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You won't see that in the Chamber of Commerce brochure

You won't see that in the Chamber of Commerce brochure

Does your hometown have a hook? Some kind of event or person that it's known for and quickly recognized by people far and wide? Mine does, but it's not just one.

Dr. Norman Bourlaug (Photo by Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images)

A variety of things are unique about Cresco, Iowa. At the top of that list is the fact that Cresco is the hometown of Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dr. Norman Borlaug. Dr. Borlaug was responsible for improvements in genetics and technology adaptation that dramatically improved wheat yields. His work helped save the lives of a billion people in developing countries in the 1960's. Dr. Borlaug is known as The Father of the Green Revolution. He was the founder of The World Food Prize, which is bestowed in his honor each October.

When I was a student at Iowa State University years ago, we went down the roll call list on the first day in an Agronomy class. Dr. J. Ron George, who became one of my all-time favorite professors, read off my name and hometown. "Jeff Ryan. Cresco? That's Borlaug country. We expect big things from you."

Duly noted. No pressure.

Cresco is also the hometown of Ellen Church, whose name graces the airport in Cresco. She was the world's first flight attendant. Outside of the airport naming, I honor her periodically by cramming myself into a small seat and enjoying a small cookie with a drink made up of about 90% ice.

There are a variety of other notable achievements in Cresco, the last of which is probably much higher on my list than others may quote. In 1980, a national TV talk show host had a contest where his audience could write in and explain in 50 words or less why his show should be hosted from their living room. A rural Cresco resident submitted the winning entry and the big-time show came to Cresco and had a good time.

That host is still in the business, albeit close to the end of his time. His name is David Letterman. I have a DVD copy of his Cresco episode.

Another historical note for my hometown was brought to my attention recently. A friend had a medical appointment and needed a ride. I took him along for his trip and decided to get some lab work done for myself while I waited a few hours for all of his work. If you're a long-term Type I diabetic like me, there is nothing medical types love more than regularly sticking you with needles to see how you're doing. I made a phone call and got some lab work lined up at this particular facility to be shared with the rest of my medical team at various other outlets, hopefully saving myself extra needle jabs in the future.

My phone rang right as my name was finally called in the lab waiting area and I was led back to the room for my blood draw. I looked at the number and decided not to answer at the moment.

Two nurses were in the room, which kind of surprised me. Granted, I'm not the easiest one in the world to stick and get blood from, but we usually have to wait for the first technician to have trouble before they bring in backup help for more jabbings. The current record stands at seven attempts.

"Eddie. Bay 7 turnip."

Subtle way to use the intercom. Even Peyton Manning would be impressed with that call.

One of the nurses in the room admitted that she was just there because she thought she knew me. Not me so much as someone with a name very, very similar to mine. There were three Jeff Ryan's at Iowa State University when I was a student there. Fortunately, we each had a different middle initial. That still didn't prevent the staff from sending us each other's paperwork and/or identification, though.

So I turned out not to be who this nurse thought I was, but it wasn't enough of a disappointment for her to flee the scene immediately. She stayed and began to make some small talk as her vampire cohort got to work.

"So, lots of appointments today?" she inquired.

Nope, just this one. I'm driving a friend who is going to take a lot longer than I will, so I thought I'd get this out of the way while I wait.

"Oh, okay. Are you from here in town then?" she asked, clearly thinking I need to find a better way to kill time.

Nope. Cresco.

That lit the fuse. Her eyes got really big and so did her smile.

"Seriously!?! Oh my gosh, I always wanted to live there!"

Wow. I'll occasionally get people who know where Cresco is when I'm more than 30 miles from home, but I've never seen one light up like this young lady just did. It was all I could do not to blurt out, "WHAT?" but I figured they'd probably check my insulin pump right away and try to force-feed me a cookie of some kind if I got that hostile that quickly.

"Oh, yeah. I always wanted to live there when I was a kid," she proclaimed.

Trying to control my disbelief, I asked for more details. So, uh, what was behind that? (Seeing as how you seem WAY more into this random town than most people I meet in hospital labs.)

She started to laugh. "You guys never had school when I was growing up. Every time we'd listen to the radio, Cresco was always canceling school. Always! We never got a day off. Ever. There'd be those days when they'd have a ton of schools starting late and then Cresco wouldn't have school. At all. Nothing. You'd always cancel."

Well, yeah, I'll admit there is that. We always missed a ton of days each winter.

"I kept telling my folks I wanted to move to Cresco," she said, "because I wanted a day off from school and you guys got 'em all the time! Like, every week! School was never canceled for us. Ever." 

Okay, so I assume you grew up here (where the hospital is)?

"Yeah, I was born here. I kept telling my folks I wanted to move to Cresco and they finally moved, but we went to South Carolina. We even had school canceled there. You know why?"

No, but I'm guessing it wasn't snow.

"The heat!!! They canceled school because of the heat! You could fry eggs on the sidewalk, it was so hot!" she said with disgust.

That's when I decided to explain a few things to young Florence Nightengale. You see, Florence, Cresco is part of a geographically huge school district. We've always been like that, even before today's consolidation trends. It could take an hour to get from the kid in one corner of the district to the kid in the other corner. If the weather's bad anywhere in there, they'd cancel school.

Now, it was time to set the hook.

For instance, we had a really bad winter in about 1982. We also had a superintendent at the time who would call off school at the first sign of flakes. I think we missed something like 18 to 20 days of school that winter. (Huge gasp from Florence when that stat hit the air). He and the school board didn't see eye to eye on everything. That came to a head at one point after that winter when he showed up at the regular board meeting and had a boom box with him.

I wasn't totally sure on Florence's age, so I wasn't sure if she'd know what a boom box was. Turns out she did.

Instead of submitting a formal letter of resignation, he took out his boom box and hit the big PLAY button. It was that catchy little 1977 number from Johnny Paycheck -- "Take This Job and Shove It!"

It went over so well that radio icon Paul Harvey mentioned it on his show soon after that.

Both nurses seemed to enjoy that little tidbit. It led to even more discussion about Florence's desire to live in Cresco. My turnip tendencies didn't hold up, so the sample they needed was done and I was free to go. That's when I tossed out another item to Florence.

Putting my hand on her shoulder as I got up to leave, I said, "You know, Florence, as my name was called out there at the front desk, my phone rang. I looked at the number and didn't answer but I'm going to call them back once I get out of here. It was the Cresco Chamber of Commerce calling. You know which story I'm going to tell them when I call back!

Perhaps it's time for a new addition to the welcome sign in town. We may have to negotiate with the dairy industry, but it sounds like "Got Flurriess?" may be popular with at least one potential new resident.


Jeff Ryan is Guy No. 2 in the operation of Two Guys Farming, Inc., near Cresco, IA.

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