Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Dreaming About Nature...and Race: "Friendly Town" Comes to Grinnell

As I write these words twenty-first-century America is deeply engaged in yet another intense conversation about race. On the heels of numerous deadly interactions with police, African Americans and increasing numbers of white Americans have attacked the "systemic racism" of contemporary America, and proposed a fundamental reordering of American social and political institutions.
Friendly Town guest Charlie Epting and host family member Brian Smith just after Charlie arrived in Grinnell, July 1966
(photo courtesy of Marcy Smith Keyser)
Similarly radical proposals were always visible, but in the 1960s liberal advocates of racial justice saw the issue differently. Embracing liberal politics and religion, 1960s reformers imagined ways by which to reconcile social and racial differences between white and black Americans without dismantling the system. Dan Rohr, for instance, an Iowa State University student who spent his 1965 spring break living in what the Mason City Globe-Gazette called "an all-Negro slum" of Chicago, told the newspaper that "if more [white] people took an interest in the Negro in the North, it would increase our understanding [of one another]" (March 20, 1965). In Chicago Rohr learned about the "Friendly Town" program of the Chicago Missionary Society (later renamed Community Renewal Society) that placed inner-city children with suburban and rural host families for two weeks every summer. Rohr told his 1965 Mason City interviewer that this program taught host families that "under the skin, all little boys and girls are pretty much alike" (ibid.).
Daniel Rohr, 1963 St. Ansgar High School Yearbook
Grinnell first participated in the "Friendly Town" program in 1965. With the help of local churches (especially the United Church of Christ-Congregational and St. John's Lutheran, which ran its own program), Grinnell families applied to host young, inner-city visitors for two weeks in July. This meant that at least briefly each summer very white Grinnell gained a small population of mostly black and brown kids who ate, slept, and socialized with their white host families. Today's post looks at Grinnell's experience with "Friendly Town," and how that history affected the understanding of race in central Iowa.
Book jacket of Tobin Miller Shearer's Two Weeks Every Summer (Cornell University Press, 2017)
As Tobin Miller Shearer points out in the introduction to Two Weeks Every Summer, since the late nineteenth century Fresh Air programs in the United States have sent hundreds of thousands of city children into the country for a week or two every summer. A driving force behind these projects was the idea that rural nature was an essential "good" denied to urban children. As one Iowa newspaper observed while introducing Friendly Town, "Iowa's fields, towns and streams will replace sweltering summer streets and sidewalks this July as a vacation place.... [Visiting children] are getting the opportunity for a two-week escape from their usual surroundings" (Mason City Globe-Gazette, May 1, 1965).

