MM Summer 2018

Page 1

Contrary Brewing

The Merrill Hotel

Lego League

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Page 10

Page 14

ISSN 2475-7128

July/Aug/Sept 2018

Greater Muscatine Chamber of Commerce & Industry

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In this issue Contrary Brewing. . . . . . . . . . 2 Dave Bakke . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Old Friends . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Art Center. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 The Merrill Hotel. . . . . . . . . . 10 Lego League. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 On the covers

Tammy Cook Slater captured the front photo of the riverfront spray fountain on a picturesque cloudy day. Kathy Kuhl caught some clematis in their prime in her front yard for the back photo.

Muscatine MAGAZINE

Greater Muscatine Chamber of Commerce & Industry 100 W. 2nd St. • Muscatine, Iowa 52761-4027 563-263-8895 Fax: 563-263-7662 Muscatine Magazine is published quarterly by:

Editor’s Corner It seems impossible that several months ago, I was hardly holding my phone steady in windy, 5 degree weather to shoot photos of steam rising off the Mississippi River. In recent days, some wind off the river feels much better! With the changing seasons have come some exciting changes in Muscatine. After months of rerouting foot traffic while adding office space, a great new lobby and gym and many other awesome features, the Muscatine Community Y has finished its $7 million renovation project. Remarkably, the facility stayed open throughout the project with hardly a hiccup. By the time this magazine hits mailboxes, the new Musser Public Library and HNI Community Center at 408 E. 2nd Street will have had its big opening celebration. Library Director Pam Collins told me she is pleased to offer improvements including some larger collections, an eat-in area, a parking lot and outdoor movies with their new projector. The dog park is making progress, too. Project co-leader Peggy Gordon said plans are firming up: 2 ½ acres for big dogs, 1 ½ acres for small dogs and a half acre for senior dogs. There will be a double-gated entrance, drinking fountains for people and pups and dog waste bag dispensers. Nearby are Muscatine Soccer Complex, Kent-Stein Park and the new Pollinator Path portion of the bike path where a newly sown prairie attracts hummingbirds and monarch butterflies. These are just a few examples of positive changes in town. Read about more within the following pages. I hope to see you out and about enjoying what’s new!

Greater Muscatine Chamber of Commerce & Industry 100 W. 2nd St. • Muscatine, Iowa 52761-4027 Email: ISSN 2475-7128 Editor: Kathy Kuhl, GMCCI Creative Director: Mike Shield, Shield Design Contributors: Tammy Cook Slater, Joel Kraushaar, Mary Mason-Wheeler, Jen Simmering For advertising info: Contact Kathy Kuhl at (563) 263-8895 or Muscatine Magazine is a quarterly publication focused on Muscatine, Iowa, and the surrounding area. The publisher reserves the right to refuse and/or edit any materials submitted for publication. Published articles and advertising do not constitute endorsement. ©2018

— Kathy Kuhl, Editor

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Muscatine Magazine • Summer 2018 1

Contrary Brewing steps up from nano to micro 3 years after opening, brewery distribution, tap room expand By Kathy Kuhl

How Contrary began

Three years ago, Muscatine craft brew fans learned about nanobreweries when Contrary Brewing Company opened. Soon the town will no longer have one as the brewery/tap room at 411 W. Mississippi Drive expands, giving Muscatine its first modern microbrewery.

Who knew a former mailman would put Muscatine on the map for craft brew fans? Not owner and brewmaster Mark Mitchell.

Contrary will increase output from two to 15 barrels per batch with plans for greater canning capability. These brewing changes should be complete in late July, allowing them to distribute their beer more widely. Canning will come later. In the second phase of renovations, the tap room will grow from a capacity of 49 to 99 people.

