Last week, Art Cullen came to Algona for a book-signing event held at Algona Publishing. Art, as most of you surely know, is editor of The Storm Lake Times, and winner of the coveted Pulitzer Prize for journalism in 2017. He beat out all the biggies – the New York Times and the Washington Post, to name just two. Quite an accomplishment for the editor of a small country newspaper.
The book Art subsequently wrote, titled simply, Storm Lake, has garnered outstanding reviews. I’ll quote just one, written by former U.S. Senator Tom Harkin:
Cullen captures, in prose that is almost poetry, the ethos of small-town rural Iowa, the heart and soul of the ‘good America.’
When I received a call asking if I would introduce Art at the book-signing event, I tried to sound cool and composed as I said “Yes.” However, as soon as I was off the phone, I gave a very un-ladylike whoop. Maybe two. I was so thrilled.
I introduced him by explaining that he was the editor here when I came on board as a reporter. That was in 1984. Putting out the paper then was quite different. We had two press nights since we had two papers, the Kossuth County Advance and the Algona Upper Des Moines.
Press nights invariably became press mornings as we struggled to lay out the pages, write headlines, match cutlines to pictures and generally scramble to finish by 3 a.m. or so.
During one of those long sessions, I announced mournfully, as I pasted up one of the wedding stories, that I had never been a flower girl.
“You can be a flower girl at my wedding,” says Art. He and Dolores were to be married just a couple of weeks later. I said, “Sure. Fine,” and moved on to pasting up other stories.
I forgot that 3 a.m. conversation until a couple of days before the wedding when Art casually showed me the program – I was listed right after the bridesmaids as, not flower girl, but flower child.
And I was. I sprinkled rose petals down the aisle of the St. Joseph Church ever so gracefully. I did NOT dance down the aisle as the officiating priest, who shall be nameless, claims. I know I maintained my dignity. I know I did.
Okay, since inquiring minds want to know, the nameless priest is Father John Thomas, now retired and living in Algona. Surely his memory played tricks on him. I was, after all, a 40-something mother of five – certainly not the type to dance down the aisle in church.
One of the reporting assignments Art gave me back then was to cover a presidential candidate who would be making a campaign stop at the Thurman Gaskill farm in Corwith. That candidate was then-Vice President George H.W. Bush. The details of that afternoon all came back to me as I watched the beautiful, solemn ceremonies that marked his death last week.
I was one of a hoard of media types covering the campaign stop. We were herded onto a wobbly flatbed truck to watch Mr. Bush stroll around the farm with Mr. Gaskill. I climbed down off the truck long enough to snap a picture of Mr. Bush examining a soybean plant being held by his host.
Fast forward to Mr. Bush becoming President Bush. As he was selecting his cabinet members, I sat hopefully by my phone, sure he would ask me to be in his cabinet – Secretary of Soybeans, or something. After all, I risked life and limb climbing off and then back on that rickety flatbed to get the pastoral picture. I’m sure that photo aided in his securing the Iowa farm vote.
Sadly, President Bush never called and I was never appointed to serve as Secretary of Soybeans.
As I wrote in an Inkspots column at the time: “I guess I’ll just have to settle for being, forever after, Un-Secretary of Soybeans.”