Chicago's version of the Fresh Air program, dubbed Friendly Town, was launched in 1960, sending children to host families either in suburban Chicago or to families in more distant locations, such as North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Montana. The Iowa Friendly Town project, begun in 1965 largely through the efforts of Dan Rohr, saw about 250 Chicago youngsters visit Iowa that summer; the second year brought to Iowa some 500 Chicago children, who were joined by another hundred from Des Moines (Mason City Globe-Gazette, July 21, 1966). In 1969 some 300 children took part, all from Iowa (Des Moines Register, August 3, 1969). Restricting participation to Iowa children, organizers said, would allow better connections between host families and guests, now geographically close enough to encourage mutual visits after the Friendly Town experience (Des Moines Tribune, April 24, 1968).
Letterhead on paper identifying 1965 Iowa Friendly Town hosts and guests
(Congregational Library and Archives, Chicago Theological Seminary collection of Community Renewal Society records, 1881-1978, Series IV [Vertical Files], Box B15/II.44; many thanks to William McCarthy for scans of this material)
Iowa's Friendly Town program had its headquarters in Ames, and local Lutherans staffed the first office there. Initially organizers required host-family applicants to express interest through their local churches. Indeed, at first applications had to include the signature of the applicant's pastor or priest, although I have yet to find evidence that this requirement was ever observed in Grinnell. Families with children were preferred as hosts so as to give guests some playmates of approximately their own age. The inner-city visitors were young—usually between 6 and 11 years of age (although later some 'tweens took part). Hosts were told they could specify "age and sex, but not race, of the guest child" (Chicago Tribune, June 4, 1967; Mason City Globe-Gazette, May 19, 1967). In soliciting hosts for the 1966 visits to Iowa, officials predicted that "seven of 10 [visiting guests] will be Negro, another 15 per cent will be Spanish-speaking" (Des Moines Register, May 1, 1966). With few exceptions, therefore, white rural and suburban hosts provided "vacations" to black and brown urban guests.
May 7, 1965 Letter from Harry Reynolds of UCC Social Action Committee
(Congregational Library and Archives, Chicago Theological Seminary collection of Community Renewal Society records, 1881-1978, Series IV [Vertical Files], Box B15/II.44; many thanks to William McCarthy for scans of this material)
In Grinnell, the UCC Church's Social Action Committee coordinated the visits; Harry Reynolds (1903-1977) headed the initial effort, but later Ted Mueller, Mrs. C. Edwin Gilmour, Mrs. Tom Mattausch, Mrs. John Steger, and others took over administering the Grinnell visits. All the arrangements in Chicago—selecting the children; arranging for medical exams (!) in Chicago; coordinating transportation—passed through the Chicago Missionary Society. When the emphasis shifted to Iowa children, Des Moines volunteers organized the visits.
Ted Mueller (right) helping organize the arrival of Friendly Town visitors to Grinnell, 1967
(photo courtesy of Berneil Mueller)
Iowa's Friendly Town hosts, when interviewed by journalists, often explained their participation by articulating goals of racial justice. For example, a Dubuque host family told the Des Moines Register: "We are living in a white ghetto here. We need this project. Our children must have contact with other races" (July 16, 1967). The Mason City Globe-Gazette heard something similar from a central Iowa host: "Friendly Town...provides just the right kind of opportunity for those families who can and would like to help overcome the barriers of class, race and income..." (June 13, 1970). Newspaper reports did not often seek comment from parents of the guest children, but one newspaper did cite the "mother of a ghetto child," who seemed to validate the racial ambitions of white hosts. Speaking just days after the murder of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., she said, "During these days of strife and hatred, all Negroes need to know at least one white person they can never hate" (Des Moines Tribune, April 24, 1968).
To begin, Grinnell barely dipped its toe into the Friendly Town experience: in 1965, Grinnell's first year of participation, just three Grinnell families hosted three Chicago children, all from the same African American family. But in 1966 thirty-two Grinnell families hosted a total of thirty-four Chicago guests. Subsequently numbers of hosts and visiting children fell off: in 1967, when organizers admitted that they were having trouble recruiting hosts, twenty-one Grinnell families entertained twenty-three children; in 1968 twenty-two families volunteered, but with only sixteen children available, several families shared children, each hosting a child for one week. I could not find the names or numbers of hosts and guests for the next several years, as the newspaper seems to have lost interest in the project, perhaps a reflection of diminished interest among the hosts as well. If local records survive, we may learn more once the pandemic relents.
St. John's Lutheran Church (undated photo)
St. John's Lutheran Church began its own Summer Rural Program in 1968, bringing eight Chicago children to town to spend two weeks with nine host families. The visitors all came to Grinnell via Chicago's Community Lutheran Church, then situated at 1701 W. Monroe Street. St. John's helped support Community Lutheran, and provided tuition for two young African American men to attend Chicago's Luther North High School.
For the first couple of years of Iowa's Friendly Town, the Chicago visitors traveled by train, with the hosts paying $10 to help offset the expense. Once the Iowa program shifted its orientation to Iowa cities, Grinnell hosts paid only $5, and they met their guests by driving to the homes of the children they would host—mostly in Des Moines. In this way, organizers figured, inner-city parents would have a stake in the program, and rural hosts would gain insight into the families and homes from which their summer visitors came.
Chicago Friendly Town Visitors Disembark from the Train at the Grinnell Depot, July 15, 1967
(Grinnell Herald Register, July 17, 1967)
I had hoped to hear how Grinnell's visitors looked back on their experiences here, but I have succeeded in identifying only a handful of the many children who came to Grinnell via Friendly Town and the Lutheran Summer Rural Program.
Jerry Anderson, Gerald Sykes, Chris Anderson, and Reginald Sykes (Grinnell Herald-Register, July 21, 1966)
During Grinnell's first year hosting children, JoAnn and Bill Weeks welcomed Steve Sneed, then 12 years old. Steve's brother, Charlie, 9 years of age, stayed with the C. Edwin Gilmour family, and their youngest brother, William, 8 years old, was a guest at the Grinnell Dunham farm. In 1966 two brothers, Gerald and Reginald Sykes of Chicago, were guests in the Richard Anderson home. That same year Bob and Bette Smith welcomed into their home Brenda Simpson, one of the few Friendly Town guests who was neither African American nor Latina. Eugene and Darlene Smith in successive years hosted Charlie Epting and David Klein, both from Chicago.
Kim and LuGene Mueller with Virginia Torres (1967) (Photo courtesy of Berneil Mueller)
Jim and Nancy Kissane, in 1966 only recently settled into a new home and still adjusting to the arrival of a baby daughter, hosted Joseph "Ike" Perkins, an African American from Chicago; that same year the Morris and Michèle Parslow family entertained Mary Lee, also African American from Chicago.
Ike Perkins riding a horse at the Maynard Raffety farm (Alan and John Kissane in front) (1966 photo courtesy Jim Kissane)
In 1967 Ted and Berneil Mueller and their three daughters hosted Chicagoan Virginia Torres, a Hispanic girl who spoke little English; that year the Parslows were hosts for Michael, a Chicago African American. Three years later the Mueller family received Toni Keyes, an African American from Des Moines.
LuGene Mueller, Toni Keyes, Melanne and Kim Mueller (photo courtesy of Berneil Mueller)
In 1968 Tommy and Dennis Haas and their children welcomed to Grinnell a young Des Moines boy—Mark Langford.
Mark Langford, 1976 Des Moines Technical High School Yearbook
Among the hosts at St. John's Lutheran in 1968 were Don and Opal Rikansrud, who provided a two-week-long home to Chicago's David Maggitt.
David Maggitt, 1969 Luther North High School Yearbook
Maggitt's friend and schoolmate was Harry Ratliff, who spent a week each with the Oda and Wayne Callison family and with the Dorothy and Paul Pedersen family.
Harry Ratliff, 1969 Luther North High School Yearbook
By and large, children who participated in Iowa's Friendly Town found the experience fun. "I had a wonderful time," said Dorothy Evans, who spent her 1967 Friendly Town visit with Mr. and Mrs. Grant Clark near Swea City, Iowa. Interviewed in Chicago after getting off the train from Iowa, Dorothy said, "We rode horses and played with the cows" (Chicago Tribune, July 30, 1967). Pamela Burch gave the experience a similarly warm review: Having stayed with Mr. and Mrs. John Lane on a farm near Ames, Pamela told the newspaper that her hosts "had four children, and we had a lot of fun because they were very friendly" (ibid.). Donny and Danny Alvarez, who, on returning from Iowa were not able to recall the names of their hosts, nevertheless also came away with good impressions. "When we left to go on the trip," Donny said, "it was the first time we had ever been on a train. At the farm, we played with the horses, pigs, and cows, and even got to feed a calf with a baby bottle" (ibid.).
Gerald Sykes rides a horse on the Andy Tone farm (Grinnell Herald-Register, July 25, 1966)
In Grinnell, too, the kids seem to have had fun. According to the newspaper, in 1966 all the visitors received a free pass to the Municipal swimming pool, and many children enrolled in swimming lessons at either the Municipal or Grinnell Country Club pool. The local miniature golf business of  Bernard Hotchkin gave each child a free game, and many town hosts took their visitors out to neighboring farms to see the animals and drive tractors or combines. Some families took their guests further afield, as the Muellers did when they packed up their VW camper to visit Backbone State  Park and Nordic Fest in Decorah. Others, like Joan and Don Milburn, who had at their doorstep an open field on East Street, saw their out-of-town visitors fit into baseball games and other pick-up fun with Grinnell neighborhood kids.
Brian Smith and Charlie Epting showing the results of fishing at Grinnell Country Club pond
(1966 photo courtesy of Marcy Smith Keyser)
In a recent email, David Maggitt told me that, looking back on his 1968 visit, he viewed the "experience in Grinnell as positive and rewarding... I had the chance to learn how to drive a tractor, attend town baseball games, and observe hill climbs being done by dirt bike fans" (personal communication, July 9, 2020). Reginald and Gerald Sykes, who stayed with the Andersons in 1966, told the Grinnell Herald-Register that Grinnell was "all right" (July 21, 1966). Charlie Epting, who spent two weeks with the Gene and Darlene Smith family in 1966, reported to his mother and friends that he had enjoyed his time in Grinnell, and hoped to return.
Eugene and Darlene Smith, Martha, Marcy, Mindy, and Brian Smith with Charlie Epting
(photo courtesy of Marcy Smith Keyser)
Offhand comments from children do not, perhaps, adequately summarize the complexity of these brief encounters. Finest Hatcher, Jr., however, who went from Chicago to North Dakota in the 1970s, was interviewed at length in 2012. Asked to reflect on his Friendly Town experience of forty years earlier, Hatcher admitted to having had plenty of fun. But he also pointed out how important the visit was to understanding race:
it was just about having fun and just being around different people. This area [in Chicago where I lived] is just all black and I haven't been around white people or any other color. The schools I went to were all black; no Hispanics, no nothing. But [the white North Dakota hosts] treated me nice and once we got to know each other the color just left; there was no color; everything was OK (https://marillacfriendlytown.wordpress.com/oral-history).
Perhaps most Grinnell hosts felt the same, hoping that their two-week experiment of domestic integration had brought their guests some fun, but had also improved race relations, even if only by a small amount. Kim Mueller, now a Chief United States District Judge in Sacramento but in the 1960s a child in the Ted and Berneil Mueller family, wrote me to say that she thought that Friendly Town had had a big impact on her, helping open her eyes to racial difference in a town that was overwhelmingly white (personal communication, August 27, 2020). It seems likely that other Grinnell kids also broadened their understanding of race, and appreciated the experience.
1987 photograph of the Ben Franklin store on Main Street (Digital Grinnell)
As might be expected, however, this feeling was not unanimous. When one Grinnell guest was discovered to have shoplifted from the local Ben Franklin store, the encounter convinced the hosts not to volunteer for Friendly Town again. Even worse, a child of another host family reported the suspicion that their Friendly Town guest had later taken part in the robbery and murder of a relative in Chicago. Other hosts did not deal with situations this dire, but nevertheless reported disappointment. For instance, one told me that her family had had a great experience one year, but the following year's guest had proven to be manipulative, brazenly giving them lists of things he'd like them to give him on his birthday or at Christmas. In other words, Grinnell's Friendly Town hosts did not enjoy universally favorable experiences, even if most did.

