Looking back - Flood is top local story of 2016

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Pony Hollow Trail was hit hard by floodwaters.

Residents worked feverishly to fill sandbags to protect Wilkes and other south-end businesses

By Pam Reinig

Register Editor

The flood of 2016 was the top local news story for the year. Though the Turkey River never reached projected levels, floodwaters did rise high enough to require sandbagging in the vulnerable downtown area. The flood caused considered damage along a portion of the downtown riverwalk where part of the trail was washed away and the sidewalk heaved. The county later received a presidential disaster declaration, which makes it eligible for FEMA funds for flood repairs.

Here’s a month-by-month look back at other events and people who made the headlines last year.


Assistant Clayton County Attorney Ry Meyer announced his decision to leave office here for a similar position in the Dubuque area. 

Mayor Bob Garms ended 12 years in office; he was succeeded by Josh Pope. Garms estimated he attended more than 350 meetings and events during his tenure.

Linda Gardner, Elkader, became the first recipient of the Register’s Clayton County Good Neighbor Award. She was among several individuals recognized at the annual Chamber dinner and awards night.

After 26 years of dedicated service, Marie Weber stepped down from the Central Community Dollars for Scholars board of trustees.


Marquette mayor David Schneider, councilwoman Rinda Ferguson, city manager Dean Hilgerson and city attorney Jim Garrett have all resigned following the council’s decision not to enforce the city’s zoning ordinance, in allowing a property owner at the city’s Timber Ridge subdivision to live in a mobile home on the lot while he constructs a home.

Caitlin, daughter of Kathy and Ed Josten, Elkader, made it home for the holidays after living and working nearly two years as a teacher in an emerging nation that puts a premium on education and English language skills.

After more than 14 years of serving on the Clayton County Board of Supervisors, Larry Gibbs (D), Garnavillo, decided he would not seek re-election in the fall.

Central athletes Jacob Jansen, son of Jim and Joleen, Jansen, Elkader, and Haley Schroeder, daughter of Toby and Tracy Schroeder, Garber, signed letters of intent to compete at the collegiate level. Jansen signed to run cross-country and track at Loras; Schroeder signed to compete at the University of Iowa.

Former Elkader resident Christie Melby-Gibbons began work on a pay-what-you-can café in downtown Milwaukee. The café has since opened.


A long-overdue remodeling project to provide a space to meet the specific needs of the Elkader Police Department nears completion. Originally budgeted at $25,000, the remodel is likely to cost around $57,000. The work is being funded using money that’s been set aside for the project and local optional sales tax, which can be used for capitol improvements.

The Elkader Fire Department announced that it would soon have another vehicle to help them fight grass fires. The department recently received a truck through the federal surplus property program that can be retrofitted for their purposes

Resident Satisfaction Surveys were sent to Elkader residents in their March utility statements, marking the first time since 2007 that the city has collected data from its citizens.

Members of Central’s Green Team decided to move the school compost pile to the city yard waste disposal site off Highway 13 near Pony Hollow trail. Central senior Jacob Jansen, who has been part of the effort since its inception, said the new location would accommodate a larger compost pile. As an added bonus, the yard waste that’s dumped there can be used as a carbon source to help the pile decompose efficiently.

Lowell Engle and Kristi Hager announce their intention to run against incumbent Patti Ruff for the Iowa House of Representatives District 56 seat.

The Elkader City Council approved a $2.6 million budget with a tax levy of $19.91 per $1,000 valuation. With the state mandated rollback of nearly 56 percent, the owner of a $100,000 home will pay $1,107 in the city’s portion of property taxes under the new budget.

More than 100 people showed up for dinner at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Elkader, for the church’s first “hunger banquet” offered by the church to underscore the problem of worldwide food scarcity. As they arrived at the church, participants drew lots that determined their “development status.” The few (15 out of 100) who were lucky enough to draw a green slip got a full dinner—salad, spaghetti, garlic bread and beverages. Those who drew a red slip (35 participants) were served one-half cup each beans and rice. The “red” group, the largest by numbers, got only a half-cup of rice. According to Jamie Wingert, who was one of the organizers, the number of tickets for each group corresponds with wealth distribute worldwide. In other words, there’s only a small percent of people who can afford a full meal; the overwhelming majority subsists on very little. The effort raised $1,500 for a hunger project.


