The COVID-19 pandemic became entrenched in American life as summer arrived and Monroe County was looking at a number of extremely important community celebrations.
The Rodder’s Car Show was set for the third week of June. The Monroe County Fair was set for the last week of July into the first weekend of August and Restoration Days was set for the first weekend of August.
Added to that, Albia Community High School softball and baseball fans were dreaming about the summer season with a much improved baseball team and a softball team with unfinished business at the state tournament.
More than most communities, family life in Monroe County revolves around Little League Baseball and Softball, with kids, moms and dads crowding Washington Park for softball and the Had Kauzalik Little League Park for baseball.
It also happened to be the 100th anniversary of the Albia Country Club.
Peering into the fall, the community was eyeing Homecoming, the big Welcome Home Soldier fund-raising banquet and the Victorian Stroll to end the year.
Things definitely changed, but unlike some Iowa counties and cities where a virtual lockdown occurred, Monroe County leaders and festival organizers kept things going as normal as possible.
There were major casualties, foremost the Rodder’s Car Show. “So many of the people who help me organize the car show are in their 60s and 70s and most of the people who bring cars are in that same age category,” said Dwayne Repp, the organizer of this premiere car, truck and tractor show. “We decided to cancel and prepare for an even bigger show this summer.”
Repp has already rescheduled the 2021 show for Saturday, Aug. 28. “Pushing it back a couple of months gives me a little more confidence that restrictions will be lifted,” he said recently.
For those loving seeing the old cars and the inevitable cruises that occurred over the weekend, KIIC Radio stepped in with a version that included all sorts of vehicles, young and old. Football Friday Nights morphed into a series of spring and summer Friday night cruises, that got people out of their homes to drive Benton Avenue and loop around the square.
Dan Stocker, Jason Summers and Joe Milledge led this effort that garnered them the Albia Area Chamber of Commerce Community Service Award.
Little League softball and baseball took a hit from the national organization at Williamsport, that made the decision to cancel the season nationwide. But that didn’t stop boys and girls from being able to compete in a non-league experience. Led by Travis Patton, Bryon Crosser and other regular Little League baseball coaches on the boys side and Tony Zanoni and his team of coaches on the girls side, practices and clinics were held and then sandlot games held. Other than official looking uniforms and named teams winning and losing, the under 12 set really didn’t see much difference. The bats, balls, gloves and catcher’s gear all had the same feel.
Rathbun Area Babe Ruth actually fielded teams and played an adjusted schedule.
The time saved from individual team practices at Had Kauzalik Park provided time for a team of volunteers to put up a big, beautiful new scoreboard in left field.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, with the backing of the Iowa High School Athletic Association and Iowa High School Girls Athletic Union, made sure there were summer high school baseball and softball seasons. The number of games was trimmed down, the seasons started late, weird and sometimes confusing rules were established to protect against COVID-19 but conference championships were competed for, post-season tournaments held and the state tournaments played at Principal Park in Des Moines (baseball) and at Fort Dodge (girls).
The boys had their best season in several years, with several players who missed out on spring sports seasons coming out for the team after an absence of a year or two and the Lady Dees winning their fourth straight conference championship, earning a trip to state for the fourth straight time and then winning the school’s first ever team state championship.
“It was like somebody giving you a drink of water after being in the desert,” said long-time high school softball and baseball fan, retired Albia Newspaper Publisher, Dave Paxton. “We were guided through the summer safely and there were few complaints. We were just happy to be able to see our kids play.”
Fair goes on
With the Iowa State Fair cancelled because of the pandemic, all sorts of county fairs began announcing the cancellation of their events. The Monroe County Fair Board under the direction of President Dean Bettis and with support from the Monroe County Extension Council, made the difficult decision to allow the Monroe County Fair to proceed with a number of changes.
A few indoor events were cancelled, but virtually all of the livestock events happened, the King and Queen were crowned and grandstand events (demo derby and mini-sprint cars) were held. And it pretty much went off without a hitch, with no “super spreader” events reported.
Restoration Days held
It wasn’t enough to have the county fair and the girls state softball tournament played the same week, but the Albia Restoration Days celebration occurred as the tournament and fair were winding down.