“I was at an age when I wanted to do something different with my life,” Mark, 55, explained. “I went to a homebrewer’s convention in Grand Rapids (Mich.), and nine months later, we had this place open.” It was a leap of faith for Robin Mitchell, Mark’s wife and Contrary co-owner. “I remember the day he told me he quit his job. I was nervous but excited for Mark that he was starting something he really enjoys. That is a good feeling,” she said. That was 2015, and nanobreweries were uncommon and virtually unheard of. “We decided on small to not bring in too many people in case it failed,” Mark said. They started with one employee and now have seven. A small start also tested public response. Mark said he’d been complimented on his home brews since the mid-1990s, but “Who’s going to complain about free beer?”

“We wanted to see how Muscatine was with this,” he said, adding that they started with one barrel at a time. “It turns out we have great support.”

Patrons include loyal locals, weekend travelers Weekdays often see the arrival of loyal “mug club” members to try Mark’s latest creations – people like Barry and Dawn Pence and Eric and Patty Henriksen, all of Muscatine. “It’s nice to have the small-place atmosphere to meet for good beer,” Patty Henriksen said. “Contrary’s been the place for that.” Barry Pence said he’s proud Muscatine has a brewery. “It means we’re in the game, too.” The group agreed the bartenders are knowledgeable, guiding patrons to beers they will enjoy.

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Mark said organizations like Melon City Bike Club and Muscatine Pollinator Project meet at Contrary regularly, and some families frequent the tasting room. Weekends see more out-of-towners. Mark calls Saturdays “flight days,” because visitors order these beer samplers to try Contrary’s offerings. There are activities at Contrary, too. Recently, they have offered exercise and a drink with “beer yoga” class. While Contrary has held fundraising concerts, the Mitchells said they will wait to host more until after renovations so they can house a bigger audience. They are unsure about the future of serving food – which has so far been sporadic – or of how the renovated tap room will look, although Mark said changes will be minimal. To accommodate a larger crowd safely, additions will include sprinklers, another entrance/exit, and bigger restrooms.

Distribution to expand, variety to remain Growing the brewing operation will allow them to package Contrary Beers and sell in new places. Currently, Mark said, only 3 to 4 percent is distributed. “We have 10 taps around Muscatine and one in Wilton,” Robin explained. The rest is sold in the tasting room. “We want to distribute 80-85 percent of our products,” Mark said. “Several places have asked for our beer and we had to say no because we don’t make enough. The new equipment will allow us to keep up.” Robin said distribution will create at least two more jobs: sales representative and delivery person. Distribution will begin within a 60-mile radius. Mitchells said inquiries also have come from Cedar Rapids and Des Moines. They will initially distribute three beers including Iowa Pollinator Ale and Cure for Pessimism IPA (India Pale Ale). — Continued on page 19

Muscatine Magazine • Summer 2018 3

Know Your Neighbor

Baiting hooks and dissecting owl pellets In 30 years, Bakke has helped foster knowledge of outdoors By Mary Mason-Wheeler If you grew up in Muscatine or the immediate area, you are more than likely familiar with the name Dave Bakke. Bakke has been a naturalist and park officer with the Muscatine County Conservation Board for the past 30 years. Bakke received his bachelor’s degree from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and his master’s degree from Mankato State University in Mankato, Minn. After brief stops in Hamilton and Henry Counties at the beginning of his career Bakke came to Muscatine. He said the county was looking for someone with both law enforcement certification and nature education skills. As a certified peace officer Bakke fit the bill. He and his family live at Saulsbury Bridge Recreation Area, offering a point of contact as well as extra security to campers and hikers in the area.

(18 months to 3 years) all the way to senior citizens. He has taught at the ELC, Saulsbury, schools, libraries, nursing homes Bakke handles Skipper the red-tailed hawk during a presentation. and other Skipper is one of the permanently injured raptors housed at the ELC. locations. Bakke said the field trips and lessons While there is no formal partnership he and other staff teach may vary between the County and the Muscatine depending on the situation. Community School District, Bakke said teachers call on a regular basis. He explained he has worked with classes on a variety of topics over the years. Some teachers will request assistance with ongoing topics, he said. Grant Elementary in Muscatine, for example, in 2017-18 held an after school series titled “Living with Nature.”

