Pondering and Wandering: The Gift of Talent

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Your talent is God’s gift to you . . . and what you do with it is your choice. Remember, though, no matter what you decide to do with it, your talent and efforts to express it, frequently cause God, The Universe, Magical Ponies, Thor, and all of humankind to laugh uproariously behind your back at your innumerable failures.

— Gary Dickson, The Prairie Hills Observer
(Photo and Text © 2018 by Gary Dickson)

Pondering and Wandering: Failure vs. Determination

DSC_0036Failure will never overtake me as long as my determination to blame others for my shortcomings and hopeless situations remains strong and steadfast.

— Gary Dickson, The Prairie Hills Observer

Pondering and Wandering: “Let Your Love Shine”


Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the care, kindness, and understanding you can muster, and do it with the goal of convincing them to change their wills and life insurance, making you their beneficiary. Your life will never be quite the same. And if it isn’t, move on to some other sucker.

You Will Not Read That Book!


News Item: Feb. 20, 2018

By Ian Richardson

ORANGE CITY, Iowa (Sioux City Journal) – Some Orange City residents are petitioning the public library to separate materials that deal primarily with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning — or LGBTQ — themes, as well as to halt any new such acquisitions without public input.

“As a congregation, I would have to say we are shocked that tax money is being used to push this agenda even further,” said the Rev. Sacha Walicord, pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church. “As pastors, we have been silent for far too long. We have rolled over for far too long. This ends now.”

The original petition calling for the new measures was started by Terry Chi, an assistant professor of psychology at Northwestern College, and gathered more than 340 signatures in nine days. Chi’s petition calls for the library to label and separate the materials dealing primarily with LGBTQ issues, provide a content rating service to help patrons make informed decisions and to halt new acquisition of such materials until a public discussion can be held.

He said he was disturbed by some of the literature on the list, which he said included a graphic novel that showed female genitalia and a young adult novel titled “Two Boys Kissing.” Chi’s petition was also backed by the Sioux County Conservatives, a local activist group, but Chi said he closed the online petition due to some of the “inflammatory rhetoric” the group used on a flyer advertising the petition.

Dan Chibnall, STEM librarian at Drake University and the Iowa Library Association’s president-elect, said Tuesday that libraries tend to avoid special labels for books like those requested.

“We believe people should have access to as much material as possible, and it’s up to them as a community to decide what they should read and what they should and should not read with their families,” he said.

3d72e311-00a6-4364-b05c-5362a097ac47-large16x9_LGBTQWow! That’s a pretty disturbing story if you ask me. I mean the censorship, not the book. The book’s fine by me. I thought the idea of banning books went out with Tailgunner Joe McCarthy in the late 1950s.

Apparently not, as a group of 340 Gay-fearing citizens of Sioux County want us to know. It also appears these so-called Christians up in northwest Iowa are afraid the regular books might somehow catch homoseksusualiteit (that’s Dutch for homosexuality) from the LGBT

Orange City Public Library

Q books and transmit it to their offspring. I mean the so-called Christians’ children, not the books’ offspring. I don’t think that’s possible, is it? Oh, but what about paperbacks? Aren’t they the offspring of hardcovers? Nah, never mind.


I thought I should drive up to Orange City and see what the Hollanders had to say for themselves. It’s not too far from here – about an hour’s drive north on Highway 75. So away I went.

As I approached the Plymouth County line where I would enter Sioux County, I began to see a series of signs – four of them all together. The first said, “Watch out! Go No Further.” The second one said, “Caution, Wooden Shoe Crossing”. Sign number three was maybe 50 yards from the county line and said: “Don’t Say We Didn’t Warn You.”   The last one, right at the county line, read: “You Have Reached the End of Civilization! Blessings. The German Catholic Parish Society”. I guess they weren’t fans of the Dutch folks in Orange City.

It wasn’t long until I came to State Highway 10. I turned east and after about six miles I was in Orange City. I found the library fairly easily and inquired of the woman at the front desk just where I might find a spokesperson for the Sioux County Conservatives or the church pastors. She thought a bit, then went over and talked to another woman seated at a desk that said “Youth/Children’s Books”. The first woman returned to where I was standing and said, “You’re in luck. There’s somebody you can talk to right here in the library. He just came in read the newspapers.” She pointed over in the direction of the periodicals and the newspaper rack. There was just one person there, a tall, skinny, pale-looking man with blond hair. He was wearing a navy colored pea coat with sleeves that were about two inches too short for him. He was wearing blue jeans and what looked to be scuffed brown lace-up hunting boots. I walked over and stood by him and cleared my throat until he looked up. Then I introduced myself as the editor and publisher of the Prairie Hills Observer. I told him was looking to learn a little more information about the people who signed the petition to segregate the LGBTQ books for a possible story.

