drove past the world’s largest wooden token in front of a restaurant.

Has it worked? Our informant said the gargantuan creations have led many people to from the highway to view the free attractions. Town officials expect that draw to only increase as more of Bolin’s ideas become reality.

Giant rocking horse in Casey

Monday, July 11, 2016

Dutch Village, Pella, Iowa


In Pella, Iowa our tour guide, a man with a Dutch ancestry, introduced us to the Historic Dutch Village, often described as America's Dutch Treasure.  Last week we wrote about the Vermeer Mill at the center of the village--the tallest working grain mill in the U.S.  This week we will focus on the rest of the story--the other attractions.

First a short film told us about the original 800 emigrants who left Holland because of religious repression and moved as a group to Iowa in 1847. They had earlier purchased the land as a group and found only a few completed cabins and had to make do with sod huts for the first few years.

Inside a sod house of 1847

Mereah Scholte the wife of Dominee (Minister) Hendrik Scholte the group's leader, had been used to servants and fine quarters in Holland--when she saw the log cabin that was to be her home she broke into tears and cried for days.  Fortunately the other new-comers handled the situation with more aplomb and made the transition to even living in sod houses successfully.   

The historic village is in honor of the hardships these and follow up Dutch immigrants endured and the success they made of their new lives here in America.    

Scattered among the 22 buildings in the historical village were flower gardens with several ladies carefully tending  them. We looked at the sod house that was a model of what many of the newcomers lived in and mostly had to build as their first abode. To make one they dug up blocks of sod with thickly rooted prairie grass and piled the blocks on top of  each other.  The roofs were often made from intertwined tree branches that were then covered with more sod blocks, making a grass surface. 

All of the artifacts inside this sod house dated back to 1847 including the large wooden trunks from the Netherlands that were used as tables and benches. 

The log cabin that represented  the first permanent homes built here looked a bit more comfortable and probably didn’t have the same problems with mice and bugs the sod house did.   It took a while to move beyond cabins and soddies to build a community of wooden houses because the wood had to be brought in from Minnesota.  

A log cabin from the 1850's

Metal tulips were for sale in the blacksmith shop. The woodworker’s shop introduced us to some very artistic wooden shoes that were not for sale.  In another shop visitors could buy wooden shoes but they were unadorned. 

Heritage Hall has a variety of historical items on display, with costumes of the period on a variety of manikins.   We stopped at the puppet theater and practiced a bit with the puppets.

Aside from the Dutch history buildings one house is given over the Earp family who lived in Pella  for a number of years.   One of their sons Wyatt became a famous lawman in Dodge City, Kansas and Tombstone, Arizona.  Most of us have probably seen at least one movie revolving around the gunfight at the OK Correl.  Artifacts from the Earp family are on display in five rooms of the house.

A special treat was the top floor of the visitor's center where there was a miniature Dutch village with great detail given to the different kinds of houses and shops and the miniature people who inhabited the village.  Outside the door was a wood carved forty horse team that had actually existed as a show item because it took a great deal of skill to manipulate this many horses since each horse had to have reins connected to them.

A miniature Dutch Village showing where the settlers came from

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Pella, Iowa Dutch Windmill

Authentic Dutch Windmill Pella, Iowa

Vermeer Windmill Pella, Iowa

In our travels, we always are interested in learning about changes that have improved our world. A recent trip to Iowa allowed us a chance to marvel at the evolution of Dutch windmills.

We spent three years in Europe while Wayne was teaching for the U.S. Air Force, including six months in Holland. In our little Dutch village, we became aware of the importance of the windmill as a power source that had been the foundation for creating more land to live on and the basis of many industries.

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Before windmills were invented, villages in Holland often were destroyed by ravaging floods. In the 1400s, the development of windmills allowed them to pump numerous wetlands dry and then put the water behind dikes.

In the 16th century, adjustments to the structure of windmills made it possible to use them for several new purposes, including grinding grain, producing oil and paper and sawing timber.

That timber was used in building the ships that gave Holland a major role in trade during the 17th century. The Dutch at one point had 10,000 working windmills.

The Dutch are incredibly protective of their 1,000 remaining windmills. Once the basis for improving the country by creating more useful space, they became obsolete as other forms of power emerged.

They then became a symbol for the country. During World War II, German forces bombed many of the windmills because members of the Dutch resistance used the vanes as signaling devices. They also were prone to destruction from lightning strikes. The few mills that still turn are on the verge of losing power: As buildings around them have expanded upward, they can no longer catch the wind like they used to.