What about the guests? Recently Toni Keyes wrote Berneil Mueller to say that Friendly Town visits had given her and her siblings (who visited in other Iowa communities) "a fresh outlook on people who looked different than us...We learned...that all people are basically the same..." (personal communication from Berneil Mueller, August 27, 2020). Charlie Epting, who had seen the world with the US Army after growing up in Chicago, remembered Grinnell very happily when recently I found him by telephone in Florida; he expressed his appreciation for the friendship that he and his mother had had with members of the Smith family. Perhaps many other Friendly Town visitors to Grinnell took away similar experiences, but my inability to find them or to coax replies out of those I did find makes it hard to know what the visitors absorbed from their experience in Grinnell.

Unfortunately, no one seems to have asked the kids about problems with their hosts, but it would not be surprising if some local hosts, most of whom had had little contact with persons of African American or Latino descent, had unthinkingly deployed in the presence of their guests some then-common, impolite epithets to describe African Americans or Hispanics. The kids themselves might have been even less careful, giving expression to racial stereotypes in the heat of play. Indeed, one Grinnell host family member recalled that a neighborhood boy had shouted the n-word at their Friendly Town African American guest, indicating that at least occasionally reminders of racial difference were mixed with the fun and farm animals.
Grinnell's experience with Friendly Town took place at a critical time for American race relations. If 1964 saw enactment of the U.S. Civil Rights Act and 1965 witnessed passage of the Voting Rights Act, these same years produced widespread unrest in American urban, black communities. While civil rights activists participated in sit-ins, freedom rides, and marches across the U.S. South, racial tension within northern American cities exploded several times, most notably in the 1965 race riots in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, and again in 1967 in Detroit and Newark. The following year brought the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who had long argued for a peaceful resolution of racial and economic inequities. Meanwhile, third-party candidate George Wallace pursued the presidency on a blatantly segregationist platform.

As a result of these and many other moments of racial strife, more radical agendas gained greater followings among the country's African Americans. The Nation of Islam, for instance, which had been founded decades before to advance racial separation, occupied an increasingly prominent place in the nation's consciousness, as hopes for peaceful integration waned. The Black Panthers, often depicted in the press fully armed, advanced a militant struggle against white American racial and economic dominance.
Undated image of Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, armed with Colt .45 and a shotgun at Oakland Black Panthers HQ
This charged climate and the ambient political and social forces provided a difficult background for the 1960s Friendly Town project, which championed a liberal program of inter-racial cooperation and understanding. It is no surprise, therefore, that African Americans themselves criticized the Friendly Town project. Some of these objections emerged in a 1968 report that proposed freeing Chicago's Community Renewal Society of its connection to the project. Among the complaints lodged by African Americans, the report noted, was the charge that
Friendly Town does not lead to structural change. Black children are tolerated in white communities for two weeks, but the communities [themselves] remain unchanged...Nor does Friendly Town address itself to the institutional racism that produced and sustains black poverty (https://marillacfriendlytown.wordpress.com/). 
Sandra Bates (1968 Cyclone)
The same year that Friendly Town was absorbing these criticisms, Sandra Bates, a Grinnell College African American who hailed from Virginia and would soon graduate and enter medical school, addressed a group at Grinnell's Mayflower Community. Her subject was "The Progress of the Negro," an apt theme for Grinnell and its 1960s ambitions for Friendly Town. Perhaps surprising her audience, Bates argued that in fact there had been no progress for America's black citizens. "Nearly 350 years after Jamestown," Bates said,
Negro Americans are still strangers in their own house. More than 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation they are still exceptions to the melting pot theory... [M]ost white Americans are determined that [Negroes] shall not even get in the pot. To put it bluntly, the full privileges of citizens of the United States do not apply to Negroes—and they never have (Grinnell Herald Register, May 20, 1968).
Within a few weeks of Bates's address, another group of inner-city kids arrived in Iowa to enjoy a brief "vacation" in Grinnell. No doubt most had fun, did things they had never done, and spent more time with white Americans than they ever had before. But for all its liberal ambition and good intentions, did Friendly Town prove, as Dan Rohr had hoped it would, that "under the skin all little boys and girls are pretty much alike?" Did the Friendly Town visits change Grinnell or help demolish institutional racism?