Tom Woodard and Morgan Henderson led the Restoration Days effort with the board voting early on not to cancel the event. There were some adjustments to the celebration, with the biggest loss the Restoration Days Follies (because the King Opera House was under renovation), but the smaller event was still widely attended.
Partly because of her organizing efforts to keep Restoration Days alive, Morgan Henderson was named “Citizen of the Year” by the Albia Area Chamber of Commerce.
The Albia Community School District recreated perhaps the two biggest events of the spring in July, holding an outdoors graduation ceremony and then Promenade on the Ironman Football field with prom held at the fairgrounds.
Other than the challenge of girls walking on the turf with spiked heels and a little grass stain on the bottom of dresses, the events came off without a hitch. What’s more, the weather cooperated .
With school starting in hybrid learning and districts across the state struggling with an uptick in positive COVID-19 cases, holding classes, practices and sporting events became a constant battle for administrators. And it was frustrating for many not to be able to attend sporting events. Friday night football attendance took a dramatic hit, but football, volleyball and cross country all had seasons, even though an outbreak on the volleyball team prevented the Lady Dees from competing in post season tournaments.
Between the use of Hudl, a nationwide video service for sports, and KIIC Radio and their livestreaming sporting events, along with their regular radio broadcasting, sports fans, grandparents and Blue Demon and Lady Dee fans across the country, were able to watch football and volleyball.
Because of the nature of cross country (outside and spread out), supporters of the Todd Ratliff coached teams that wound up at the state meet, were able to see competition in person.
Homecoming looked a lot different, but the Albia Wall of Fame ceremony was held outside on the bandstand on the square and the school children were bused around the square to view parade entries instead of lining the streets and catching candy.
Frankly, the lower elementary students riding in buses looking at the floats parked around the square were fairly confused by the whole ordeal. But the effort to let them participate in some fashion in homecoming was a lot better than a “Zoom” event.
Big banquets scrubbed
Probably the biggest losses that couldn’t be made came from Monroe County’s busy banquet/fund-raising schedule. The Monroe County Cattlemen had a well-attended banquet in March, just beating the shutdown. But the JDRF banquet was cancelled, then Pheasants Forever and finally the Welcome Home Soldier fund-raising event.
Catherine Burkman and her Victorian Stroll Committee waited until the last minute before canceling much of the first Saturday in December celebration. Although it wasn’t a full-blown Victorian Stroll with events held all day and without “living” Christmas cards, the square was beautifully decorated as “Iowa’s Christmas Town” and downtown windows were beautiful despite the lack of human participants.
The big crowd that turned out to walk around the square was testament to how much people missed seeing friends and how much the Victorian Stroll has come to represent the spirit and pride of Albia.
The winter sports seasons proceeded with just a couple of hiccups along the way. The varsity girls basketball team faced a quarantine that luckily happened over Christmas break and the boys freshman team was quarantined disrupting their schedule for a bit.
The Albia wrestling team, that recorded its second best dual meet record in history and sent five wrestlers to the state tournament, returning with a fourth place medal, made it through the season without a single wrestler testing positive for COVID-19 or needing to be quarantined.
On March 1, Albia track and field coaches, golf, tennis and soccer coaches began their pre-season training, looking ahead to uninterrupted practices and competition. According to boys track coach Darin Hill, the indoor season will be curtailed, with colleges that host the big high school indoor meets still not ready to open. But spring sports are all practicing and preparing for late March and early April competition.
open the pool
As city after city, large and small, ordered their outdoor swimming pools closed for the summer, the Albia City Council took a leap of faith…and science as it turned out.
Members of the city council were not comfortable immediately closing the Monroe County Aquatic Center and had Bill Murphy, the city’s sanitary sewer superintendent in charge of preparing the pool for opening each year, proceed with his preparations to fill it and open it for business.
Murphy counseled the city that if the pool wasn’t filled with water, it could damage the internal workings of the facility. Dan Walker, who trains lifeguards, and Jason Messamaker, pool manager, gave the council their best advice in terms of training guards and opening it safely.
A number of experts felt the very fact the pool was chlorinated provided a wide measure of safety. With some restrictions on numbers of people utilizing the pool, the Monroe County Aquatic Center was opened.
There was no report of a COVID-19 outbreak.