Prior to the development of Discovery Park in 2005, which includes the Environmental Learning Center (ELC) at 3300 Cedar St., Muscatine, school children from around the area would take field trips to the nature center located at Saulsbury Bridge Recreation Area, 2007 Saulsbury Road.

In other circumstances, the Conservation Board naturalists (Bakke and Michelle Berns) will be called to give a specific presentation. “Many times science classes will call us when they are learning about skeletons or other parts of the body. One of our most popular presentations is on owl pellets,” Bakke said. “Students will dissect the pellets to see what the owls have been eating.”

Over the past three decades, Bakke has held a multitude of classes with people ranging in age from toddlers

“Spring is a very busy time for us, we typically host school field trips every day in May.”

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He recalled a specific field trip from four or five years ago. Bakke said a group of second-graders was visiting from West Branch. “It was a fall field trip. It was windy that day, and the children were commenting on how cold they were.” Bakke said he took the group for a walk through the prairie grass at Discovery Park. “The kids noticed that it was much warmer once they were surrounded by the grass. By that time in the season, the grass was over six feet tall,” he said. “We talked about how wildlife would use the grass for bedding and warmth in the cooler months.” The kids could feel the difference and lay down in the grass to see what it would feel like as bedding.

“It was such a special moment. We all lay there in the grass. The sun was shining down, keeping us warm, while the wind was blowing and we could watch the tops of the grass blowing. The students stayed there and were relatively quiet for about 15 minutes. It was a really neat experience.” He also talked about another field trip in which the students were fishing in one of the ponds. “Some days the fish are biting and some days they just aren’t. One day when a group of fifth graders from Wilton were visiting, they were biting so much that it was all the chaperones and I could do to keep up,” he recalled. “We spent the entire time removing fish and rebaiting hooks, it was constant the whole time, and definitely something those kids will remember.” While Bakke told of these specific memories, he added he does not have any particular favorite memories. He said each field trip and presentation is an opportunity for a child or individual to be exposed to nature, and that is special all on its own. Sometimes, the opportunity to present about nature comes in unexpected ways. Recently, Bakke gave a presentation at the Spring (Harry) Potter Festival held on the grounds of Muscatine Community College (MCC).

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Jim Elias, retired MCC business instructor and one of the event’s planners said, “Having Dave host ‘Eeylops Owl and Snake Show’ at the Spring Potter Fest 2018 was a highlight for many festival goers. The MCC Student Center was full of wide-eyed kids and Potterheads of all ages. Dave was happy to help, and we were thrilled to have him bring his owls and other critters.” Bakke said that even though he has been in his position for quite some time, he loves what he does. “People ask me when I plan to retire, but I don’t really think about it. I would love to keep going as long as I am physically able.” n

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Muscatine Magazine • Summer 2018 5

Conversation before and after the book launch, clockwise from upper left: 1) Don Heckman and Luca Berrone share a laugh. 2) Former Muscatine Mayor DeWayne Hopkins reunites with Xia Wenyi. 3) Chinese Ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai and Sarah Lande mingle with guests after the book launch. 4) Bai Runzhang introduces Richard Maeglin (his overnight host in 1985) to his nephew, Ben Bai.

New book honors Iowa-China friendship Many people from Iowa and China keep finding their way back to each other. Most recently, it happened on May 3 in Des Moines. Stories and photos by Kathy Kuhl

the people and for the people.”

Sarah Lande was decked out in bright pink satin for the launch of the new book “Old Friends”: The Xi Jinping – Iowa Story. The story she compiled and retold is about relationships between Iowa, China and the current president of the world’s most populous nation. The book has been five years in the making.