It was about this time that I noticed he had only one eye. Well, that’s . . . interesting, I thought. The bad one appeared to be permanently sewn shut. I wondered why he didn’t wear an eye patch. Maybe he could draw an eye on the sewed up part and color it in . . . or get one tattooed there. So many questions. But I don’t think I’ll ask him any about his missing eye. My loss, I guess.

The man squinted with his one good eye and said, “Ahh, my name is Hendrik van Tonningen – the Reverend Hendrik van Tonningen. I’m the children and youth pastor at the 1 Korintiërs Zuid-Holland Antioch Reformed Church of the Iron-Willed. But most Sioux Countyans just call us First Corinthians Reformed. And you can call me Hendrik . . . for now.”

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A young couple and their daughter, members of 1 Korintiërs Zuid-Holland Antioch Reformed Church of the Iron-Willed out for a stroll after Sunday services.

“Pleased to meet you, Reverend – I mean Hendrik,” I said. I was also wondering to myself just what the hell the kids in his church thought when he gave his children’s sermon. Yikes!

He blinked his good eye a few times while looking me up and down. This was beginning to feel pretty creepy.

“Say, what Reformed Church do you go to, Larry?” Hendrik asked.

“It’s Gary, with a G. Anyway, I don’t go to a Reformed Church.”

“You don’t?” the pastor asked. He was starting to eyeball me suspiciously.

“I mean, I go to church. I mean we, my wife and I, go to a Methodist Church in Sioux City. Sometimes we go to the Congregational Church.”

He smiled broadly then we shook hands.

“That’s good, very good, Jerry.”

“It’s Gary. Good that I go to church? Or good that I go to the Methodist and sometimes Congregational Church?”

“Neither,” he said. “It’s good you have a dry hand.”


“Yah,” he said. “If your hand is sweaty or clammy, that can mean only one thing.”

“Oh, what’s that?”

“That you’re a homoseksueel,” Hendrik said.

“A what?” I asked incredulously.

“You heard me”, the reverend replied rather testily. “A homosexual. A gay man. Or even a bisexueel persoon. Those last two words are Dutch for . . .””

“Let me guess. A bisexual person.”

“Right. And one can never be too careful these days,” Hendrik stated. “You never know. That stuff might spread.”

“Hmmm. I suppose you might have to be cautious around here.”

“Of course,” Hendrik agreed. “By the way, what nationality are you? What is your heritage?”

I laid out my pedigree. “My father’s side is Scottish primarily, plus some English. My mother’s parents were both from Sweden.”

“No Jew in your background? You’re sure?”

“No, not that I know of,” I said.

“Just checking. We try to keep our town pure you know. As we say, ‘If you’re not Dutch, you’re not much.'”

I winced at the old Sioux County joke. “By not allowing people who are Jewish live here?” It seemed pretty incredibly racist to me.

“Correct!” my Scottish and Swedish friend. “That’s our goal with the homoseksueel persoons, too.”

“You want to get them out of Orange City? Along with those of Jewish heritage? Really?”

Hendrik nodded affirmatively. “Yah,” he said. “We have a special place we send them.”

“I’m almost afraid to ask where,” I said. “Seriously, I was hoping it doesn’t have high fences surrounded by razor wire and guard houses.”

“Of course not. Don’t be silly! We send them to Hawarden. There they can drink and carouse and fornicate to their hearts content. They can even go into South Dakota to Alcester, Hudson or even Canton to get their kicks.”

“You know,” I told him, “I used to be the editor of the Hawarden Independent. People here used to say that Hawarden and those other towns were where the righteous people of Orange City and Sioux Center went to party . . . so their neighbors wouldn’t see them. And I hear the substance abuse treatment centers and DUI classes have lots of Sioux County folks in them.”

“Lies! All of it lies!” Rev. van Tonningen shouted. He was getting pretty agitated right now, and I didn’t want him to do anything too crazy in the library. “We start our children young, bring them up right with the organization.”

“What organization?” I demanded.

“It’s one we brought over from the vaderland. It’s called the Jeudstorm – the Youth Storm. There’s good kids in it. Really excellent kids. I mean really excellent kids. They’re the best anyone’s ever seen!”

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Naughty Orange City children and their parents have to wash and scrub streets. Someday they will be old enough for Jeudstorm. And better behaved, we hope.


“Wow, you almost sound like Donald Trump, the president,” I said in mock seriousness.

“That’s not surprising, given one of the slogans from the Jeudstorm. ‘Wij houden van Donald Trump!’ It means we love Donald Trump!”

“Yeah, well, I’m not surprised either,” I told him. “Got any more slogans in that group?”

