At the inauguration, it seemed like there’s fresh new feeling about Iowa


COOPER, Iowa, Jan. 22, 2019 — I followed last Friday’s inauguration of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg fairly closely, even though I stayed here at the farmhouse as ice, snow and bitter cold blew through west central Iowa. So, thanks to you in the media for all the coverage in the newspapers, online, on TV and on radio. 

However, some parts of the ceremonies didn’t get the attention I thought they deserved, so let’s talk. 

First, as we finally said goodbye to the Terry Branstad era, and even though Reynolds had been interim governor for 18 months, I thought there seemed to be a fresh new feeling as she was sworn-in on her own credentials — the newly elected governor, the first woman ever elected to the state’s highest office. 

The extended Reynolds family is a fetching one, with three grown daughters who look like their mother, three sons-in-law and 10 lively grandchildren.  The two little Gregg kids are cute and fun, too.

Iowa right now suddenly seems more alive. It’s probably equal parts hope, ambition and uncertainty, and it feels good. 

The speeches were all decent, both the inaugural addresses by Reynolds and Gregg, and the Condition of the State address by Reynolds earlier in the week.  They weren’t grand oratory, but they seemed genuine and optimistic, perfect for the occasions. 

And let’s give Reynolds — or perhaps somebody on her staff — a standing ovation for the improvement in her speech delivery.  In the campaign, she often made our ears hurt with her over-caffeinated, non-stop and frequently-shrill filibusters.  The Reynolds we heard last week seemed calm, confident, pleasant and occasionally inspiring.  She talked like a real leader, you know? 

That reminded me of when Branstad ran for governor the first time in 1982.  He was awful as a speaker then, so bad that his staff made him promise to take speech lessons.  A new administrative assistant Almo Hawkins, previously a KCCI-TV news anchor, was assigned to work with Branstad on his delivery and especially his enunciation.  Hawkins brought him around, after lots of practice behind closed doors.  One trick she used to help him speak more clearly was having him talk with a couple of rubber erasers in his mouth.  Another was talking while he clinched a wooden pencil between his jaws.  “He was so good back then to be the new governor and put up with a little peon like me telling him how to speak,” Hawkins recalled this week. 

Branstad never became a great speaker, but he obviously became a convincing one.  (Hawkins went on to become director of the Iowa Department of Human Rights, then when Branstad left office the first time in 1998, she ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor. She’s retired now in the Des Moines suburb or Windsor Heights.) 

Somebody surely must have helped Reynolds recently.  And she was a quick learner.

Logo from Iowa Inauguration Jan 18.jpg

The official “seal” of the inauguration was this colorful creation by Sticks, Inc., the Des Moines art and furniture maker. (Photo courtesy of Merlin Bartz, former member of the Iowa Senate and Iowa House of the north Iowa town of Grafton.)

WE LOVED THE EYE-POPPING “SEAL” OF THE INAUGURATION.  It took only a quick look at the colorful logo or “seal” that was displayed in many different ways at the ceremonies, to determine it was the work of the most-recognized contemporary artists working in Iowa today — the creative team at Sticks, Inc. 

That’s the 27-year-old company, operating from a large factory-looking production studio in the southwest part of Des Moines, producing artwork and artistic furniture that is sold, collected and displayed around the world.

“It was a big project on a pretty quick turn-around,” Sticks president Rachel Eubank explained. “We got a call maybe four days after the election from the Reynolds staff, saying she’d like to have us do something like this.  They gave us several things they thought were significant to include in the design, things she is supporting and emphasizing — rural Iowa, STEM education, farming, mental health, the State Capitol, respect for veterans and maybe a couple others.  Our design team went to work on it in a big collaboration.”

The passed sketches back and forth with Reynolds’ office until everybody felt the seal was “just right.”

I especially liked the obvious figure of a woman in the middle of the design, with her arms extended above her head holding a big plaque shaped like the state of Iowa.

You probably noticed the huge version of it hanging above the speakers and stage at the ceremony, which was held at the Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center — the former Veterans Memorial Auditorium.

“That was about 8 feet in diameter, made of poplar and birch wood and probably weighed 400 to 500 pounds,” Eubank said. “I was so glad that the Governor’s staff had the professional set-up people hang that so that we didn’t have to do it.  I noticed they used about five industrial-type hanging mechanisms to get it right.”

That big logo was done in a main color of gold, with the other colors being creams and whites “so that it wasn’t as distracting when it was hanging up there as it would have been in full color,” she said.  The other versions of the logo, which were featured on everything from glassware at the inaugural ball to the printed programs to one vase used as a gift, were all done in the bright colors more typical of Sticks work. 

“It was a huge honor for us to be asked to create this,” Eubank said.

She said this week that the logo is now being moved from the site of the inaugural to the Capitol hallway just outside Governor Reynolds’ formal office and will be hung on a wall there.

