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On Kim Reynolds and graduations - Albia Newspapers: Opinion

On Kim Reynolds and graduations

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Posted: Friday, May 26, 2017 9:16 am

Some things grab you and suddenly you feel your age, or at least you contemplate the years you’ve been around. When Gov. Terry Branstad offered his formal resignation as governor of Iowa to become U.S. Ambassador to China Wednesday, I suddenly felt my age.

I was in Hampton in north central Iowa when Terry Branstad first ran for governor. At that time, Franklin County was one of the epicenters of conservative, Republican politics and was just a little south and east of Branstad’s Forest City/Lake Mills base. I was new to the Republican camp, having cast my first vote for a Republican president (Reagan) two years earlier. So I had some quirks in my politics. Like placing bumper stickers on my car, for instance. I was half invited as a newspaper reporter and half invited as a registered Republican to a fund-raiser at a really nice home on Beeds Lake, located a little west of Hampton.

I was a little intimidated by the county party bigwigs, hobnobbing with the future governor with his jet black hair and much straighter posture. I got a couple of pictures and enough quotes to make a story and left before the party was over, only to discover a Branstad operative slapping a bumper sticker on my car.

It really wasn’t anything against Branstad. I just don’t like bumper stickers of any sort. I’m not particularly fond of the little car dealership logos they place on a new or used car. I actually asked a salesman if they were renting advertising space on my car. Anyway, I caught the fellow in mid bumper sticker application and asked him politely to take it off, which he did.

The next time I did a story on Branstad it was from a Highway Patrol report on his crashing into a bridge on I-35 just beyond the Latimer turnoff. The wreck beat him up pretty good, caused him to wear a permanent mustache and created the “no drive” rule for the rest of his career. That was 35 years ago. He was 36 years old and I was 27 when he moved into the governor’s mansion.

The next time we met in person was at Rathbun Lake in the midst of the Reagan Era farm crisis. I had moved from Hampton to Albia in the fall of 1982 to join the newspaper as its editor and publisher. Branstad had inherited a fiscal mess in Iowa government, compounded by the worst ag economy since the Great Depression. At the same time, Crappiethon U.S.A. had moved to Lake Rathbun for one of its biggest competitions and the governor was “lured” to the lake with his young sons to take part in the event.

He would come back often, I think because it was a partial escape from the pressures of office. Like Sen. Chuck Grassley and other great politicians, Branstad never forgot a face or a name. He shared Grassley’s lack of polish when it came to making big speeches, but like Grassley could work an individual or small group of people like a magician. He would return to Monroe County often as Cargill developed its huge facility near Eddyville and he never tired to promoting the success of what would become known as Iowa’s Biotech Center.

Mostly I appreciated the governor’s efforts, although his complicity with opening up Iowa to the lottery and gambling interests was tortured at best. He governed as a fiscal hawk and, with his interest in marketing Iowa ag products throughout the world, helped re-establish our economy.

But where I really began to understand and appreciate Terry Branstad was during his tour of duty as president of Des Moines University. His term as president of DMU coincided with my daughter’s doctoral study in physical therapy there and my wife and I were able to meet and greet him on several occasions during parent visits. He created an entirely new identity for the medical school, which had always existed in the shadow of the University of Iowa. The school remains one of the pre-eminent osteopathic medical schools in the country.

The other thing I liked about Branstad was that he provided argument fodder for my Dad and I. My father was a conservative’s conservative, but he did not like Terry Branstad, specifically his handling of the closing of the Toledo Juvenile Home. My parents had a vested interest in the facility, working as child support volunteers. I swear our arguments over the governor’s policies and personal life cleared out more plaque build-up in our hearts than any medical procedure.

And so the Governor for Life has resigned to take up the critical post of Ambassador to China in the Donald Trump administration, leaving us in the hands of Iowa’s first female governor, Kim Reynolds. I have a lot of confidence in Gov. Reynolds. First of all, the Des Moines Register already despises her, which is like a supreme compliment in today’s political climate. She is from rural South Central Iowa, a reformed alcoholic (am I hearing shades of Harold Hughes?) and has a husband and family easy to like. She is also already cross-wise with our screwed up Attorney General, Tom Miller.

It’s going to be an interesting couple of years.

Having attended the most important graduation ceremony of the year (my grandson’s pre-school graduation) I’ve got graduation on my mind. It’s actually sort of an odd, archaic thing in some ways because even high school graduation is more tradition than any sort of predictor of future success. You really haven’t proven much as a high school graduate.

A hundred years ago, schools would have eighth grade graduation, bidding farewell to mostly boys who were headed for the farm or the mines in this part of the state. I will never forget my grandfather giving me the princely sum of $500 for high school graduation and four years later a handshake for college graduation. He had never graduated from high school, although he later became president of our local school board.

To him, high school graduation was practically the unachievable. Today, it’s more of a stepping stone to the next phase of life.

What I like best about high school graduation is to see some kids who are practically in full bloom, having embraced everything high school has to offer—academics, fine arts, athletics, student government, silver service. And wondering who (perhaps like me) are the uncut diamonds who schlumped along doing mostly the minimum things to stay out of hot water with parents and teachers.

One of my favorite people in the world is Brad Melichar, an early 90’s graduate of Albia Community High School, who played a few sports, worked at Hy-Vee as a stock boy and was pleasant to virtually everyone he met. He might have been a B student and was completely unsure of what he wanted to do with his life after high school. Upon the advice of his grandfather (one of my role models for aging) he joined the U.S. Navy.

Let’s see, after distinguishing himself as a seaman, he was invited to attend the U.S. Naval Academy, lost out on his bid to become a fighter pilot because of substandard vision, moved into the world of U.S. Navy special forces and intelligence and is now Commander Brad Melichar, one of our best and brightest military officers.

Every time I think of Brad, it buoys my hope for the future, re-establishes my support for public schools and makes me want to continue my own journey of educating myself post high school and post college.

Graduation from pre-school or eighth grade or high school or college really isn’t the most important thing you do in life. But it is certainly foundation for a future life well lived.

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