“Well, the older ones – the 17-year-olds – have a saying. It goes ‘Denken van de aanvalsgeweren geeft me een erectie.’”

“Okay, you got me Hendrik. What does it mean?”

“Ha-ha-ha. ‘Thinking of assault rifles gives me an erection.’”

“Oh, come on.” I thought how’s this guy going to be one of the screeners of LGBTQ books so they don’t corrupt the youth of Orange City’s minds?

“And another one is, ‘Ik krijg geile luisteren naar toespraken van Michele Bachmann.’”

“I give up” I said resignedly. “Something about Michele Bachmann . . . I suppose.”

“Well, Michele is part of it,” Hendrik said quite seriously. “It means, ‘I get horny listening to speeches by Michele Bachmann.’  Ho-ho, ha-ha!”

“And you say you’re a pastor? I don’t know why I even came up here.”

“To talk about sinful homosexual children’s books like Cat in the Hat, Horton Hears A Who, Two Boys Having Sex on the Football Field, and Lucas and his Very Special Ewe.

“Oh, cut it out now,” I said feeling really annoyed. “The first two aren’t about gays and the second two aren’t even the names of real books.”

Well, the second two might be . . . someday. And we’ll be there to flag them as inappropriate for our children’s eyes.”

“Tell me Hendrik,” I ask, “why do you despise gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals and those questioning their sexuality so much?””

“It’s because God hates gays, Terry.”

“I’m not Terry! My name is Gary!  G_A_R_Y,” I could have shouted.

“That’s right, I get mixed up with names sometimes,” the one-eyed pastor said. “I remember you’re not gay . . . or Jewish.”

(Sigh.) “My hands were dry. Remember? And what would it matter if I were gay?”

“Oh, you want to know how I know that God hates gays?” Hendrik said pretending not to hear. “It’s right there in the bible my Methodist friend. In the book of Romans. Romans says they’re given over to a ‘depraved mind.’ In Dutch it’s, ‘Romeinen zegt ze bent overgegeven aan een ‘verdorven geest.’ And that’s the word of God, you know.”

“Well . . . I’m not so sure,” I countered”.

“And how about Corinthians. It’s the book for which our church is based on.”

I recalled the ridiculously long church name. “Oh yeah,” I said, “the Church of the Iron Will. Okay, what’s Corinthians have to say about the LGBTQ community?”

“1 Korintiërs lijsten homoseksualiteit als een van de negen zonden van mensen die zal het Koninkrijk Gods niet beërven.” Hendrik had a smug look on his face, now.

I sighed again and asked him to translate his Dutch mutterings.

“1 Corinthians lists homosexuality as one of nine sins of people who will not inherit the kingdom of God,” he said.

“One out of nine? That’s all?” I asked.

So, there’s more sins out there I thought. They must be pretty awful, like eating roadkill or something just as disgusting.

“Okay Hendrik, tell me what the others are,” I commanded.

“The others?” The pastor seemed flummoxed. “Uh . . . well . . . let’s see . . . uh . . . Okay, here’s one. People who tailgate on gravel roads getting chipped windows.


“And God and the good Christians of Orange City despise he who washes his car on Sundays,” he added. “How about bars that stay open past 10 p.m.? That’s really frowned upon around here. Oh yeah, mowing your lawn on Sunday. Let’s see, there’s more, I just know it. Let me think for a bit, okay?

“Okay, Hendrik,” I say. “You just keep thinking bud.” I see this as my chance to make a break, so I turn around and walk toward the library exit.

“I’m going to head home,” I inform the reverend. “Good luck with your LGBTQ purge. Not!”

Blue Bunny Ice Cream sign close_Le Mars Alley Art_10.08.16
Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor, Le Mars, IA

Finally, I reach the quiet and relative serenity of my 2008 Hyundai. I tell myself that I’ve gotta stop at the Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor in Le Mars and have myself two dips of cookies and cream on a waffle cone. Then I can start to think through this weird shit I just heard.

And as I leave the Orange City city limits on State Highway 10 and then turn south on U.S. 75 a few minutes later, I shake my head and say out loud, “You know, I believe those German Catholics are right, the county line was the end of civilization.”

Finally. An Organization for the Intellectually Average.

It was about half past two on a Wednesday afternoon. I had been sitting in a booth at Scooter’s Coffee Shop for nearly 30 minutes and still the man I was supposed to meet hadn’t shown up. He was supposed to tell me about a little-known Siouxland organization and wanted to know if I would be interested in joining. We met when we were both filling our cars up with gas at a local convenience store. Once he found out that I was retired and wrote a blog, he became even more interested in me and suggested that I could help them publicize the group to a wider population than they’d been able to so far. I’d already had two cups of strong specialty coffee and my stomach was growling. I ordered a cinnamon roll from the worker at the counter and waited while she warmed it up.