The parts of the story that may be familiar to Muscatine people are the two visits Xi paid in 1985 (leading a delegation to learn about food production) and 2012, and also a 2012 visit to China taken by the Muscatine China Initiatives Committee and some “Old Friends” and “New Friends” to Xi. The terms of endearment are what Xi calls people he met here on his two visits, respectively, and the Chinese visitors from the first trip refer to Lande as “Sister Sarah” for her hospitality during their stay.

Lande scanned the faces in the room and exclaimed, “What a roomful of memories!” She told those gathered, “You are the characters of a memoir of the people, by 6 Muscatine Magazine • Summer 2018

Lande recounted these events in her book as part of its larger narrative about Iowa’s relationship with China, with which she has been highly involved since joining the Iowa Sister States organization in 1984. Xi could not attend the launch, but the celebration at the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates gave turns at the microphone to contributors to the book’s writing and its story. Many Muscatine guests were among the approximately 175 there since about half the people involved in the book’s creation live here and some of the story centers on this town. Many people mentioned and pictured in the book attended the ceremonies.

A van loaded with “Old Friends” and “New Friends” arrived from Muscatine. The “Old Friends” included Richard Maeglin, who hosted two overnight Chinese visitors; Donald Heckman, who was plant manager at the local Heinz factory and gave them a tour; and Barbara Woostra, who befriended the guests at a hog roast. “New Friends” were DeWayne Hopkins, mayor of Mucatine when Xi visited the second time and who in 2012 signed the Sister Cities agreement with Zhending County; Carol Steinmetz, a watercolor artist who created a painting featuring Muscatine landmarks for Xi to take home; and Mary Beveridge, a Chinese teacher who tutored Lande in the Mandarin language. The event’s speakers were Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, president of the World Food Prize Foundation; Bai Runzhang of the Hebei Shijiazhuang Prefecture Corn Processing Delegation of 1985 and Luca Berrone, the Iowa Sister States’ guide for that group; Cui Tiankai, Chinese Ambassador to the United States; Xie Yuan, vice president of

the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries; Hong Lei, consul general of China in Chicago; and Lande. Quinn compared Lande to the late Dr. Norman Borlaugh, founder of the World Food Prize and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his contribution to the world food supply. “They are two of the greatest practitioners of diplomacy.” Other speakers brought words from former Iowa governors Robert Ray and Terry Branstad (currently U.S. ambassador to China) and Governor Kim Reynolds. The book translator, Albert Liu, translated at the ceremonies, and Dan Stein from the Muscatine China Initiatives Committee was master of ceremonies. A Muscatine High School quartet of Garrett Auberg, Karissa Burton, Maddie Bebber and Logan Gray performed – in Chinese – a song titled “Lasting Memory.” Jonathan Ryan directed them, and Bob Danner accompanied the group on piano. n

Buy the book The hardcover book price is $50. It can be purchased

at or by calling the Community Foundation of Greater Muscatine at (563) 264-3863. Its sales fund study abroad programs between China and Iowa. Lande said scholarship details are still being finalized.

Making the book Five years ago, people on opposite sides of the world started writing their shared story of what led to a friendship between Iowa and the Peoples Republic of China. In the East, the group of writers included Chinese President Xi Jinping and four other governmental officials who had visited Iowa – including Muscatine – in 1985. In the West, Muscatine residents Sarah Lande and Joni Axel led the writing team as author and project manager. Translator Albert Liu, designer Amy Bakke, and editor Sarah Minor assisted the effort. Among other contributors were former Governor Terry Branstad (now U.S. Ambassador to China) and former U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia Kenneth Quinn (now CEO of the World Food Prize Foundation). The resulting 100-page bilingual book, “Old Friends”: The Xi Jinping – Iowa Story, informs readers about the deep connections between China and Iowa with multiple voices and 150 photographs. Lande and Axel’s connection to China dates back to a 1984 trip there with former Iowa Governor Robert Ray’s voluntary “Friendship Force” when its borders were opening. Lande then joined Iowa Sister States and continued fostering the friendship. — Continued on next page