Eubank said that both she and her mother Sarah Grant, the founder of Sticks, Inc., attended the inaugural ball Friday night. 

“That ball was not only really nice, but it was really fun, too,” Eubank said.  “And it was so Iowa!  Here it was — a big formal event being held on a January night in the middle of a blizzard, and that didn’t seem to matter to anybody.  Both the balls were packed.  And it was a hoot to see all the women showing up in their inaugural gowns, but coming in wearing their winter coats and boots, with the high heels in hand!”

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The “Bridges 2 Harmony” gospel choir from Des Moines Roosevelt High School did a wonderful rendition of the National Anthem during the inauguration. (School photo)

THE MUSIC WAS INSPIRING, SOME OF IT STUNNINGLY GOOD.  The legendary Iowan and opera great Simon Estes sang “America the Beautiful.” Iowa State University’s Cantamus Women’s Choir sang a fantastic “The Blessing.”  Chris Weaver, a Central College graduate and contestant on NBC-TV’s “The Voice,” did a moving solo on “This Is Me.”  And did you see and hear the Iowa National Guard’s fife & drum team that escorted the colors?  All were terrific. 

But the best musical performance, to my ear and eye, was the National Anthem done by the “Bridges 2 Harmony” Gospel Choir from Des Moines Roosevelt High School.   The song was only slightly stylized — it’s easy to overdo that and they didn’t.  They sang it with precision, discipline, respect and perfect tenderness.

How have I been unaware of this outstanding choir until now? 

“This is the choir’s 11th year, but just my second year as director,” Devon Steve told me  “It was founded by James McNear Jr., a well-known musician and gospel director, when he was at Roosevelt, and he directed it for seven or eight years.  Then Rose Dino (Roosevelt’s director of choral music) directed it for a time until I got here.”

He is a native of Cleveland, Ohio, who did his music training in the famous program at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, where he sang in the school’s top choirs and also wound up directing a gospel choir.

Gospel music has proved so popular with Roosevelt students that the school made studying and performing it part of the academic curriculum.  “I know that Des Moines North High School and Roosevelt are the only two schools in the city, and maybe the state, that have full-curriculum gospel choirs,” Steve said. “That means we have materials, studies, tests — just like regular classes — all about gospel music.”

“Bridges 2 Harmony” now has 52 singers and is the largest and busiest of Roosevelt’s seven choirs.  Those include the varsity show choir, jazz choir and women’s choir all directed by Dino; and the chamber choir, men’s ensemble, junior-varsity show choir and gospel choir directed by Steve.

“Our gospel choir is averaging 30 performances a school year now,” he said. “This year that will include everything from the inauguration to singing at a basketball game or two.  Most of our performances are around the city, but next year we’re going to do a couple of out-of-state trips, too.”  The group’s showcase concert each year, called simply “The Bridges Concert,” is performed each January, and this year’s is set next week — Thursday, Jan. 31 at 7 p.m. in the Roosevelt High School auditorium. Admission is free.

“The kids really enjoyed having the opportunity to sing at the inauguration,” Steve said. “We talked about what an honor it was to be asked to sing at an event like this, and that we’d be part of history being made, with our first woman governor.  Last fall, we’d sung at a big gala that the Iowa Democrats had in Des Moines, so it was neat that now we were singing for the Republican leaders.  We sing for everybody.”

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Rev. Craig Ferguson, at the right, is the pastor of the new River Of Life United Methodist Church in the Des Moines suburb of Johnston, and among its members are Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg and his family.  Ferguson gave prayers at both a Thursday night “Service of Dedication to the People of Iowa” at the Lutheran Church of Hope in West Des Moines and the Friday morning inauguration downtown.  In this photo, at the dedication service, are (left to right) Lutheran Bishop Michael Burk, Gov. Reynolds, Lt. Gov. Gregg, Catholic Bishop Richard Pates and Ferguson. 

THE PRAYERS WERE EVEN BETTER THAN THE REST OF THE CEREMONY! Maybe it’s a sign I’m getting old, but you know, I can’t tell you the last time I’ve heard a bad sermon or a weak public prayer from a member of the clergy.  They all seem to have something to say to me.

And at the inaugural, we heard three great prayers.  Rev. Craig Ferguson, introduced above, did the invocation; the governor’s pastor Rev. Chuck DeVos of LifePoint Assembly of God in Osceola prayed before her swearing-in, and Lutheran Church of Hope senior pastor Rev. Mike Housholder did the benediction. The preachers went 3-for-3. 

I was so moved by Ferguson’s opener that I’m sharing the whole thing below here. 