Sitting down again I began taking an inventory of the clientele at the coffee shop that afternoon. There were two high school girls studying in one of the booths. Two women, one with a briefcase full of cosmetics open out on a table and a half-dozen brochures in front of her. She was explaining to the other woman how easy it would be for her to make $500 a week selling mascara and eyeliner to just her friends. At the big table in the back sat five people – three women and two men – who appeared to be having a meeting of some kind. I walked by them earlier on the way to the bathroom and overheard them talking about a church committee they were on. They each had a laptop computer opened in front of them. I was willing to bet the two men were looking at porn movies.

I heard the front door buzz as it opened and in walked a curious looking gent of about 50. He was quite overweight – maybe weighing close to 300 pounds if I were to guess. He had on light brown chinos, boat shoes and a bright green knit golf shirt that stretched tightly across his stomach and shoulders. He was about 5 feet 10 inches tall, had wire-rimmed glasses on and looked around the coffee shop quickly. Our eyes met and he nodded at me. I guess he was the fellow I was supposed to be meeting a half hour ago. The man stopped by the counter and placed his order then waited for the counter person to make his double latte whatever. Meanwhile his eyes darted around the establishment some more, as if he were casing the joint or looking for cops who might have a warrant for his arrest. His forehead looked shiny in the glare of the counter lights. I soon learned when he got closer to the booth I was in that it was sweat. I noticed that not only was his forehead sweating, but so were his armpits. His golf shirt had dark stains under the arms. His shirt was soaked with sweat in front, too. He looked like he’d been in a sauna. Only he couldn’t have. It was just after New Years and the temperature here in Sioux City wasn’t supposed to get any higher than minus 5 today and tomorrow. I took a deep breath and held out my hand to shake his. He grabbed my hand with a moist, warm paw and shook it up and down. “Glad to meet you,” he said. “I’m Julius Troutburn, at your service.” We talked for a bit and Julius, or “JT” which is what he preferred to be called, began to talk about his organization.

“What’s it called again?” I asked. “Dance-a” or something like that?”

JT eyed me suspiciously as if I had talked about sacrificing kittens or something equally heinous.

“No,” he said slowly. “It’s Denssa. Pronounced Denssss-ahhh,” he said making the first syllable stretch out and sound like the hissing of a snake.

“Okay,” I agreed. “Denssss-ahhh,”, mimicking the large, sweaty man sitting across the table from me. Actually, I was thinking to myself that I didn’t want to piss this guy off, what with his beady, darting eyes and profusely sweating abdomen. He could be ready to explode and start hacking me and the church committee members to death with a machete I was worried he might be carrying somewhere on him. That’s probably why he was sweating so much. The machete in his pants was uncomfortable and causing his underwear to bind up. And now that I looked more closely at him, I thought I could detect a slight twitch in his right eye. But then JT smiled with a grin as wide as the Missouri River, sighed, and began to educate me again about Denssa.

“It was 2002,” he said. “Gateway Computers had moved out and the Sioux City Stockyards was closed. People in town were depressed. I mean really depressed . . . especially after the stockyards closed! It was as if we’d lost our meaning in life. There was no direction. No purpose. We’d lost our joi de vivre.”

JT’s shoulders were sort of hunched over and his head was down as he related those sad moments in Sioux City’s recent past. At that moment the big man looked like he was going to tear up. I felt sort of sorry for him. But just then, he lurched straight back against the booth wall, with his head rocketing up and he snorted. I mean he snorted . . . really loud. Even the church people glanced over our way.

Then he continued. “But those of us who inhabit this burg; those of us who people in Sioux Falls laugh and make jokes about us not being able to read; well, we’ve got pride. We could rebound a group of us thought. After all, didn’t Sioux City have a corn palace before Mitchell, South Dakota even dreamed of it? Of course, it did. Even if we only had the corn palace for four years. It took gumption, promotion, cojones.”

“Sooo, it sounds like that was the motivation you needed to start Denssa?,” I asked. “In 2002?”

“Oh, hell no,” JT roared. This caused the two high school girls to move a couple of booths down closer to the door. “We never got started until last year!”

“Last year?” I wondered. “Why didn’t you start it back in 2002 when the Stockyards Closed?”

“Oh, I couldn’t. I’d picked up my third DUI and that, combined with a possession of meth with intent to deliver charge got me sent to prison.”

“Really?” I asked skeptically.

“Yup.” Stated the big guy. “I’m going to get off paper pretty soon. This summer, I hope. Then maybe I’ll get my driver’s license back.”

“You don’t have your driver’s license and can’t drive? How do you get around? Take the bus?”