A brief timeline of the Iowa-China and Muscatine-China relationship • In 1983, Governor Terry Branstad and the Hebei Province governor signed a sister state agreement. Branstad and wife Chris led a group of Iowans to China to formalize it. • In 1984, retired Iowa Governor Robert Ray and wife Billie started a “Friendship Force” with China. Muscatine residents Sarah Lande and Joni Axel went as part of the delegation. • Lande joined Iowa Sister States in 1984 and was Muscatine’s local organizer in 1985 when the organization coordinated a tour for the Hebei Shijiazhuang Prefecture Corn Delegation, led by Xi Jinping. The men – Xi, Bai Runzhang, Liu Luqing, Xia Wenyi and Yu Xiqing – came to learn about food production.

On a trip through 10 Iowa towns, Muscatine was the only place they stayed overnight in people’s homes and were fed at potlucks, Lande said, to keep down costs. • In 2011, Governor Terry Branstad told Lande that Xi, vice president of China, was returning to Iowa to speak to U.S.-China Agricultural Delegation, and he wanted to come to Muscatine to see “Old Friends.” This was when Lande learned the impression the people of Muscatine had made. • Xi returned to Muscatine in 2012 in a glittering motorcade. In Lande’s living room, surrounded by “Old Friends” and international media, he told the local crowd, “To me, you are America.” • Later that year, Muscatine “Old Friends” and “New Friends” (people Xi met on his second visit) –

including the Muscatine China Initiative Committee – visited China. While there, Mayor DeWayne Hopkins signed a sister city charter between Muscatine and Zhending County. • The Iowa-Hebei Province sister state relationship reached 30 years in 2013. To celebrate, Bai donated his landscape photos to Des Moines and Muscatine and visited for opening exhibitions. • Newly president of China in 2015, Xi came to the U.S. He told President Barack Obama he had “confidence about the future of our relations” based on his friendships formed in Muscatine. • Now, the sales of “Old Friends”: The Xi Jinping – Iowa Story, will go toward Chinese study scholarships, including studies abroad. n Muscatine Magazine • Summer 2018 7

The Muscatine Art Center is located at 1314 Mulberry Avenue in Muscatine, Iowa. Hours are Tuesday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Thursday evenings until 7:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. Admission is free. Donations are appreciated.

Gerberich’s Gadgetry: Re-Tooled on view Aug. 4 – Dec. 30, 2018 Steve Gerberich returns to Muscatine with a new exhibition of Gadgetry – a.k.a. “Art that Moves”. The young and the young-at-heart have immersed themselves in Gerberich’s world of entertaining contraptions featured in previous exhibitions – Springs, Sprockets and Pulleys and Holiday Springs and Sprockets. Gerberich’s Gadgetry: Re-Tooled, on view in Muscatine this fall, captures the imagination with sculptures such as “Glam-O-Matic”, “Stuart Little Tours New York City” and the “Cranky Goose”. Gerberich is a self-proclaimed alchemist of odds and ends. He uses a plastic dinosaur for this, a lampshade for that, and spins it all together in elaborate mechanical sculptures. Originally from Iowa and a graduate of the University of Northern Iowa, he has created from his New York studio for decades and exhibits around the United States. n

Steve Gerberich exhibited Springs, Sprockets and Pulleys in 2010 and Holiday Springs and Sprockets in 2012.

Making the book

Sister States’ board, while Liu helped him prepare for his 2013 Iowa visit to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the State of Iowa-Hebei Province sisterhood.

Continued from previous page —

The book begins with the story of Iowa-born U.S. President Herbert Hoover’s early engineering career in China in the 1890s and ends with Xi’s 2015 first stateside visit as president of China to U.S. President Barack Obama. In between is a history of Iowa Sister States’ people-to-people exchanges with China, including Xi’s first U.S. trip in 1985, which landed him in Iowa to learn about food production. The book idea started with Bai Runzhang, a now-retired Chinese government official who was part of that 1985 visit. Bai mentioned it to Liu, a member of the 8 Muscatine Magazine • Summer 2018

miles,” he added.