Members of Grinnell's host families offer contrasting views. Some visits seem to have gone off splendidly, host families maintaining contact with their visitors long after the Friendly Town visit ended. For example, the Robert Smith family traveled to Chicago to visit their former guest as well as their neighbor's Friendly Town guest who lived in Chicago's Robert Taylor Homes. Similarly, Darlene Smith exchanged correspondence with Charlie Epting's mother for years after Charlie's 1966 visit (thanks to Mindy Smith Heine for sharing with me copies of these letters). And Berneil Mueller recalls that her family became friends with Toni Keyes's Des Moines family, maintaining contact until the Keyes family moved out of state. In very white Grinnell, these on-going connections with African Americans certainly helped erode the sense of racial difference.

Other Grinnell hosts offered less encouraging recollections, reflected perhaps in the gradual demise of the program. One host told me that their family's guest spent most of his two weeks on a bicycle, away from their home and all on his own, interacting minimally with hosts. Hosts to the guest caught shop-lifting learned that their Chicago visitor had encouraged other kids to try it, thereby implicating them in the theft. The fact that the offender was white did nothing to undermine perceptions of difference. Still other Friendly Town hosts could find little to recall about this experiment in social relations; those two weeks long ago spent in the company of an inner-city child had simply disappeared from memory, and therefore could not have had much effect on local opinions on race and class.
Undated photo of some of the Robert Taylor Homes on South State Street, Chicago
Many of the former guests I tracked down proved reluctant to comment or offer any reflections on how their Grinnell Friendly Town experience might have changed their views on race; my letters and emails asking their impressions went unanswered. Of course, everyone nowadays lives busy lives, and the covid-19 pandemic has made life even more complicated. I suspect, however, that at least some of the reluctance to comment upon Friendly Town owes something to the present-day revival of racial tensions in America. If I am right, then this reluctance to speak is regrettable, and implies the failure of the liberal hopes that undergirded Friendly Town. If fifty-some years later Friendly Town participants themselves find it impossible or awkward to discuss race openly, then there seems little hope for the rest of America to engage in this conversation.

Even Dan Rohr, who, more than anyone, was responsible for bringing Friendly Town to Iowa, seems to have left it firmly in the past. When interviewed in 1966 after having seen two years of Friendly Town visits to Iowa, Rohr—who left college after his second year to help organize the program, and only completed his education some years later—thought that his Friendly Town work had been important, telling a newspaper reporter that "This [Friendly Town] and the past year in Chicago have changed my life considerably and I am sure it has been all for the good" (Mason City Globe Gazette, September 24, 1966).

Now living in California and retired from a career as a public-school teacher and an information technology specialist, Rohr seemed surprised when I found him by telephone and asked what he now thought about Friendly Town and his role in bringing it to Iowa. After a pause, he told me that these days he did not think about it at all; he had only a single folder of newspaper articles as a memento. He did not explain, but I wondered whether the enthusiasm with which he had originally embraced Friendly Town and its liberal vision of reform had succumbed to the enduring problems of racial conflict in America.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Z—a Horrible Crime, Still Unsolved

Summer 1992 my family and I had packed up for a sabbatical year in Cambridge, England. We left green, corn-laden Iowa in June to settle in a semi-detached (as the English like to call it) house in Cambridge, where we gradually accustomed ourselves to driving on the wrong side of the road, counting money in pounds and pence, and learning new idioms in English.
Stone Memorializing Tammy Zywicki on Grinnell College campus
Into this new comfort-zone in late August crashed terrible news from Iowa—Tammy Zywicki, a Grinnell College student who was driving back to Grinnell at the start of a new semester, had disappeared from her automobile, which was found on the shoulder of I-80 in central Illinois. Some days later her body was discovered near I-44 in southwest Missouri. She had been stabbed to death, wrapped in a blanket, and discarded by the roadside. As I write these lines almost 28 years later, Tammy's killer remains unknown. Today's post looks back at the dreadful events of 1992, and how the campus and town dealt with the crime and its unresolved investigation.
Tammy Zywicki, ca. 1992
In late August 1992, Tammy Zywicki—a 21-year-old senior—departed Pennsylvania by car, heading to Evanston, Illinois where she left her younger brother, Daren, at Northwestern University. Early afternoon the next day, Sunday, August 23rd, Tammy set out alone for Grinnell where she intended to spend a few days before returning to Chicago for a semester-long internship at Chicago's Art Institute.
FBI photograph of Zywicki's car (https://www.fbi.gov/wanted/seeking-info/tammy-j.-zywicki/car-2.jpg/view)
Tammy usually telephoned home when she reached Grinnell, but she had not telephoned her parents that Sunday, so on Monday her mother reported her missing. Sunday afternoon Illinois State police had already found her 1985 Pontiac hatchback on the shoulder of interstate 80 near LaSalle, Illinois. Passing motorists had reported that the car's hood, hatchback, and side door were open, but when police arrived they found everything closed, and the automobile locked without a key. Tammy Zywicki was missing.
Grinnell Herald-Register, August 27, 1992
Classes at the college had not yet begun, but, as returning students reached campus, they quickly sprang into action. Anxious evening meetings in dorm lounges resulted in organizing three teams of students that departed Grinnell Wednesday morning with hundreds of flyers they had prepared, each bearing Zywicki's photo and description. The plan was to travel interstate 80 and its interstate connections, posting and distributing flyers along the way, hoping to stir up news of the missing woman. Another group of students organized sixteen teams to spread out across Iowa, visiting truck stops and rest areas with more flyers. Several college offices contributed paper, labels, photocopying machines, and free use of fax machines. Meanwhile, students organized a fund, initially founded on a voluntary fast among students, their board portion being transferred to the fund. Wednesday evening, prior to the official beginning of classes on Thursday, a candle-light vigil convened on campus behind the college Forum.
Drawing of Truck Reported to have been parked near Zywicki's car (Illinois State Police)
Organizing on campus continued, but the first substantive clue came on Monday, August 31, when Illinois State Police announced that a witness had reported having seen a semi trailer truck parked by Zywicki's car. Police had a drawing prepared, and distributed to the news media. The witness, a LaSalle-area truck mechanic, told authorities that he had seen the trucker talking with Zywicki, and described him as a white male, 30 to 45 years old, six feet tall, with bushy, dark hair. Police regarded the witness's report as the best lead they had so far found.

