A look back at the year in Muscatine

By Tegan Kraklio

Greetings! We hope our letter has reached you with all the warmth and joy of the holiday season.

In one year with the Voice of Muscatine, you, the reader — our family — has seen a variety of styles from a number of writers. You’ve read countless stories that may have left you feeling happy, proud, or even angry. We’ve shared obituaries that perhaps made you sad or filled you with compassion for the loved ones left behind. We’ve reported on news and politics, and the everyday happenstance that surrounds us. We hope our stories were uplifting and informative, and we wanted to look back and remember 2019 as we look forward to 2020.

Early in the year, I’m sure you felt pride to hear about Muscatine native Benjamin Rivera achieving levels of success in his dancing career that reach beyond our sleepy river city and into the ranks of Broadway. The Peking Opera Company Troup One and Hubei Opera Theatre awed and mesmerized us with traditional Chinese opera in February, and in March we recognized firefighters Brett Becker, Craig Chelf, Robert Rock and Travis Edwards for exemplary service. We are always grateful for our public servants.

Gardeners began the season by placing pinwheels next to their planted hopes to raise awareness during Child Abuse Prevention Month, and in March we also took care of the women in our city. You showed love through an annual fundraiser for our city’s domestic violence shelter called New Beginnings, before presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard and John Hickenlooper made their respective visits.

The new beginnings of spring melted into summer when the Muscatine Community School District held it’s 7th annual Race for the Schools, which raised money for physical education equipment and wellness related events. Thirty-six Muscatine School District staff members and students were also awarded the Roy J. Carver Excellence in Education award, which came with much needed scholarships. Finally, the Community Action of Eastern Iowa and United Way of Muscatine held a joint school supply drive, even though it was early in the year, to get a head start on the next school year. Our community loves to support and encourage education and success in the next generation!

Muscatine Special Olympics (MSO) kicked off summer at the Iowa State Summer Games where MSO director Jason Miller was recognized as the Special Olympics Iowa Coach of the Year! West Liberty Police Department created a special autism awareness patch to honor one of their officer’s sons and raise funds for the Stead Family Children’s Hospital Autism Center. Because of the amazing support of the community, and worldwide interest including requests for patches in Australia, Cook Islands and Germany, they held their first ever Autism Safety Initiative First Responder Training for themselves and others in the community. In June, we said a sad goodbye to Salvation Army lieutenants Christian and Brooke Lopez and welcomed in their place lieutenants Greg and Liz Bock.

It was “business as usual” on the riverfront in July as businesses worked to keep the inconvenience of 2019’s river floods to a minimum for its patrons. July also saw the announcement of the retirement of Muscatine School District Superintendent Jerry Riibe after the 2019-2020 year, which signaled a number of upcoming changes for the school district, including Colorado Elementary School being transformed into the Muscatine Early Learning Center. Then, the Merrill Hotel and Conference Center became a Marriott Tribune Portfolio Hotel. With artwork from Sunrise Galleries and local artists Jane Doty, Jeff Weikert, Carol Steinmetz, Joe Bernard and others, The Merrill reflects the heart of Muscatine for guests staying in Iowa’s number one hotel.

Another presidential hopeful, Julian Castro, came to Muscatine in July, and in August Mayor Pete Buttigieg visited. We noted that 70% of city government and school board seats would be up for election in November as well. Many things will change for us in 2020! We finished the month by honoring the life of Grandview firefighter Devin Estabrook who was fatally injured in a by hit-and-run while bicycling outside Muscatine.

September was a full month. The Iowa Supreme Court visited Muscatine High School Auditorium for a special session to hear oral arguments about a case on appeal, where their final decision would become part of Iowa law. During visitation afterwards, Supreme Court Justice Susan Christiansen became human as she connected with locals over their shared interest in Girl Scouts. We shared the story behind the new junior high school being named after 12-year-old Susan Clark, who walked into the Muscatine Public School on Sept. 6, 1867 and demanded her right to be educated, regardless of skin color. Then and now, our little city makes strides towards human rights and compassion.

September also saw the Iowa League of Cities use Facebook to find Iowa’s People’s All-Star Community. They collected votes from residents for their favorite city and projects using “likes.” After a shooting threat and an assault at Muscatine High School, angry parents demanded answers. On a lighter note, Gracie Pearl, the beautiful new organ that replaces the one destroyed in an EF2 tornado two years prior, was installed at Wesley United Methodist Church. Around that same time, Jim Elias became the new station manager for Voice of Muscatine. Elias immediately began implementing positive changes, including a much-needed relaunch of the paper after Thanksgiving with a powerful new look and design.

October gave us a glimpse into the lives of those with mental illness difficulties through the artistic talent of Chris Anderson. His work, inspired by famous artists and their very real mental health struggles, are on display at the Robert Young Peer Mental Health Program at the Muscatine Center for Social Action. We heard comments from EMS Coordinator Susan Dykema-Sterner about the desperate, ongoing need for Emergency Medical Technicians, both locally and nationally, and the effects this has on our communities every day. All of Iowa held its collective breath over headlines surrounding RAGBRAI and IOWA’S RIDE, and we heard from Greg Harper of Harper’s Cycling and Fitness about how it affects him and his business. Presidential Candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden visited Muscatine, and we heard the endearing story of Lynn and Brenda Ochiltree, the Wilton couple continuing the legacy of the historic Candy Kitchen. Halloween saw trick-or-treaters enduring seasonably uncharacteristic snow.

In November Viola Werner held her annual chili cookoff at Jody’s Bar and Grill, which raises funds for her Toyz4Kids program to buy bikes for Salvation Army’s toy drive. Another presidential candidate, Elizabeth Warren, visited with residents at Jefferson Elementary School gymnasium while Dr. Karen M. Pedrowski, a professor of Political Science at Iowa State University, delivered a speech on the suffrage movement at Muscatine Community College in remembrance of 100 years of women’s votes. For Thanksgiving, Salvation Army, MCSA and Pearl City Outreach all three served our community by hosting free meals.

December saw the announcement of Wilton Police Chief Tim Leathers retiring to commit full-time to running LifeHouse, a home that helps women out of drug-addiction. Then, the massive efforts of local businesses and churches united the community around a common goal during the Blessing Bags donation drive. Finally, as Christmas approaches, Salvation Army continued its work through amazing partnerships to provide for the needs of those it serves every year in its food and toy drives.

Our greatest accomplishment in this year has been our continuation of the rich news and information tradition in Muscatine, and our goal is to persist in bringing you the greatest highlights in every corner of Muscatine county through the honesty, integrity and experience our writers bring.

Happy Holidays, and have a blessed New Year from all of us at the Voice of Muscatine!