“It was a joy to write and give this prayer, but it was a struggle for me, too,” Ferguson told me. “It was a process of a couple of days getting it done.  First of all, I tend to be one of the least political persons you could find.  I am much more centrist, and more focused on the Kingdom of God than the politics of our time.  I think my role is more about caring for people in general than it is being siloed on one side or another, and I think that’s appropriate for someone who is a pastor to a diverse group of people.”

He said he tried to convey a message “of peace and unity and service,” and did he ever.

After the inaugural, he included his prayer in his blog “Ramblings” and as a Facebook post. When he did that, he introduced it with a meaningful explanation: “I would also like to clarify that my role in these services was not party oriented but faith focused, and I believe that as spiritual leaders we are called to pray for and bless the leaders of our nation no matter what political position. Prayer is the most vital tool any person can use, and it is never to be used against others, to promote a position, or divide. Prayer is a divine gift that we use to seek relationship, blessing, and discern wise counsel from the God who is above all. It should center us on the Kingdom of God and not on a political agenda. It should unite us in love and reconciliation. It should give us new eyes and purge the talons of anger in our hearts and fill us with a peace that seeks the very face of God in our neighbor and enemy. I invite you to read these words and pray this prayer for yourself, your community, your state, and the leaders who have been elected.”

Now, here’s the actual text of Rev. Ferguson’s inaugural invocation: 

“Holy and Almighty God,

“In this moment we pause to give you glory. Creator, who put the stars in place and began the universe in motion. Redeemer, who in the expanse of time and history continues to heal and restore, making all things new. Sanctifier, who in the brokenness of creation sees beauty and draws all things toward perfection. God of many names, and all people, we ask humbly in this hour for a deeper understanding of our dependency upon you.

“We confess that we often neglect the very gifts you have given us, at times we have elevated objects and agendas, policies and procedures above the people of your creation, and we have been blind to the image of God on the face of others. Where you have created the beauty of diversity, we have seen labels and objects of scorn. We confess our pride, selfishness, and even our tendency to judge rather than follow your example to be a servant of all. Forgive us oh Lord in our failures, for the sins of action or inaction that have caused harm to your people, and sustain us in mercy for the days ahead.

“At this time, we acknowledge the blessings you have poured upon us.
As a people of Iowa, in a nation of liberty, we have been blessed with opportunity and prosperity, with land and homes, with jobs, and commerce. We have been blessed with so much more than we can imagine. Lord, help us to not be blinded by the blessings you have provided, and instead see these blessings as great responsibilities, to be good stewards and bearers of blessings. Bless us furthermore with the courage to act in wisdom, mercy, and justice. Bless us with humility and a gentle spirit to love our neighbor, welcome the stranger, and show mercy to the outcast. We ask for an outpouring of your blessing upon all the people of Iowa, and for a unity that binds us together in love and service.

“As a blessed people Iowa and ‘One Nation under God,’ we accept our responsibility to oversee, love, and serve each other in your name.

“Lord, we pray for your special blessing and protection upon those in the armed forces who put their lives on the line in order to secure the freedom that we enjoy. Bless the police and fire departments who serve and protect our homes and communities. Bless the local leaders, business leaders, farmers, and families of Iowa.

“We also pray for those whom we cannot see clearly, and we ask you to give us hearts of compassion.

“Almighty God ,bless the homeless, the depressed, the hospitalized, the oppressed, the incarcerated, the immigrant, the lonely, the addict, the hungry, the abandoned, the jobless, and especially Lord, as you tell us to, we pray for those we fear, reject, label, or call our enemy. Help us to see all people as beloved and sacred, diverse and beautiful, created in your image.

“As we come to a time such as this, a time of Holy anointing and calling of leaders, we invite your Holy presence to fill this place, come and lead us as the state of Iowa and place your blessing upon those who have been selected to lead. Specifically, we pray for Governor Reynolds and Lieutenant Governor Gregg as they are sworn-in to office. Fill them with your Divine wisdom, grant them discernment, anoint them for leadership, seal them with grace, mercy, justice, and compassion; and surround them with peace. We pray also for their families, hold them steadfast and protect them, uphold them in your mighty hand. Through these leaders we ask for your abundant blessing upon this state and all people within; this year, and through their terms in office.

“In your Holy and Mighty name, Amen.”

Now that is a prayer!

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One thought on “At the inauguration, it seemed like there’s fresh new feeling about Iowa

  1. Thanks, Chuck, for bringing us a touch of Iowa. Thanks for the overview of the inauguration and for posting that wonderful prayer!

    Off subject, but have you ever written about the tenderloin sandwich? I am continuously amazed that I have to come home (to Iowa) to get one. Why has that sandwich not caught on across the country? We now live in Smithfield, VA, the port of largest exporter of pork in the world, I’m told. Not a pork tenderloin in sight. Unbelievable!

    Best wishes for you and your bride in 2019!

    Friend, Wes

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