“Nah, I ride my bike,” he said pointing with his chin out the coffee house window to a beat-up ten-speed laying on its side in the handicapped parking spot.”

“Wow. So, tell me, JT, who are your members. I mean, what do you require for someone to be able to join Denssa?

“Well, we’ve got some pretty tough requirements,” he said. “Really stringent rules.”

“Really?” I asked. I began thinking there must be more to this guy than meets the eye.

“Really. First of all, a prospective member has to be able to fog a mirror.” He sat there with a smirk on his face waiting to see how I’d react.

“Hmmm,” I replied.

“Then we check his or her background. We want to know that the applicant comes from good stock. Then there’s the test.”

“A test? What kind of test?” I was getting pretty interested again.

“You can take it today if you want. I mean, I can administer it right here,” JT said with a gleam in his eye.

I readily agreed to take the test. I knew I was up for the challenge.

JT pulled out a folded-up sheet of notebook paper and borrowed a pen from the coffee shop cashier’s station. He pushed the paper and pen across the table towards me. “Here’s your testing material. I’ll tell you what the questions are. You can write them down.”

“How many questions are there?” I asked.

“Just two,” he said. “Ready?”

I nodded my head affirmatively.

“Question one is, What’s the opposite of a tree?  Question two is, Why are manhole covers round?”

I quick wrote them down on my paper. “That’s it?”

“That’s it,” the sweaty man said. “You have 15 minutes to complete the exam.”

Well, I knew why manhole covers were round. It’s so they won’t fall into manholes. If they were square or rectangular or triangle-shaped, they would fall into the holes. I learned that in a book by Malcolm Gladwell that I’d read. But it was the first question that stumped me. I stared at the page for 14 minutes, then wrote “a car.”

JT looked at my answer sheet and exclaimed, “Wow! A perfect exam! You got them both right.”

“I did?

“Really I wasn’t sure you’d get the second one correct, because that’s the only one I knew the answer to,” he said with a silly grin on his face. “It doesn’t matter what you put down for the first question, any answer is correct!”  You didn’t expect any group who had as their first standard of membership an ability to fog a mirror as going to be really difficult to join, do you?”

“Not really, I guess,” I said sheepishly.

“What this says is that you have around an average IQ – which is just perfect for Denssa!”

“Golly,” I said sarcastically. But JT didn’t pick up on it. He was bounding up to the counter and ordering two large chocolate chip cookies for us.

“A little celebration snack,” JT said.

I asked how many members there were in the Siouxland Denssa group. He told me that if the weather was good and if nobody had a meeting scheduled with their probation or parole officer, there were around 10 who attended out of a total membership of 16. He said they meet in various locations around the area as they don’t have a permanent meeting site. I wondered what the group did in their meetings.

“Oh the usual,” he said. “We have old business and new business to discuss. Sometimes we have a guest speaker – usually someone who we think exemplifies our humdrum ideals, who is really mediocre and who might know a simple joke or two. In the past we’ve had a couple of the Woodbury County Commissioners, the city manager of South Sioux City, the president of Western Iowa Tech, the new executive director of the Sioux City Symphony. He was great – dumb as a rope, too. And speaking of dumb . . . we even had Congressman Steve King come speak last year. Boy, he was a hoot! He wore his KKK hood and robe to our meeting. Then afterwards he led us in burning a cross out along the riverfront. “

“Sounds . . . intellectually stimulating, I guess.”

“Not really,” JT said. “But if somebody’s got a gimmick and a joke or two, we’re all over it!”

It was getting on toward 4:00 p.m. and JT kept looking at his watch. He said he needed to meet some of his Denssa buddies downtown in about 15 minutes. I offered to give him a ride if we could get his bike into the trunk of my car. So we crammed his bike into the trunk with the front wheel sticking out. I had some rope in the car which I used to secure the trunk to the latch so the bicycle wouldn’t bounce out. Then away we went, headed for downtown Sioux City.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“To the bus depot.” JT responded.

“You mean the MLK Transportation Center? Why there? Are you guys going to catch a bus home?”

“No way, man! Every other Wednesday the transit system director has us come down there and lets us announce where the busses are going,” he said proudly. “Then, if we time it right, we’re able to be there when the big bus from Kansas City and Omaha comes in to pick up passengers for Sioux Falls and Minneapolis.”

“Wow. Sounds like. A lotta. Fun.”

“Oh, it is,” JT gushed. And then afterwards . . . afterwards we have knock-knock and Norwegian joke telling contests. You should stay. I could introduce you to some of the crew. There’s Elmer and Lenny and Side Pocket Sally and . . . “

“No thanks, JT,” I said. “I’ve got to get groceries and pick up the missus at work. Maybe another time. But I’ll be sure to mention Denssa in my blog.”