But Zywicki was already missing for more than a week; family and friends grew increasingly alarmed. Then, Tuesday morning, September 1st, a trucker discovered a body in a ditch near the on-ramp of Interstate 44 near Sarcoxie, Missouri. Wrapped in a red blanket, the body had begun to decompose, but the coroner confirmed that the dead person had been a female in late teens or early twenties, about five feet, two inches tall and around 120 pounds. An autopsy revealed that the woman had been stabbed seven times in the chest and once in the arm. First reports indicated hair and eye color that did not match Zywicki's, but the woman wore a t-shirt with the name of Zywicki's high school soccer team across the front; moreover, the dead woman's shorts were imprinted with "GCRC Division Champs," which might have referred to the Greenville, South Carolina County Recreation Commission soccer teams for which Zywicki had played. These were not the clothes in which Zywicki had last been seen, but the links to her high school fueled speculation that the dead woman was in fact Zywicki.

Still, the Lawrence County, Missouri coroner said that positive identification proved impossible; decomposition indicated that death had occurred at least three days—and perhaps as many as ten days—previously. Authorities therefore requested Zywicki's dental records to see if they matched the person found in the red blanket.

Meanwhile, back on campus, students organized another candle-light vigil early Wednesday morning; more than 200 students were present at 6 AM, and more volunteers agreed to undertake new efforts to spread word about Zywicki.
Grinnell College students assemble in North Lounge of College Forum, Thursday, September 3rd
(Grinnell Herald-Register, September 7, 1992)
By midday Thursday the Missouri coroner had positively identified the victim as Tammy Zywicki. The college campus fell silent. Many had suspected that the body found in Missouri was Zywicki—the names on her clothing, her size and weight all matched. But the hope, of course, was that Tammy Zywicki was still alive. Early Thursday afternoon students jammed the College Forum to hear the Dean of Student Affairs, Tom Crady, formally relay the news of Tammy's death. College president, Pamela Ferguson, then spoke.
After days of praying and hoping that Tammy Zywicki would be found alive and well, I cannot adequately express how devastated I am to learn of her death and the circumstances of it.... Society itself must deeply mourn her and have the most intense concern over the fact that such things can happen in America (Grinnell Herald-Register, September 7, 1992).
Headline from Scarlet and Black, September 4, 1992
Nyasha Spears, a student friend of Zywicki's and one of the chief organizers of the campus effort to find Zywicki, then took the microphone. Addressing students with a determination that inspired subsequent efforts on campus, Spears said,
I want you to know, we're not done...We live in a generation that's growing up with the norm that young women especially cannot walk down a street by themselves at night. We have the job to make sure that it's not the norm that we cannot drive on a Sunday afternoon on the interstate from Chicago to Grinnell (ibid.).
That afternoon a silent service convened in the college's Herrick Chapel. According to press reports, students held and comforted one another, quietly struggling to make sense of the violent end to Tammy's life. One student carried a lighted candle down the chapel aisle and placed it on the steps before the platform. Soon others in attendance passed the candle, leaving behind a pile of yellow daisies that two college seniors had distributed earlier to mourners.
Perhaps because of Spears's challenge, the campus response to Zywicki's death centered upon improving women's safety and the safety of drivers along the nation's highways.
Des Moines Register, October 16, 1992
In late September Spears announced formation of "Fearless," a group organized around Zywicki's murder and investigation. A half-dozen task forces were already busy; one group was pursuing legislation that would require a telephone at every mile marker on the interstate highway system—this at a time when cell phones were still uncommon. Another group developed talking points that students might use over the coming break to help advocate for greater highway safety. Spears also announced plans for a Zywicki memorial, originally imagined as a set of trees by the Physical Education Complex, but later replaced by the rock memorial now standing north of Eighth Avenue (Grinnell Herald-Register, October 1, 1992).
Photograph of a Fearless t-shirt (courtesy of Amy Fort)
Zywicki's death also gave new impetus to campus efforts to address violence against women. A gathering in the College Forum included numerous accounts of personal experience of sexual assault and violence, culminating in a "Take Back the Night" march from campus through downtown.
Take Back the Night March, October 29, 1992 (Scarlet and Black, November 6, 1992)
Mr. and Mrs. Zywicki visited campus in early November. At a general reception at Grinnell House on a Sunday evening, the Zywickis met more than 100 Grinnell students. Returning to Grinnell had "been hard," they told a reporter for the Scarlet and Black. But they wanted to thank the college administration and especially the college students whose efforts "kept our spirits up." The Zywickis also announced that a $100,000 reward had been posted for information leading to the arrest and conviction of their daughter's killer, and urged media to maintain the focus upon Tammy's case (Scarlet and Black, November13, 1992).
Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 7, 1992
The larger Grinnell community also responded to Zywicki's death. Much of the activity came from the Jeanne Burkle Women's Center, 822 1/2 Commercial Street. On October 1st, for example, the Center hosted Doug Meeker, service manager for Wes Finch Chevrolet, who discussed basic automobile maintenance. "Most breakdowns can be prevented," Meeker said, urging those in attendance to regularly check tires, hoses, windshield wipers, and other relatively inexpensive items. Subsequent Burkle Center programs addressed "What Everyone Should Know About Violence Against Women" and women's self-defense (Scarlet and Black, October 9, 1992).
1991 photo of Jeanne Burkle Women's Center, 822 1/2 Commercial (Digital Grinnell)
As autumn wore down and the fields of Iowa gave up their corn and soybeans, Fearless continued its campaign in behalf of women's safety. Among other initiatives, the group published a small handbook to help drivers deal with emergencies on the highway. At public sessions aimed especially at women drivers the group distributed brightly-colored emergency notices for drivers to place in their automobile windows, urging passers-by to contact police, this in preference to dealing directly with motorists who stopped and offered to help.
Cover of Fearless handbook, A Guide to Handling Emergencies (1992; photo courtesy of Amy Fort)
In early December on Capitol Hill U.S. Representative Chuck Schumer convened hearings on safety along the nation's highways. Portia Sabin, a Grinnell College senior, who did not know Zywicki but who had been active in campus efforts to improve women's safety, testified before Schumer's committee. Sabin related the story of Zywicki's abduction and death, and encouraged legislators to adopt measures that would mandate emergency telephones at every mile of American interstate highways. She also caucused with Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, but no legislation like this ever emerged from Congress; cell phone popularity outpaced legislation, mooting the idea of installing highway telephones.
Des Moines Register, December 7, 1992
Winter bore down on Grinnell, and another semester—the final semester for the class of 1993—began. Occasionally a news story promised progress in the Zywicki investigation, but all these leads petered out.
Philadelphia Daily News, May 24, 1993
When graduation weekend for the Grinnell College class of 1993 rolled around, Hank and Joann Zywicki returned to Grinnell for the occasion. Coming to Grinnell meant missing the graduation from law school of their oldest son, Todd, but he encouraged his parents to attend this graduation for Tammy. Mrs. Zywicki brought homemade cookies and various other sweets to hand out to students as tokens of appreciation for what students had done and in solidarity with the young men and women with whom Tammy should have received her degree. At baccalaureate the day before commencement, the Zywickis heard students memorialize Tammy, whose murderer had not yet been found. Everyone hoped—perhaps even expected—that the killer would soon be brought to justice.