Residents of Pella, a Dutch community in Iowa that we recently visited, wanted to create a historic village that that had a windmill at its center. The problem? The Dutch government would not allow the ones remaining in Holland to be disassembled and moved elsewhere.

What to do? Harry Vermeer, who dreamed of building an authentic mill, helped raise money to hire a Dutch designer to create an 1850s-style grain mill that was built in Holland using the appropriate woods and moved to a base in Pella. Completed in 2002, the Vermeer mill now serves as the cornerstone for a historical village near the center of Pella.

Before touring the village, we were given a complete tour of the 124-foot-tall windmill, the largest working mill in North America. The sails were turning when we entered, which surprised us because there was only a light wind and the canvas had not been spread.

The miller lived on the second of the structure’s five floors. Millers needed to be available to make sure the sails were turned into the wind. The quarters have been recreated to be as close to the original as possible, but a Dutch visitor noted they were a bit larger than a Dutch miller might have been accustomed to.

A set of doors near a small area with a bed were designed to keep the heat in. The bed was quite short, and our guide explained that people in the 1850s believed it was not healthy to sleep lying flat. Instead, they used pillows to prop themselves up into a sitting position.

On the fifth floor, we were able to see how the 3,500-pound grindstones worked and how the millers controlled the direction of the sails. Our guide said 16 different types of wood had been used to build the mill. It only grinds Minnesota wheat now, and a local bakery uses the flour for its wheat bread.

After the visit, we could not resist stopping at the bakery to buy a loaf of wheat bread and a basket full of great Dutch pastries.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

John Wayne Museum

Iowa museum offers a heavy dose of 'Duke'

A life-size figure of John Wayne stands in front of a mural of Monument Valley, where many of his movies were filmed, inside the John Wayne Birthplace & Museum in Winterset, Iowa.

Aissa Wayne, who was present when the John Wayne Birthplace & Museum opened in May 2015 in Winterset, Iowa, introduces a short film about her father to welcome museum visitors.

The legendary actor John Wayne was born May 26, 1907, as Marion Robert Morrison. Long after his death in 1979, Wayne remains atop numerous public surveys regarding favorite actors.

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The first film excerpts focus on John Wayne as the tough hero, using his fists and guns to get results. He famously quipped, “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.” The latter half of his filmography shows him as a warm hero taking care of women and children.

John Wayne noted that his father, Clyde Morrison, a pharmacist, was “the kindest, most patient man I ever knew.” He described his mother, Mary Morrison, a telephone operator, as “a tiny, vivacious red-headed bundle of energy.” Marion Robert Morrison weighed 13 pounds at birth, and our tour guide pointed to a picture of the female physician who delivered young Marion and probably saved his mother’s life. The family moved to California when he was 7 years old.

It was not until Wayne became a film actor that he changed his name. His friends and many others continued to call him “Duke,” his childhood nickname. He had a dog named Duke as a boy, and the two constant companions were known as “Little Duke” and “Big Duke.” The museum includes his personal 1972 Pontiac station wagon with a special raised roof to allow his 6-foot-4 frame to drive in comfort.

The modern, 6,000-square-foot museum was built to give visitors access to the largest collection of Wayne artifacts and movie posters. The museum was necessary because the nearby four-room house where he had been born already had hosted more than a million visitors since it opened in 1982. The John Wayne Birthplace Society moved the items from the house and restored it as closely as possible to its appearance from 1907. The house had running water and a small hand pump in the kitchen sink.

Wayne, who loved reading, was an outstanding student and received a football scholarship to attend the University of Southern California. He suffered a surfing injury after about a year and lost his scholarship. As the Great Depression set in, he left college to explore working in the theater.

Between 1926 and 1976, Wayne appeared in more than 170 motion pictures, 78 of which were cowboy films. Despite his great box office draw, he was nominated for an Academy Award only three times before finally winning an Oscar in 1969 for his performance in “True Grit.”

One display showcases the costumes and weapons he used in that film along with a black eye patch that was made to be somewhat transparent so Wayne could see with both eyes. The clothes he wore, even in his early movies, were more realistic and rough in appearance compared with those worn by other stars of the 1930s, such as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.

We were amused by a exhibit of a horse cart from “The Quiet Man” that had a large TV screen on the seat showing all the excerpts from the film in which the cart appeared. We were able to see images of his co-stars — Maureen O’Hara, Barry Fitzgerald and Ward Bond — who had appeared in several other films with him.

Inside the museum, a life-size model of John Wayne stands in front of a mural of Monument Valley, where many of his movies were filmed. A massive bronze statue of Wayne is outside the museum, and stone inlays around the edges of the museum entrance list the names of many of his more revered films.