“Allright, I guess,” the large, still sweaty man said. “You don’t know what your missing.”

I pulled up outside of the transportation center and helped JT get his bike out. We said our goodbyes and he pushed his ten speed

Bluebird of Happiness
This Bluebird of Happiness didn’t make it to the Martin Luther King Jr. Transportation Center for the Denssa outfit.

toward the transportation center door. I closed the trunk and started to get in the car when I heard of voice cry out, “Hey, JT! How’s it hanging, man? I got one for you. Knock-knock.


“Who’s there?” JT said laughing.


“Iva who?”

“Iva sore hand from knocking!”

Both were laughing uproariously as I slowly pulled away from the curb in front of the bus depot. I was already thinking of some knock-knock jokes that I knew.

The Lizard, Hungry Hogs and a Photo a Day for 8 Years



Frederick Manfred


Here is more about Siouxland and Frederick Manfred which I wrote about in the previous posting. I’m also sharing information about a fellow who I think people should know more about: Mike Hazard, the writer, director and producer of American Grizzly: Frederick Manfred as well as several other videos.


This film, co-produced and directed and written by Twin Cities photographer, filmmaker, teacher and poet Mike Hazard, provides an excellent insight into the late writer Frederick Manfred. American Grizzly: Frederick Manfred is a half hour biographical portrait of the late author with poetry, excerpts from novels, and interviews.

I’m not sure how many videos or films have been done about the Luverne, MN writer, but I think this one does a marvelous job of showing Manfred in his prairie element as well as his rural northwest Iowa roots. Particularly enjoyable is Manfred reading a passage out of his semi-autobiographical book, Green Earth where he relates a scene where the character Free rescues his brother Albert from a bunch of sows who want to have the hapless younger brother for lunch.

Most of Manfred’s novels were tightly focused on what he called Siouxland, a place I described in the previous post. He wrote about the people, the farms, the land and the values of that area near the junction of the three states of South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa — a drawback for some critics who tended to classify him as a regional writer, not one who had a worldly viewpoint in his work. But for those who have read Manfred – and I have read only a few of his books – will notice that even though the characters, the language and setting appear to only depict this fictive region – they reflect a broader and more universal experience that rolls across borders and resonate as truth in the hearts and minds of a wider swath of readership than eastern critics would want us to believe.

Mike Hazard: Someone you should get to know.


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Mike Hazard (Photo by Tressa Suarz)

Mike Hazard, the executive producer of this film, has been the artist in residence for the Center for International Education since 1975. His Facebook profile says he “makes documentary films, writes poems, clicks photographs and walks around the block.” Mike also teaches people of all ages how to make videos and photographs for COMPAS, a non-profit education organization in St. Paul, MN that teaches through art. Besides American Grizzly, Mike has also produced and written films about the poet Robert Bly and the Hmong in the Twin Cities.


Nicknamed Media Mike, Hazard has written, directed and produced five films that have been released nationally on PBS. His documentary on the late Senator Eugene McCarthy was awarded the D.L. Mabery Prize, Minnesota’s Oscar. He is a Bush Artist Fellow, and his work has been collected by museums around the world including the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

I got to know who Mike Hazard was from my sister-in-law, Cheryl Pashby Dickson. Cheryl lives in St. Paul and is the retired executive director of the Minnesota Humanities Commission through which she met Mike. Her organization provided some of the funding for American Grizzly: Frederick Manfred. My wife and I were having coffee with Cheryl this last October during our last visit to the Twin Cities and she thought Mike and I shared some similar interests and talents and suggested I connect with him. I checked out Mike’s work online at the Center for International Education and COMPAS. Both sites also referred me to his Facebook page where there were several “Albums” of his very extensive work.

365 Friends

Mike became interested in Ko Un who writes a poem about every single person he has met in his life. Also serving as inspiration for Mike was William Stafford who tried to write a poem every day and Jim Denomie who painted a painting every day during 2005.

Inspired by these three, Mike has been posting pictures with stories to Facebook every single day for eight years. That’s a lot of photographs. And a lot of stories. But there’s more: Mike also is profiling people at an organization called Peace House in photos and words and photographing the Hmong American Farmers Association in a project titled Seeds of Change. The project includes a video, a book and a growing collection of photographs.

For me, it is the 365 Friends album that is most interesting. Each photograph and story features someone you might meet while walking around the block, or going for a Saturday afternoon drive. Like Cindy Mase, the proprietor of the Towne Marina at Waconia Lake. She’s also a retired school teacher. Or Tom, who was “fixing the trippers” (the bricks that posed a tripping hazard) on the floor of the Cowles Conservatory. Then there’s Damien, a third grader who starts his day by stopping in and saying hello to Mrs. E., his teacher from second grade.