Twenty-eight years later that resolution has not yet arrived. Supporters have tried several times to inject new energy into the criminal investigation, and occasionally a news item—most recently, this spring when authorities arrested Clark Perry Baldwin, a cross-country trucker accused of having murdered several young women—stimulates hopes, but so far authorities have reported no progress. There was no Facebook when Tammy fell victim to her murderer, but now a Facebook group (Who Killed Tammy Zywicki?) with over 1000 members regularly circulates news about the killing and advocates action in the investigation. At the anniversaries–5th, 10th, 15th, 20th, 25th—of Tammy's murder a newspaper may publish a reminder, but for some years now the investigation seems to have come to a standstill, and hopes that Tammy's killer will ever be brought to justice hang by a thread.

As I prepared this post I made contact with a number of people who lived through the trauma that accompanied Tammy's death. Some declined to go back to that hurtful time, while others opened trunks full of memories and mementoes, hopeful that a new initiative might somehow overcome the sense that Tammy Zywicki's murderer has escaped punishment. No doubt both continue to nurse the pain that that 1992 crime brought to Grinnell.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Another Time When Polio Came to Grinnell

Four years ago I posted a story about how Grinnell confronted an outbreak of polio in 1952, a year that set the record for polio cases and polio deaths in the United States: more than 57,000 cases and more than 3100 deaths. Thereafter polio infections and deaths in the United States declined; 1957 recorded only about one-tenth the cases attested in 1952, and polio-caused deaths dropped even more sharply. Once public acceptance of the vaccine was common, polio practically disappeared from the United States.
Quarantine sign (Grinnell Historical Museum)
However, getting to that point proved difficult. Over the first half of the twentieth century polio regularly visited the towns and cities of the country, inciting public unease. As one report put it,
As the weather warmed up each year, panic over polio intensified. Polio swept through towns in epidemics every few years. Most often affecting children, few diseases frightened parents more than polio did ("History of Polio in Iowa," https://www.iowaheritage.org/exhibits/show/polio1/polio2)
In 1916, for example, the US documented more than 27,000 cases of polio and more than 7,000 deaths; in 1927 there were more than 10,000 cases and over 2,000 deaths. Every year was serious, but 1927, 1931, and 1935 stood out both for the number of cases and the number of deaths. As the calendar rotated from year to year, therefore, Americans knew that, come autumn, they should expect another brutal encounter with poliomyelitis.
Quad-City Times, December 29, 1940
Iowa, too, felt these peaks in polio infections. Official data for 1910 counted 654 cases and 157 deaths, but the next year there were only 70 cases and 40 deaths; 1916, 1918, 1920, 1923, 1930, and 1937 all reported bumps in the number of cases. But it was 1940 that set the high-water mark for polio infection in pre-war Iowa: 930 confirmed cases and 72 deaths (Walter Albin Lunden, Basic Social Problems, with Selected Rural and Urban Data for Iowa [Dubuque: W. C. Brown Co., 1950], p. 133). Five of those cases and two of those deaths occurred in Grinnell, and they are the subject of today's post.
Summer in 1940 Grinnell had passed, and schools had begun when the crisis erupted. The local newspaper reported on Monday, September 16th, that a schoolboy by the name of David Peck—just twelve years old—had fallen ill the previous week while visiting grandparents in Ogden, Iowa. His condition quickly plummeted, so his parents rushed him to the Boone hospital where he died September 12th; he had been ill just four days.

The news stunned the entire community, now alert to the fact that polio had returned to Grinnell for a new assault on the city's youth. Thursday's newspaper (Grinnell Herald-Register, September 19, 1940) confirmed the sad fact by reporting that Tuesday had brought a second death to Grinnell when Raffety Greenwald, a 15-year-old high school junior, had died after a few days' struggle with polio. The newspaper report acknowledged that, in addition to the two fatalities, three other cases of infection in Grinnell were known: Ruth Jean Liggett and Jack Knowles, both of whose families lived in town, and Richard Evans, whose family farmed southwest of town.
Headline of Grinnell Herald-Register, September 23, 1940
The jolt to community well-being led officials to close school for a week. R. A. Hawk, superintendent of schools, explained that, although there was no evidence that polio had been transmitted through the schools, "persons of public school age are affected" and the parents are "in many cases panicky and hysterical" (Grinnell Herald-Register, September 23, 1940). Hawk urged parents during the school  recess to prevent children from congregating with one another, and to do what they could to make sure that their children were in the best possible health.
Grinnell's two 1940 polio deaths shocked the community, but of course they rocked the dead boys' families even more. Over the course of a few days, two local families dropped suddenly from everyday normalcy to unthinkable disaster.

