September 30, 2008
Millie and I drove to Elkader, Iowa earlier this month to visit our friends, Ed and Ruth Mary Olson. We had not seen them since 1999. Ed is one of my fellow survivors of the 1954 crash of an Air Force C-47 in Alaska.
The fact that we arrived in Elkader on 9-11 was accidental, but that “by chance” occurrence turned out to be fortunate for us. It was a day of Peace Celebration in the town, culminating in a dinner at Schera's Restaurant that evening. Featured guest speakers after the dinner were Bill and Joe Aossey from Cedar Rapids. The Aosseys are third generation Americans, and Muslims.
In the way of background, when Ed was mayor of Elkader he had, in 1984, made contact with Algerian officials concerning the fact that Elkader was named after Emir Abdel-Kader, the “George Washington” of Algeria. As I said in my book, Touching the Ancient One, the contact “ . . . led to a “sister city twinning, which in turn led to visits back and forth. It became an important public relations exchange . . . ”
Elkader is still a part of the Sister Cities organization and as such is one of the communities leading efforts to foster understanding between people of different religions. I’m convinced that tolerance and understanding is something we all need to practice in dealing with one another. Programs like the Sister Cities Organization promote that.
I was scheduled to give a talk and book signing in the Elkader Library the day after our arrival. Ed joined me there and, as I’d hoped, it turned out to be more of a “discussion” session than a talk. Ed added information about our 1954 ordeal in the mountains of Alaska, things I had forgotten and some things I never knew. Melissa Patrick, Ed and Ruth Mary’s daughter, brought her book club members to the library, adding greatly to the discussion. Many thanks to the Elkader Library for giving us that opportunity.
We were in Elkader three nights, staying at the Elkader Jailhouse Inn, owned and run by Julie Carlisle-Kane & Tim Kane along with their pup, Merlin. That, alone, was a wonderful experience. The former jail has been converted, with the administrative area now forming living quarters and the cellblock serving as a greatroom and dining area where guests can mingle. The Kanes are gracious hosts. You can visit their website by clicking here.
One last thing I feel compelled to say: Millie and I live in an area that’s spread out, both politically and geographically. It’s refreshing to see a community such as Elkader where everyone knows everyone, where elbows are rubbed, and where folks feel accountable to one another. Ed and Ruth Mary Olson are prominent in the mix. Someone (sorry, I don’t remember who) told me that Ed was “Mr. Elkader.” I’d like to suggest that it might be “Mr. and Mrs. Elkader” for the Olsons.
Click here to see a few more of our Elkader photographs.