All five Chinese men from that trip – Xi, Bai, Yu Xiqing, Liu Luqing and Xia Wenyi – wanted Lande to write the book.

To keep the book secret, no correspondence was done by email or flash drive. Liu said his former job as head of Chinese sales for Musco Lighting took him to China, and Musco owner Joe Crookham was very supportive of the effort. On 15 of Liu’s trips, he gathered interviews, documents and photographs, met with sponsors and worked through the editing process.

“She approaches with friendship, and her view is global,” explained Liu, who is from Jilin Province, China, and moved to the United States in 1991.

Making the book bilingual and suited to both cultures took 30 revisions before it took its final form. Liu said having the book finished is like having a baby born.

“Sarah practices ‘Iowa Nice,’ which can carry over many years and thousands of

Lande said, “Oh my goodness, it’s wonderful to be done!” n

“He handed me a document the visitors from 1985 had put together and said, ‘If the story is not put on paper, it could get forgotten,’” Liu said.

You made more than just their lunch today. People are amazing. We’re here to help keep them that way. To us, you’re family. And as your partner in health, we want to make it easier for you to live well — so you can show up for the moments that matter most.

Muscatine Magazine • Winter 2018 9 Muscatine Magazine • Summer

10 Muscatine Magazine • Summer 2018

The center of

revitalization Merrill brings jobs, visitors, a touch of class

By Joel Kraushaar For over two years the landscape along the Mississippi Drive corridor in Muscatine has been changing. The roads are being raised to minimize flooding when the Mississippi River rises. Partnerships with the railroad have produced a quieter riverfront. And at the heart of this renaissance is the Merrill Hotel & Conference Center, 119 W. Mississippi Drive. With this $40 million capstone in place, guests have begun experiencing more than its panoramic views of the Norbert F. Beckey Bridge and the east-west bend of the waterway that helped shape Muscatine’s economic history.

business community involved a group of soccer parents who needed their early morning java fix before a day of soccer viewing. The parents ran into Elly Lloyd, the owner of Elly’s Tea & Coffee, and arranged field-side coffee service.

“We want our guests to experience Muscatine’s downtown and be as excited about it as we are,” said Merrill Hotel Director of Marketing Lori Denney.

The hotel is also striving to be a local partner, hosting events for people who live and work here. The Merrill’s first big event was the Greater Muscatine Chamber of Commerce & Industry’s annual dinner in March, and there have been other locally-focused events.

An early wave of guests did just that, Denney said, when the Muscatine Soccer Complex hosted a tournament in May.

“We hosted the (Muscatine High School) prom, and we are a strong family property,” said hotel General Manager Tim Marleau.

“(Of ) the teams that stayed with us, one had a group dinner at Salvatore’s and another visited Port City Underground,” Denney said.

The property is seeing an uptick in business clientele during the work week.

Having a downtown-centered hotel creates an opportunity for creativity for local businesses as well. A story that percolated through the downtown

“Business travelers want to stay in the heart of things when they have to go somewhere for work,” Denney said. “When they stay with us they are connected to the whole downtown.

They can walk across the street and jog on the river trail, or grab a bite to eat or a drink at one of the many restaurants or bars.” The Merrill is a competitively priced four-diamond facility. The hotel offers standard king and queen configurations, junior suites, and there are two presidential suites that can be configured from one to three bedrooms. Another benefit of the new hotel is the conference center and event spaces. “These amenities are necessary for attracting different groups, parties, and conferences to Muscatine,”Denney said. The Merrill Hotel & Conference Center is the only facility in Iowa that is certified by the International Conference Center Association, which means it meets the most stringent requirements worldwide for service, rooms and state-of-the-art presentation technology. Hundreds of local, state, and regional organizations and associations each year select locations to host annual meetings and conferences. Kim Hanken is a past member of the Young Professionals (YP) Iowa Board and has been involved in venue selection for the annual YP Iowa conference. When selecting a location, her board has tried to think about what is important to those attending. — Continued on next page Muscatine Magazine • Summer 2018 11