Anyway, you’ll get the picture . . . and story . . . at 365 Friends. After you’ve watched American Grizzly, stop on by Mike Hazard’s Facebook page and check out his albums and projects. If you have any curiosity about the human condition or education or arts or just to want to learn about some interesting people, you won’t be disappointed.

So, What Is ‘Siouxland’ Anyway

What’s in a name?

Plenty, when it comes to geographic marketing names. At least that’s the case with the name, Siouxland.

You’ll notice at the top of my blog that I provide “Commentary, Ideas, Features and Images about life in Siouxland”. I realize that word Siouxland could be confusing to some.

So just what is Siouxland anyhow?

It depends on who you ask, really. I mean if you ask the advertising manager at one of the local Sioux City television stations like KTIV-TV they would say it equals their station’s coverage area. Or even something more grand sounding. Their website crows that they “. . . are Siouxland’s News Channel. Our mission is to provide you with the latest in news, weather, and sports in Siouxland.”

KCAU-TV, the local ABC affiliate, incorporates the word in their web address announcing they are “Siouxland Proud”. This station somehow expands the territory of Siouxland eastward into central Iowa with a breaking news story tonight regarding the snow we’ve been having today. “The snow that caused a few headaches across Siouxland Monday morning has turned deadly.” They go on to describe a multi-car crash that occurred on I-35 near Ames. Hmmm. The distance from Sioux City to Ames is 180 miles. I’m pretty sure KCAU’s signal doesn’t come close to reaching Ames, making it quite a stretch to include it within the boundaries of Siouxland. I guess though, Siouxland may be wherever you want it to be.

Our local CBS affiliate, KMEG-TV, is a bit more specific saying they “. . . are the news source for Northwest Iowa, Northeast Nebraska, and Southeast South Dakota.” Then the station jumps into the marketing fray by saying their meteorologist is “Siouxland’s Chief Meteorologist Chad Sandwell.” They also use Siouxland in part of their web address, too.

Many people then think that the name Siouxland only refers to Sioux City. And one would be correct in thinking the name Siouxland is a popular name for businesses and organizations in Sioux City and nearby communities. In the January, 2018 edition of the Century Link Sioux City phone book, I counted 92 entities that used Siouxland in their name. This also included versions of the name like Soo Land, Sooland and Sioux Land. But the name also gets used in Sioux Falls as well. Take for instance the Siouxland Public Library, the Siouxland Heritage Museum, Siouxland Oral Maxillofacial Surgery Associates, Siouxland Forklift and the Siouxland Renaissance Festival in that city.

Still, some in Sioux Falls did not care for the fact that so many people in that community thought Siouxland referred to Sioux City. This bothered them so much that they came up with their own moniker for that city and the area near it. They called themselves the Sioux Empire. Nowadays there’s the Sioux Empire Fair, which has been trumpeted as “The Biggest Show in the Sioux Empire”. There’s also the Sioux Empire Farm Show, credit union, Boys and Girls Club, and various other associations and businesses with some version of Sioux Empire or Empire in their name.

But those who think Siouxland refers to only Sioux City would be wrong. In fact, the term wasn’t created to be a marketing tactic or definition of a school athletic region. The term was coined by writer Frederick Manfred in 1946 in his third novel, This Is The Year. Manfred was born and raised in the region near the intersection of Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota and wanted to incorporate the area into his writing. He defined “this area where state lines are not important,” where the people there are connected by mutual interests, a common identity and a shared history. Manfred created in his books a fictional region which John Calvin Rezmerski noted in the Frederick Manfred Reader (1996) was “a kind of alternate world in which there is a town called Bonnie where our world has a town named Doon, in which Savage has been replaced by Brokenhoe and Luverne is named Whitebone, and in which nevertheless, Sioux Falls is still Sioux Falls and Minneapolis and St. Paul are still the Twin Cities . . .“ (p. xv)


Map of Siouxland from endpapers of This Is The Year (1947). Reprinted with permission.


Siouxland is the region in which most of his work is set. This includes Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota “. . . and especially where those states meet near the confluence of the Big Sioux and Missouri Rivers.” (Rezmerski, p. xvii). Of course, the exact confluence of the Big Sioux and Missouri Rivers is at Sioux City, but Manfred is said to have included the area between and including Sioux City and Sioux Falls. The entry for Siouxland in Wikipedia states the region encompasses the drainage basin of the Big Sioux River. This drainage basin stretches from south of Sioux City, IA through Sioux Falls and up to Watertown, SD. It includes the southeast corner of South Dakota, northeast corner of Nebraska, northwest corner of Iowa and the southwest corner of Minnesota.