The Elkader Opera House Players presented their spring play “Harvey” with Dave Beck in the lead role.

A flurry of last-minute filings rounded out the slate for the June 7 primary elections. Democrats Jennifer Garms, Elkader, and Elizabeth Jaster, Garber, are running for Clayton County Auditor. The winner of that race will face Republican Deborah Scott, McGregor, in the November general election. There are six candidates for the Board of Supervisors seat being vacated by Larry Gibbs. On the Republican side, the candidates are Chad Freeman, Colesburg, and Ray Peterson, Elkader. Democratic hopefuls include Steve Doeppke, Elkader; Michael Finnegan, Colesburg; Joleen Jansen, Elkader; and Lester Simons, Colesburg. The primary will whittle the slate to one Republican and one Democrat. Clayton County Sheriff Mike Tschirgi will run unopposed.

Retired physician Ken Zichal shared his hobby: building model tanks. Zichal, who served the Elkader community for almost 40 years, has more than 1,100 personnel carriers and artillery pieces in his.collection.

After conducting dozens of tours, fielding countless phone calls and processing 125,000 water bills, Elkader Administrative Assistant and Deputy Clerk Marla Reimer ended her 16-year career. Her final official act, before enjoying her retirement party, was handing off a heavy set of keys to her replacement Caitlin Frazer.

More than a century of bridal fashions went on display at the Carter House Museum. The exhibit included many gowns worn by local women on their wedding days.

Central student Levi Tuecke was among several students chosen as winners of the annual all-expense-paid Youth Tour trip to Washington, D.C. 

Cornerstone Family Practice opened a new clinic in Garnavillo moving from the quaint, red brick building on the city’s main street that had housed the office for 30 years.

The Central Community School Board approved a $7,267,107 budget with an $11.30 tax levy per $1,000 valuation for the coming fiscal year.  

With the state mandated 55.62 percent rollback, the owner of a $100,000 home will pay $629 in the school’s share of property taxes for the new fiscal year.  This year, with a state mandated 55.73 percent rollback, the same homeowner paid $690.

The Minnesota Twins ball club donated over $9,700 to the Elkader Funds for Fields committee for a project to reconstruct the town’s baseball fields.

The Iowa Economic Development Authority approved more than $450,000 in incentives for an expansion project set to add 30 new jobs at Mobile Track Solutions in Elkader.


Todd Eiffert, a San Diego native who spent his childhood summers in Monona, returned to the area to head up the emergency medical services crew at Central Community Hospitals.

The City of Elkader and Elkader resident Mary Harstad were honored during a recent event that celebrated 30 years of Main Street Iowa and its commitment to downtown and commercial district revitalization.  Main Street Elkader received the Game Changer award for its Art in the Park fine arts festival; Harstad was awarded the “Leadership Award” recognizing for all her work on the Elkader Cinema project, Mascara Park and volunteering many years as a board member and Design Committee Chair.  

The Central girls’ track and field team came home with a third place finish at the state track.


Jacob Jansen and Carissa Moyna were the top graduates of the Central Class of 2016.

Alyssa Barker, a high school junior at Central, was selected to attend the American Legion Auxiliary Girls State in June at Drake University Des Moines. 

The Central Community School Board approved a bid of $737,274, submitted by Johnson Control, Cedar Rapids, to install a new boiler system.

Clayton County Auditor Dennis Freitag formally announced his decision to retire after 39 years in office.

Shana Hilgerson, 2015 Central High School graduate and former Student Body President is spent several weeks in Uganda looking at ways to improve agricultural practices there.

2016 Clayton County Dairy royalty were named. They are: Emily Moses, Dairy Princess; Colten Kolker, Junior Dairyman; Rachel Eglseder, Little Miss Squirt; and Allan Schaefers, Junior Dairyman alternate. 

The Clayton County Board of Supervisors appointed Chief Deputy Auditor Peggy Lane as interim auditor effective from June 27 to November 14.  Lane replaced Dennis Freitag, who resigned from the position of May 1.

The Moving Wall, a scale-sized replica of the Viet Nam Vet’s Memorial in Washington D.C. arrived in National for a week-long display.  An estimated 10,000 people visited the exhibit making it one of the largest events ever staged in Clayton County.