David Ellis Peck [1884-1956] was a native of Taylorsville, Illinois, but attended Grinnell College from which he graduated in 1907. The following year he joined the college's music faculty where for many years he taught violin and directed the men's glee club. In 1911 he married Laura Jenkins (1883-1967) of Ogden, Iowa; she had been David's classmate at Grinnell, and had taught high school after graduation. By 1920 the Pecks were living at 1402 Elm Street with three daughters: Ruth, Kathleen, and Mary Jane.
1402 Elm Street (2013 photograph)
David Peck was busy with college duties, often performing with violin or viola as well as directing campus musical groups. Laura Peck was active in Levart Club and PEO, and also was busy at the Congregational Church. Into this active life came the family's fourth child, David Hanley, who was born June 14, 1928.
Extract from 1940 US Census for Grinnell (1402 Elm Street)
According to later reports, young David was "his father's pride and joy," "a sunny little chap" who was "very popular with his schoolmates." When census officials called on the Pecks in April 1940, David was the only child still at home, so that his death that September left an obvious hole in the Peck household. It was perhaps a good thing that Professor Peck was on leave that year; he and Laura could nurse their sorrow out of the public eye.
Gravestone for David Peck, Glenwood Cemetery, Ogden, Iowa
Raffety Greenwald was the oldest of three children born to Lois Raffety Greenwald (1898-1989) and William G. Greenwald (1896-1989), who farmed north of town.
Extract from 1940 US Census, Poweshiek County, Chester Township
Both parents were graduates of Grinnell College; Lois had grown up in Grinnell and later taught school here. They married in 1923 and had settled in New Hampton for some years before returning to the Grinnell area, taking over the Chester County farm in 1929.
Photograph of Grinnell High School Latin Club, 1940 Grinnellian; Raffety Greenwald is 3rd from right, back row
Raffety Greenwald was said to be "a conscientious student," "a quiet, unassuming chap who was well-liked." A high school junior in 1940, he took part in numerous extra-curriculars, including the award-winning band in which he played trombone. He took ill Friday night, afflicted with a sudden and obviously serious illness; he was short of breath and in obvious pain, circumstances that led his parents to summon Dr. O. F. Parish (1873-1947), who brought along his son, John (1904-1997), a 1929 graduate of Harvard Medical School who had been practicing in Grinnell. They immediately diagnosed polio, and the Greenwalds took Raffety directly to the Grinnell Community Hospital. What treatment they could provide is unclear, but the remedies proved of no help. Raff was declared dead Tuesday morning, only five days after having fallen ill. The funeral came quickly and Raffety Greenwald was buried at Hazelwood Cemetery.
Gravestone of Raffety Greenwald (1925-1940) (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/135870787/raffety-greenwald)
In addition to their grief, the Greenwalds also had to endure quarantine on the chance that other members of the family had been infected. Raffety's younger brother, Stan, remembers that a quarantine sign was tacked onto the house by the back door; more powerful than the sign was the community information network, which shunned the Greenwalds, leaving them to deal with their grief and the suspicions of neighbors. Finally, LaVerne Raffety (1900-1995), Lois's brother, made a point of visiting, thereby breaking the social embargo on the Greenwalds. But fear of the virus continued to affect the family. Raff's sister, Ruth, learned when she returned to school that high school principal T. T. Cranny (1888-1965) had been fielding calls demanding that he get Ruth out of school. Cranny resisted these pressures, but Ruth nevertheless frequently found herself alone, other students all keeping their distance. Young Raffety was dead and buried, but his shadow lingered, his death continuing to affect the living.
The two deaths—more than Grinnell's share of Iowa's 72 polio deaths that year—put every family in town on edge. Discovery of more infections, even if not so serious as those that visited the Peck and Greenwald families, brought more anxiety to Grinnell households where polio put in an appearance. Parents inevitably asked whether their child, too, might not perish from exposure to the polio virus. Happily, all three other victims recovered, although perhaps not without harm.
Ted Liggitt (1902-1985) was a pharmacist who had been raised in Osceola, Iowa where he met Alma Stancell (1905-1995). In 1927 the couple married, and settled in Des Moines, living in an apartment on 26th Street while Ted worked in a Des Moines drug store. Their two daughters were both born in Des Moines: Ruth Jean in 1929 and Marlene Jo in 1931. By 1935 the family was living in Chariton in Lucas County, but five years later they were all resident in Grinnell, occupying an apartment at 931 High Street while Ted worked for one of the town's drug stores.
931 High Street (2020 photograph)
The Liggitts' older daughter, Ruth Jean, was another victim of the 1940 epidemic. Nothing in the public record describes the particulars of Ruth's encounter with polio. All that we know is that doctors diagnosed the eleven-year-old with what was evidently a light case from which she quickly recovered. She next surfaces as a high school student in Chariton, the town to which her family moved sometime soon after her illness.
Ruth Jean Liggitt (1947 Chariton High School Yearbook)
Ruth enjoyed singing, as the 1947 Chariton high school yearbook reports that she was a member of glee club for all four years of high school, sang operetta two years, and performed in the annual Christmas program every year. She later married Joe Seagraves and by the 1950s was living in Austin, Texas, and later in Lewisville, Texas, her parents having joined her there in their retirement. If her encounter with polio left any trace, nothing I found confirmed it. She, her sister, and her parents are all deceased, and seem to have left no remembrance of that painful September in Grinnell.
Less than one block north of the Liggitt household in Grinnell lived Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Knowles. Telling 1940 census officials that he worked as a traveling salesman, Elmer Knowles (1877-1942) was born in Michigan, as was his (second) wife, Lulu (1887-1978). Elmer's first three children—Norma; Evelyn; and Marian—had all been born in Michigan; Faith, who was born in 1915, had come when the family was living in Wisconsin. No later than 1917 they moved to Minnesota where Lois, Edwin, John (Jack), and Paul were born. Richard, the youngest, was the only child born in Iowa (1929). In 1930 the Knowles family was renting a house at 1432 Summer Street in Grinnell, but by 1940 they had moved to 1014 High Street. All the daughters except Norma (who was a local school teacher) had left the natal household to chart their own life courses.
1014 High Street (2013 photograph)
Jack Knowles was born in Stillwater, Minnesota in 1923, and arrived in Grinnell in 1927 with his family. He and his brother Paul attended Grinnell High School together; both ran cross-country and track, and Jack also participated in high school music programs. He was a 17-year-old senior when polio caught up with him. Like Ruth Liggitt, his neighbor, he recovered, although for the rest of his life he lost most use of his right arm. The disability kept him out of the military during the World War II, but did not keep him from contributing to the war during which he helped build P-51 airplanes in California. Having studied music at the University of Iowa, Jack devoted most of his career to teaching music—according to his obituary, he taught instrumental music in Oregon, Iowa, California, Montana, and Australia.
Jack Knowles (1941 Grinnellian)
Jack married twice: first in 1949 to Imogene Newcomer (1929-2012) in Grinnell, and again in 1966 to Debby Dresser. By 1969 Jack and Debby were living in Rapid City, South Dakota where Jack was band director at Rapid City Central High School. He also directed the Rapid City Municipal Band and the Black Hills Symphony Orchestra—all this with only one arm fully functional. Yet Knowles was so successful that in 2009 he won the South Dakota Governor's Award for Outstanding Service in Arts Education. On at least one occasion, however, a concert reviewer took Jack to task for using only one arm:
The orchestra conductor, Jack Knowles, plays a vital role in releasing the musicality of the orchestra. His right hand is needed for cuing and dynamic control...These visual cues not only aid the musicians...but also draw the audience's attention to the important melodies and rhythmic ideas of the music. This is not what happened Saturday night. Knowles kept time with his baton [in his left hand] while his other hand rested on the orchestral score. Occasionally, he took his hand off the score to gesture obscurely to the orchestra (Gail Samuels, "'Ritz' musicians deserve ovations," Rapid City Journal, January 27, 1997).
When readers objected to the reviewer's criticism, pointing out that Knowles suffered a disability that "anyone with the cognitive capacity of a gnat could perceive," the newspaper quickly issued an apology. However, the incident points out how Knowles's bout with polio more than fifty years earlier continued to affect him.
Rapid City Journal, January 28, 1997
Russell P. Evans (1915-1981) was born in Grinnell, and by 1940 had married, was farming outside Grinnell, and had two sons: William and Richard. Richard was only five years old when polio found him in September 1940. Apparently the initial attack was severe; his parents reported him ill on September 18th, and already the next day he was admitted to Skiff Medical Center in Newton and installed in an iron lung. Typically victims required at least two weeks of iron-lung therapy, the machine helping the weakened diaphragm. The Des Moines Register reported that young Richard was sent back home on the 22nd of September and allowed to recuperate under the watchful eye of his parents, but when recently I spoke with Evans by telephone he told me that in fact his stay in the iron lung was longer than two days. He recalled how uncomfortable he was ("it hurt like the devil!"), lying on a hard board all day. When he needed the bathroom, attendants had to open the iron lung, and then close it back up again when he returned. Friends sent him comic books, but he could turn pages only with his tongue, he said.
Undated photograph of a child in an iron lung (https://rarehistoricalphotos.com/iron-lungs-polio-1930s-1950s/)
I asked him whether he and his family, like the Greenwalds, had experienced any shunning from friends or neighbors. He thought not, because soon after he was released from the hospital his family moved to California. Doctors had recommended a dry climate for Richard, so his parents packed up quickly and the family settled in the Los Angeles area where they lived until Richard was about 16, moving then to Myrtle Point, Oregon, where in 1953 Richard graduated from Union High School.