Continued from previous page — “As an attendee, it’s not necessarily the facility the event is at but the community. I like to feel the energy of the city or town when I arrive,” she said. The construction of the Merrill opens the eyes of these organizations to the idea of Muscatine being the host city for conferences and conventions. “Investing in the community to the tune of $40 million dollars screams revitalization to me. It piques my interest and removes a barrier from considering Muscatine as a host city,” Hanken added. An economic impact study of the Merrill was done independently by leading hotel consultant PKF, the University of Iowa and the University of Georgia. Among its findings were that over $19 million and 100 jobs were generated for Muscatine County in the construction phase. Further, ongoing operation of the business will create more than 83 additional jobs, the study said. Marleau said currently there are 65 employees operating the hotel day to day. The study also stated that the hotel will generate over $23 million in tax revenue for the City of Muscatine during its first 10 years of operation. The details of this new downtown centerpiece were meticulously designed to offer each guest a comfortable stay. The Merrill Hotel aims to stay true to the values and visions of its namesake, Stanley Merrill Howe, the former chairman and chief executive officer of HON Corporation who was a champion for Muscatine’s downtown development. His legacy of innovation and caring for the community is in the service philosophy of the hotel staff, and members of the Howe family have been involved in the hotel’s initial funding, development and operations. “Stan’s love of this community and his commitment to Muscatine is the driving force of this hotel,” said Rebecca Kerwin Howe, hotel president and Stan Howe’s daughter-in-law. “Everything we do here is to better serve Muscatine.” n 1212Muscatine Magazine • Summer 2018 Muscatine Magazine • Summer 2018

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BLOCK BY BLOCK, LEGO LEAGUES BUILD MATH, COMMUNICATION SKILLS By Jen Simmering Each year up to 60 Lego League teams converge on the Iowa State University campus in Ames to vie for the title of State Grand Champion. The competition is loud, boisterous and every bit as spirited as a large sporting event. Instead of a ballgame, though, teams and spectators are there to celebrate the advancement of youth participation in math and science. Hundreds of kids between fourth and eighth grades, along with parents, coaches and mentors, all cheer for themselves and each other as the robots they’ve built from Lego parts race across tables full of Lego obstacles, accumulating points for each successful mission. For more than six years, kids from Muscatine have taken their place in the crowd. In the 2017-18 competition season, two teams from Muscatine, “eagles Eagles EAGLES BOOM!” and the “Magical Ninjas” did well enough in regional tournaments to advance to state in January 2018. They took home first place in Robot Design and the Judges Award for Team Spirit, respectively. The season begins in August each year when FIRST Lego League, the nation-

14 Muscatine Magazine • Summer 2018

al competition sponsor, announces the challenge theme. Themes center around betterment through innovation in engineering, and teams must work together to complete a research and design project that meets the challenge. They are then required to build and program a robot to successfully navigate obstacles. Points are assigned for success of the robot mission, but demonstration of scientific research and design method and adherence to the core values of teamwork and gracious professionalism are just as important as the success of the robot on the table. For the 2017 season, the challenge was “Hydrodynamics.” Teams were challenged to invent a solution to problems related to the human water cycle. Becky Zeck, mother of team member and entering West Middle School seventh grader Sawyer Zeck, said the program has taught kids how to be active learners and contributors to solutions bigger than their individual worlds. According to Lego League Team member Nathan Bovenkamp, who will also enter seventh grade at West Middle School in August (along with twin sister