An Iowa City couple “eloped” to Elkader. The couple decided to get married here after spending a few hours in the town and interacting with its “friendly residents.”

The Elkader City Council recommended closing the whitewater kayaking feature known as the “the Gobbler.” According to City Administrator Jennifer Cowsert, the feature is acting “differently” and thus needs to be inspected by the engineer and contractor involved in developing the course. 

Commercial Vehicle Group, Inc. (CVG) announced the closure of its wire harness facility in Monona, effective in late March 2017. The facility currently employs 146 people. When the plant closes, the company will maintain an administrative staff in the area to support sales, purchasing and other non-production activities.


Kelsey Robinson, granddaughter of John and Ericka Moyna, participated in the 2016 summer Olympics as a member of the U.S. women’s volleyball team. The team eventually earned a bronze medal.

One of 22 awards for Environmental Excellence given by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad was presented to Central’s Green Team.

The Elkader City Council gave their support for a bike route from the southern edge of town to Motor Mill. The route would run from Highway 56 south along Highway 13 to Grandview Avenue and then to Motor Mill. 

Freelance writer/photographer Larry A. Stone of Elkader recently received the top conservation award from the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA). The group’s Jade of Chiefs Award was presented at the OWAA’s 89th annual conference in Billings, Montana. The Jade Award represents an affirmation of OWAA adherence to, and support of, the principles of conservation.

Trail enthusiasts have another local option now that construction is completed on the first-ever trail for Bloody Run County Park.

After more than two years as Monona’s mayor, Barb Collins announced that she would step down from the position at the end of the month in order to become the city’s deputy clerk. She takes over for current deputy clerk Linda Gullickson, who is retired.

More than 3,500 people attended the second annual Art in the Park fine arts festival.

The threat of widespread flooding again hung ominously over the town of Elkader after torrential rains filled the northern watershed. In the end, the Turkey River crested at lower level than predicted: The high mark of 22.57 feet—six feet over flood stage—was observed at 10:45 a.m. Earlier predictions put the crest at 27.7 feet, which would have matched the Great Flood of 2008 that devastated much of the southern end of the town. The town prepared for a worst-case scenario with a massive sandbagging effort. Many businesses on South Main Street, including the Register, evacuated.

Two members of the department traveled to Coalville, UT, which is part of the Salt Lake City metro area, to evaluate a slightly used pumper. The Elkader City Council authorized the travel expenses and also green-lighted the purchase of the truck for $190,000, assuming it passes inspection.

The Clayton County Board of Supervisors approved the second reading and waived the third reading of an amendment to rezone property along the Great River Road for an expansion of mining activities by Pattison Sand.

The new school year brought a few new faces to Central Schools. The district added seven new employees: Mycala Briggs, social worker; Deborah Deitchler, 6-12 Special Education teacher; Eric Gronowski, 6-12 Special Education associate; Shelby Huster, counselor; Jeff Robinson, maintenance; Lauren Schwendinger, 4-5 teacher; and Allison Walch, district secretary. 


“Shorty, the Dinosaur” stopped at FreedomBank, Elkader for a five-day visit. The 10-foot long, 4½-foot high replica of a dilophosaurus (fish-eating dinosaur) traveled throughout the tri-state area to promote “Dinosaurs Unearthed,” 6,000-square-foot exhibit at Dubuque’s National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. 

The fall production of the Opera House Players was “Willy Wonka.” Nearly all performances of the musical were sold out.

McGregor resident Charlene Sauer returned to Siguatepeque, Honduras, through the organization Sharing Resources Worldwide, to help provide eye surgery to kids 18 years old and younger. A nurse practitioner, Sauer was one of 14 medical professionals hand-chosen to take part last year.

Jean Whittle of Volga was inducted into the Iowa 4-H Hall of Fame. Jean has volunteered countless hours for the 4-H youth in Clayton County, whether it is taking tickets or scrambling eggs at the annual brunch, chaperoning the lock-in, or clerking the poultry show at the fair. 

E lkader City Council got its first look at damages and cost estimates associated with last month’s flooding of the Turkey River. 

City Administrator Jennifer Cowsert put the price tag at over $63,000—with several expenses not yet calculated. The most extensive damage involves a portion of the riverwalk on the north side of the Turkey where part of the trail washed away. Repairing the riverbank and sidewalk is estimated at $47,000.