So, if we go with Manfred’s description of Siouxland, then we will have to say that the Sioux Empire is a part of Siouxland. So there!

Where does that leave me and my blog, The Prairie Hills Observer? Well, I generally consider Siouxland the way Frederick Manfred laid it out. Of course, I will likely end up focusing mostly on the lower drainage basin of the Big Sioux River and part of the Missouri River basin from Yankton to Tekamah, Neb. I may include photos and stories from as far west as Norfolk, Neb. and as far east as Storm Lake and Sac City, IA. But mostly you’ll find me concentrating a little bit more on the three-state area near Sioux City. The photos in the slide show at the bottom of the page were taken at various locations in Siouxland.

I’m sorry if this posting confuses you a bit. Maybe. You should at least be happy that you found out where the term Siouxland came from and that a Sioux City television station has Siouxland’s Chief Meteorologist working for them.


What are some of the regional names you’ve come across in your travels or where you’ve lived?

Are they used for marketing by the businesses in those areas?



John Calvin Rezmerski (Ed.). The Frederick Manfred Reader. Duluth, MN: Holy Cow! Press, 1996

Manfred, Frederick [as Feike Feikema]. This Is the Year. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1947

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Remember, Gary, We Have To Live In This Town, Too.

I remember my mother’s oft-repeated words like they were uttered 15 minutes ago. They usually came as part of an admonishment for having done something naughty or bad.

Like the time when I was 11 or so and my friend Ray and I spray painted the neighbor’s nice white fence with red zeros and Xs. Of course, we denied it at first, but our parents and Mrs. Baker, who owned the fence, didn’t believe us. Probably due to the red paint stains on our jeans. Anyway, the consequences of our graffiti adventure were that Ray and I had to paint over the red paint with several coats of white paint. I’m not sure what Ray’s folks said to him after the paint repair, but my mom made sure to remind me that she and dad had to still live in our little town of 4600 or so people and didn’t want any negative publicity floating around.

I can still picture my mom standing in the kitchen, one hand resting on her hip and the other with a boney index finger jutting out in my general direction, moving up and down keeping count with her the words coming out of her mouth. “Remember, Gary, we have to live in this town, too.”

Mom’s go-to admonishment could be used iDSC_0049n other types of situations as well. Like when I wanted to express my outrage or indignation regarding actions or statements of adults – especially teachers – some of whom I found to be particularly hypocritical, degrading or unfair. The idea of her youngest child bringing undue negative attention or shame to our family was anathema to my mom and it was to be avoided at all costs. Even if it meant me having to swallow humiliation or abuse at the hands of certain authority types.

But then I went to college on the other side of the state. Here I discovered that my opinion was valued, that I didn’t have to tolerate the way things were. I could speak out, which I happily did as a student. I could verbalize my opposition to the Vietnam War, trees being cut down on Cherry Street to make way for a state highway running alongside of campus, the building of an eight and a half million-dollar jock temple called the Dakota Dome, President Nixon, the Oahe Irrigation Project, or unequal funding of women’s athletics on campus. I started working for the University of South Dakota student newspaper, The Volante. I learned to write, to ask questions, to get both sides of a story and how to express my opinion in writing. After college I worked as a newspaper reporter and photographer and an advertising/public relations writer. I found myself developing increased compassion for the human condition, so I decided to go back to college and learn a profession where I could channel that compassion . . . with a master’s degree in mental health counseling.

I worked in a variety of therapy settings, a university counseling center, several substance abuse treatment programs, psychiatric hospitals, outpatient mental health agencies and private practice. Along the way I took a couple of two-year breaks to return to the newspaper business, editing papers in Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa. Last September, after 30 years in the counseling profession and nine or ten in journalism, I decided to retire.

Along the way I’ve continued to maintain my compassion for the human condition. I still feel outraged when I see hypocrisy in government, religion, education or social services. I get twitchy when I read about, hear or experience xenophobes and nativists – like western Iowa’s very own Congressman Steve King. I cringe when I see what is being done to our environment and shake my head at the stupidity of those who deny climate change. It bothers me when I see people (usually men) physically, sexually, emotionally and financially abusing others (usually women) in order to feel powerful and in control. It especially annoys me when I see such behavior coming from the current President of the United States. So, when any of this occurs, I’m probably going to write about it. . . in this blog.

And gosh darn it, I still have to live in this town/region/state, too.

So, what you’ll find in this blog are my opinions, concerns, experiences . . . my life. Oh, and maybe a transcribed conversation or two with my cat, Baxter, King of All Siouxland. Yes, you’ll find that sometimes I’m an amusement to myself.

Lastly, there will be photographs – because I’m also a photographer – and I want to show people the images of our environment, people, buildings and history. As I experience them. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll nudge you into seeing our world a little bit differently.


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