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  • Cedar Falls Depot Deserves Support

    • Posted on Feb 28, 2016
    Here's today's Courier Column.  A Cedar Falls landmark has been rescued from the wrecking ball, thank heavens.  Now to get it on the National Register of Historic Places.  

    Losing a piece of history amounts to losing a piece of ourselves.   It’s sad, and when preventable, it’s tragic.  

     That’s why I felt so delighted when I read in last Sunday’s Courier that the Cedar Falls Depot building on 5th and Main won’t go the way of Waterloo’s Paramount Theater or Cedar Falls’ Broom Factory, or any number of landmark buildings around the region that fell to wrecking crews and lack of vision.     

     Part of life necessitates knowing our roots. That would be personal roots, family roots, and community roots. Outside of the Black Hawk Hotel, the Regent Theater, and the Ice House, no community building says “Cedar Falls roots” like the Depot.

     Built in 1871, it was the hub of rail traffic in Cedar Falls, the site of Presidential whistle-stops--Roosevelt and Taft spoke there in 1903 and 1911.  As a tyke, I saw Harry Truman roll through town, stopping at the Depot to speak from the back of the train. I remember a huge crowd gathered for his whistle-stop.     

     Well before that, someone constructed a tunnel underneath the Depot that ran underground across the street.  People have wondered whether it was a stop on the Underground railroad.   Probably not, since the Civil War ended six years before it was built. Maybe a hide-out for bootleggers? 

     A secret gathering place for hobos, gamblers, and lovers?  An escape tunnel for criminals on the run, hopping off one of the 36 trains that ran through Cedar Falls in the late 19th century?  We might someday discover all this, thanks to its continuing existence.  

     To me, the Depot represented the heart of Cedar Falls for years—1972 to 1986, to be exact.  Then it was a fine restaurant, a meeting place, a live music venue.  “It was ‘Cheers’ before there was ‘Cheers’” as owner Shirley Merner put it.  

     I met friends, interviewed UNI faculty candidates, celebrated all manner of events, and performed there as a duo with Robert James Waller and as a solo act later.  

     Bless their hearts, Shirley and Bill Merner were among the few restaurateurs who supported live music as well as offering seriously good food and stocking a great bar. 
    Everybody loved the Depot.   

     I used to pooh-pooh history classes in high school. Then I grew up.   

     Over the years I’ve gotten shivers at Fort Sumter and Gettysburg, tears at the American graveyard above Omaha Beach, amazement on the Galapagos islands, gazing at the same strange creatures that Darwin studied 150 years earlier.  

     History is alive when you know it, and the Depot sits deep in local history.   

    Thanks to Dan Fencl, who bought the Depot with plans to restore and renovate it, and to Friends of Historic Cedar Falls for supporting local history and the Depot.  

     Had the Depot been sold and torn down, I would have called it criminal.   

     Incidentally, I was unpleasantly surprised to learn that the Depot is not on the National Register of Historic Places, though Waterloo’s Chicago Great Western Railroad Freight Depot is.   

     If anyone wants to get our Cedar Falls Depot into that National Register, count me in.   


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  • Intimacy and Balance Both Needed

    • Posted on Feb 21, 2016

    Here is my Valentine's Day column, published last Sunday in the Courier.  Pondering what makes a relationship last and work--balance and intimacy, both.   

    Now in the middle of winter weariness and political nastiness, we could all use a pause.

    Time to reflect on hearts and flowers, romance and soul-mated-ness  That’s Valentine’s Day.   Who needs politics when you have love?       

    Actually, love and politics overlap.  They both require candidates, they both involve necessary support from family and friends, they both sometimes end in heartbreak.

    There the similarity ends.  Nothing in politics goes as deep or lasts as long or requires as much energy and attention as romantic love.  Presidents are remembered for love partners almost as much as their politics.  Think Mary Todd and Abe, Eleanor and Franklin, Bess and Harry, Mamie and Ike, Jackie and Jack, Rosalyn and Jimmie. Oh yes, Hillary and Bill.  

    Those powerful partnerships were formed well before their political successes and lasted well after.  

    Politics amount to the little leagues of human activity compared to love.  Romantic love, being the source of our deepest happiness and most long-lasting pleasures, deserves the constant attention it gets.

    What to say about love in this era of fear and loathing? 

    Two words:  intimacy and balance.  Lasting love brings both intimacy and balance, which contribute mightily to successful bonding.

    My last marriage—in both senses—is now going on two decades.  We’ve been up and down, out and around, endured losses of parents, siblings, close friends and colleagues. We’ve grieved long and hard together.  

    Through upheavals we’ve depended on our intimacy to regain perspective and return to life as we know it.

    The hardest part? Accepting each other’s obsessions, neuroses, scars, carbuncles, warts—clusters of imperfections that make us who we are. 

    We’ve learned to accept, not fix.

    At first I was annoyed by imperfections, then realized I wasn’t going to change hers, nor she mine.  Now I accept them as inevitable and endearing.  

    Along with intimacy goes balance, of necessity.    

    Without an intimate partner, people start taking their beliefs and themselves far too seriously.  Partners provide a sounding board for foolish notions that throw you off kilter. 

    As Gandhi said, “Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, your values become your destiny.”  And your destiny, if it’s true to who you are, requires balance all the way.   

    One example out of dozens:  Every time I fly, I convince myself that this time I’m going down.  I visualize the boom, the drop, the terrible fear ending in darkness.  I’m potentially a mess.  I’ve learned to blurt this fear out loud, and she just smiles, rubs my shoulder and says, “It’s real but not true.”  

    That reminder, which doesn’t work when I say it to myself, sets me straight.    

    Multiply that dozens of times for other fears and obsessions, and you have a more balanced, less fearful man. I do the same for her.  

    Without each other to offer trusted advice and support when we slip out of balance, we’d fall all over ourselves.  Close friends do the same, by the way, but they’re rare.  

    So Happy Valentine’s Day to long-term couples who’ve discovered intimacy with balance, and balance with intimacy.  

    It’s worth celebrating today—and every day.










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