Signs of life

In this day and age, it seems that every neighborhood, town, county and state is attempting to define ‘cool,’ focus grouping what it should be doing to make itself cooler and fighting an ever-growing battle for the hearts, minds and attention spans of the population at large. It can get a bit exhausting at times, but I’m happy to report that Grundy Center is winning—although, to borrow a quote from a certain someone, we aren’t quite tired of it yet.

 

As I sifted through the crowd at the first “Rock Around the Clock Tower” event of 2019 last Thursday night, I couldn’t help but admire what the devoted team at Chamber-Main Street has created—while thanking God for the sudden lack of precipitation as the festivities kicked off. Lisa Bienfang, since she took the job, has been an absolutely tireless advocate for the community, a meticulous planner and a true innovator, and the impressive turnout for the car show and concert (with a wide range of food vendors and kid’s activities courtesy of the ambulance and police departments) is yet another sign that Grundy Center is headed in the right direction.

 

Of course, you can’t have a conversation about the event without singing the praises of Tank Anthony, one of the absolute best singers on the circuit right now. As I got to know him, helped him set-up and learned a bit about his backstory, it led me to an obvious question: You’re from Texas, perhaps the most widely known music state in the nation (though California, Michigan, Mississippi and Tennessee may like a word). Why the heck did you move to Iowa?

 

His answer was illuminating: in Texas, he told me, singer-songwriters are “a dime a dozen.” Your plumber and your electrician are probably in a band together, and the guy serving you at Whataburger has one too. It’s cutthroat, and it’s tough to break through in a place where everyone’s trying to make it in the same industry, no different than moving to Hollywood to act or Nashville to get a record deal.

 

But in Iowa—and especially in the rural areas—musicians are much more encouraging, collaborative even. They’ll talk to each other, drink beers with each other and even get up on stage together, and that’s why a talent like Tank Anthony packed his bags and relocated to Iowa Falls. We’re all luckier for it, and because he must’ve sensed that I’m still a recovering musician who once pondered the logistics of moving to Nashville or Austin and striking out myself (many lives ago), he was gracious enough to let me pick a few songs on guitar while he blew the gazebo crowd away.

 

Small towns—and the people who live in them—are always fighting an uphill battle compared to event organizers in places like Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Cedar Falls: it’s just easier to attract vendors, musicians and people in places where there are more. But since I came to this area six years ago, I’ve been repeatedly impressed with the forward thinking leaders who make up this county: despite major changes and losses of stalwart businesses over the last few years, Grundy Center’s downtown remains incredibly vibrant and full of variety.

 

Dike, thanks to its prime location and the remarkable generosity of a few local philanthropists, has grown by nearly 500 residents in under 30 years, built a state-of-the-art golf course and landed the ‘crown jewel’ of athletic facilities with the Kruger-Hemmen Complex. Conrad joined the Main Street Iowa program in its early days and supported a complete transformation of its downtown area, and now it’s preparing to undertake a major housing development project that could add as many as 40 new lots. Grundy Center is following suit on downtown revitalization, and Lisa has never been hesitant to try out new events and marketing strategies. Some of them land better than others (often due to factors beyond anyone’s control, like the weather), but all of them are proof that she’s been phenomenal at her job so far.

 

And people are paying attention. Even in places like Grundy Center, they want to come out and be entertained more than one weekend a year, and they want to showcase what they have to offer to both residents and visitors. And as anyone who lives in a community like this knows, we sure do have a lot to offer.