“We also had a small break that allowed a lot of debris into the main sewer lift station and then eventually into the wastewater treatment plant,” Cowsert said. “We think all of that will be around $12,000.”

Removing debris from the bridge will add another $4,500; other debris (trees, sand and so on) will be another couple of thousands of dollars. And then there’s general cleanup costs.

“There’s all that sand in places where it’s not supposed to be like City Park and the river access,” Cowsert continued. “In addition, there are wash-out areas such as the floodway, our parts of Pony Hollow Trail, the shoulders along High Street SE, the driveway at the Little League field and the field itself, the exercise trail at the park and so on. I don’t have costs estimates for those yet.”

The final tally will also include repair costs for an area behind businesses on the north side of Main Street and damaged stones on the Keystone Bridge. Other expenses not related to damages include sand (a partial bill for $1,600 has been received) plus $1,000 for a new hose for a pump.

The Monona City Council approved the appointment of Fran Passmore as mayor. Passmore will finish out the remainder of the two-year term, through the end of 2017.

Marshall Gifford, a 1989 Central graduate, is the school’s newest Hall of Fame inductee. As a Central student, Gifford was an accomplished athlete who, with his brother, Tom, successfully lobbied the school board for a cross country team.


Elkader Mayor Josh Pope made a goodwill trip to Algeria. He traveled to Algeria in late August to attend an “International Day of Peace” celebration. The event included an award presentation named in honor of Emir Abd El-Kader, the Algeria hero after whom the town was named.

Following a decisive victory over West Central, the Warriors repeated as district football camps.

Central’s girls’ cross-country team won districts and qualified for state, marking 14th time the girls qualified for state, the fifth consecutive year of qualifying, the fifth consecutive year of being the district champion and the second year to qualify four or more individuals for the state meet. 


For the second time in as many years, the Central girls’ cross-country team brought home the state 1A championship.

 Brooke Kensinger is named CEO of Central Community Hospital, replacing Fran Zichal who retired in December after 40 years at the hospital.

A new RISE-owned apartment complex with eight units opened. The units have been rented to five RISE clients who are able to live independently and three non-clients, which RISE Executive Director Ed Josten said will build a stronger sense of community.

A team of cultural affairs and historic preservation folks visited Elkader on business. Elkader was the sixth and final stop on a “listening tour” of rural towns designed to help communities understand and access the resources available to them through the DCA and other “quality of life” agencies.

In the 2016 general election, Jennifer Garms defeated Deborah Scott for the position of Clayton County Auditor. Top vote-getter for the Clayton County Board of Supervisors’ seat was Ray Peterson. At the state level, voters returned Michael Breitbach to the senate and the two new state representatives for Northeast Iowa are Kristi Hager (district 56) and Mike Bergan (district 55).

Elkader Police Chief Marvin Duff announced his plan to retire in January. He has been with the department since 2001.

Roger Thomas, Elkader, was inducted into the Iowa EMS Hall Fame in recognition of his longtime service to EMS in Iowa.  Roger became a volunteer firefighter and EMT after returning home from the U.S. Air Force in 1975. 

The Register reported that enrollment numbers at Central had dropped for the third consecutive year. Despite the decrease, Superintendent Nick Trenkamp assured the community that the school is fiscally strong.

Elkader native and former resident Milton Kramer was honored for being Iowa’s longest-serving mayor. He has been the mayor of Manchester for more than 40 years.


Dean Refle was honored at the monthly meeting of the Littelport Fire Department for 50 years of service to LFD.

Roger Thomas completed the process of sorting through, tossing out and packing up the accumulated trappings of 10 years as Main Street and Elkader Economic Development Director. Thomas leavves his posts on December 31, 2016. McGregor native Emily Yaddof, who most recently worked with the Main Street Cedar Falls program, will succeed him. Her start date is January 2.

The Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (SILT) received a donation from Steve Beaumont of Garber of 22 acres currently in timber and prairie.

Roughly 30 people from around the county—representing agriculture, industry, conservation, tourism and economic development, and more—shared their visions for the future of Clayton County at a public meeting in Elkader. The meeting was the second held in the last two months to gather resident input for creation of an updated county comprehensive plan.








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