and teammate, Nicole), “It’s just fun!” At the beginning of the season, teams form and decide on strategy for robot design and project research and development. The values of the Lego League program dictate that the kids do the work with support from coaches and mentors who learn alongside them. For coaches, that means a careful balance of nudging teams in a direction that is likely to produce success while standing back and allowing them to learn from their mistakes. Together, kids and coaches build their obstacle field and design a robot that tackles the obstacles. Kids are encouraged to participate in every aspect of the competition, from computer coding to physical design and presentation of their work. Teams perfect their robot and project between August and early December, when regional tournaments take place. At regionals, team robots compete for points with other teams in the area. There are individual judging sessions for project presentation, robot design and demonstration of the core values. Kids and coaches put in about 100 hours of work leading up to regional competition. Teams that stand out

Jonah Simmering of the eagles, Eagles, EAGLES BOOM! Team (an entering 7th grader at West Middle School) watches a referee rate his team’s performance at the Lego FIRST state competition in Ames. The team was being judged on how its robot performed through a field of obstacles.

at their regional event achieve a state tournament spot. This year’s state advancers are part of a tradition that began at Mulberry Elementary School in 2011, when a group of parents began to work together to coach a team of six students who eventually made two trips to an international tournament in Arkansas. There they worked alongside teams from Greece, Japan and Brazil. This team lead the way for the development of two younger teams, with many of the older students serving as coaches and mentors to their younger counterparts after aging out of the program. Since that time, nearly 30 Muscatine students have participated on these teams. Parents volunteer to coach the team and serve as professional resources for research, backed up by generous local professionals who donate their time and expertise.

Through the work they do together each year, kids learn to write computer code, apply mechanical design skills, think critically and speak publicly about what they have learned. With a strong emphasis on teamwork and collaboration, Lego League facilitates the development of responsibility, team engagement, work ethic and sportsmanship. This is clearly visible when spectators watch opposing teams cheering just as wildly for their competitors as they do for themselves and rush to offer help or a spare part to another team in need. Parent and coach Mike Simpson calls Lego League “a unique opportunity for kids to interact and learn independently while being challenged to attack real world problems.” His daughters Izzy and Maya, an entering seventh grader at West Middle School and an entering fifth grader at Mulberry Elementary School, respectively, are both involved.

The skills learned in Lego League are applicable way beyond the program itself, but many choose to continue their robotics work through mentoring a younger team or participating in Muscatine’s high school level robotics team, Fire Island Robotics. Lauren Simmering will enter 10th grade at Muscatine High School in fall. As a Lego League alumnae, current Fire Island member and Lego League coach, she said, “Lego League was an amazing opportunity to learn not only how to work with the robot, but how to work with people. I learned how to advocate for my ideas and listen to others. I’m proud of what we have accomplished and I’m proud of how much I’ve grown in the program.” New teams form every year, and information for coaches and volunteers is available at The 2018 challenge will be the spacethemed “All Systems Go.” n

Muscatine Magazine • Summer 2018 15

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Continued from page 3 — Contrary’s tap room beer menu started at six and has grown to an incredible 16 to 19 at any given time, thanks in part to assistant brewer Colin Behymer. Behymer had enthusiasm but no brewing experience when Mark hired him. “He said I had no bad habits to break,” Behymer said. Now he can be found brewing, transferring, cellaring and kegging beer. He also tends bar. “I do what’s needed. I want this place to do well,” he said. Mark said he plans to maintain the tap room’s variety of beers. New equipment will enable him to brew lagers. “Everything here is an ale,” he explained. “Lagers are fermented at colder temperatures and it takes longer.”

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Another leap of faith Robin said she’s ready to expand to a microbrewery. “Support from the community and customers has been amazing, so I believe expansion is the right thing to do,” she said. Mark said it is also scary because there’s no going back. “We can’t go back to this size,” he noted. But he is more relaxed with growth than he was with starting up. “Robin and I are excited about Contrary Brewing’s future and hope our growth will bring good things to Muscatine.” n

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