Did his battle with polio in 1940 leave any trace? I wondered. The only polio legacy Richard bears today, he told me, is some difficulty with speaking; some words simply will not form, he said, but he feels fortunate that polio did no worse than that. So far as he can tell, polio did not otherwise affect him after that first brief encounter and his introduction to an iron lung.
Richard Evans (1953 Myrtle Point Union High School Yearbook)
After a one-week break, during which Grinnell absorbed the pain of two child deaths and three other polio infections, Grinnell schools reopened. As a precaution (and no doubt also to calm parental fears), each student was subjected to a physical examination before being admitted to class. Most of the town's doctors along with a clutch of nurses and volunteers inspected all students, taking temperatures and inspecting throats. About fifty students were sent to their family physicians for further examination, but not one student gave evidence of polio infection (Grinnell Herald-Register, September 30, 1940). Sixty years later one can almost hear the sigh of relief that passed through the town; the annual vigil against polio could be relaxed...at least until next year.
Handbook published by Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., New York, [1946] (Grinnell Historical Museum, #2008.28.33)
All this makes me wonder how parents coped. In the 1940s Iowans knew little about polio, despite the almost annual crises. A Metropolitan Life Insurance handbook called Common Childhood Diseases—reprinted often in America's polio years—encouraged parents to "keep...children away from the movies, parties, crowded trains, and all public gatherings until the outbreak is over." As if this suggestion were not difficult enough, the booklet also urged parents "to keep children away from public beaches and swimming pools," and have them avoid streams, lakes, or ditches into which sewage drains. Most surprising was the assertion that "Removal of tonsils [quite common at the time--DK], extraction of teeth, or other operations in and about the nose, throat, and mouth may open new channels by which the virus can gain entrance to the body...[Therefore,] Such operations should be avoided as far as is possible during an epidemic of infantile paralysis" [p. 21].

Despite this advice, the booklet's authors had to admit that "The manner in which the infantile paralysis virus is spread is still unknown." In short, parents could only briefly celebrate having escaped tragedy in 1940; soon their eyes would turn apprehensively to next year's visit from polio.