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  • Lunch with a Leader: Leon Mosley

    • Posted on Sep 27, 2016
    This appeared in the Waterloo Courier on Thursday, Sept. 22.  Leon was a great interviewee, and a great man--and a bit scary because he's so honest.  

    Cross Crocodile Dundee, Dirty Harry, Charles Bronson, and you have Leon Mosley.   A vigilante.  

    Yet he’s still a family man, a church-going God-fearing community activist, and an all-around concerned citizen who served on the Black Hawk County Board of Supervisors for 16 years.  A Republican, no less.  

    He also served on a variety of volunteer boards all over the country, and was a leading advocate for closing down Waterloo crack houses that were destroying whole neighborhoods.  Call him a responsible vigilante.  

    “I’d go to those houses with my big RCA video camera and get evidence video for the police.  I was gathering documentary reports to help them make arrests.”  

    He became a consultant for several Iowa cities, and well known for his effective drug-fighting activism.  He never took the law into his own hands, never became a one-man army. 
    But don’t threaten him.  “Messing with me is like tickling a bobcat.”  He towered over me, and at 70, looks like he could take down most anyone.  When he gets mad, watch out.   

    “If you see Leon in a fight with a bear, go help the bear”—has been a joke that  tells with delight.   

    “I have a terrible temper,” he told me over lunch. “I get so mad at these bad kids that I have to watch myself.”  He’s been threatened, shot at, and insulted as an “oreo” and “Uncle Tom” because he works well with both whites and Blacks.  
    Afraid?  “Never,” he said.  “I know when I’m right, and I do it.  

    When you tell the truth, you never have to remember what you said.  You just keep telling the truth.”   

     He certainly has the respect and friendship of both Waterloo Police Chief Trelka
    and Mayor Hart.  “I love both these guys—and want them to succeed.”  His main weapon has been his phone number.  He openly gives it to everyone, and says if they’re afraid to call the police to report lawbreakers, call him—and he’ll report them.  

    That takes plain guts, and the police consider him a valuable crime-fighting partner.   

     Our lunch happened during the Trelka controversy, and I went to Mayor Hart’s news conference that same afternoon, as did Mosely.   It was clear to Mosely that community support (including his own) had affected the Mayor, and Mosely was pleased. 

     “He did the right thing, which only makes sense.  Problems of respect for the police started long before Trelka took over, and Trelka’s been doing his best to fix it.”  

    For Mosley, community crime problems begin at home.  Too many parents have given up raising their children, and that infuriates him.  “Kids are raising each other on the streets.  No parents or teachers they respect.  They end up in jail or prison.” 

    Just the week before, he visited the Cattle Congress, and a group of junior high schoolers—mostly girls, were at the grounds violently fighting among themselves. 

    The next night, they shut down the entire Cattle Congress grounds due to kids fighting among themselves, menacing visitors. “They’re not really gangs—just young teen girls—all Black—fighting each other,” Mosely observed.  

     “The police were there in two minutes, breaking them up, but I don’t think they did much.  Probably should have arrested them.”   

    To Mosley, these kids needed a “good whoopin’” meaning just what he got as a kid when he made trouble. “My father whacked me good with a paddle, and I knew I deserved it.  That’s how I learned respect.” 

    “When they made corporal punishment illegal, that’s when problems started,” he insists, “But I know we can’t do that now. We have to find other solutions.” 

    Unfortunately, those solutions elude him.  “I really don’t know how to make families more responsible. I can only report what I see and try to help.”  

    I asked what keeps him going, given all the threats and criticism.  

    “I learned a motto from my father,” he said.  “If you don’t know what’s worth dying for, you haven’t lived.”   Making the community “safe for the good kids” is worth dying for, he says, and he means it. 

    “Really, it’s the 80/20 rule.  Eighty percent of our kids are fine, but we spend all our time dealing with problem kids.” 

    So what would cause real change. “I thought when kids get killed
    on the street by other kids we’d wake up.  That happened, but still nothing changed.”  

    He’s sure that two hundred young witnesses watched a murder on Airline Highway and not one came forward.  “We have to change that, and I’m doing what I can.” 

    If more responsible citizens would routinely report crime and criminal activities, everything would in fact change for the better.   

    Leon Mosley has shown the way.  



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  • Professor Josef Fox: An Appreciation

    • Posted on Apr 04, 2016

    By the time you read this, a long-time Cedar Falls resident and local legend will be well on his way to his new permanent home in Peacham, Vt.

    Joe Fox is probably into Ohio by today, rolling east on the turnpike in his old blue Ford for the last time.  Just last Friday I lunched with Professor Fox and another (besides myself) former UNI student-turned-faculty member, Robert Waller.  

    Robert and I both felt a need to say goodbye to the Grand Old Man of UNI, the professor whose legend had touched us both.

    Back in the late fifties-early Sixties, when ISTC was becoming  SCI, the saying among students was “Avoid the four F’s!” These were professors whose last names all began with “F” and that was supposedly the grade that they most often assigned. “Fox” was of course one of them.

    Yet, Fox was also given the “Favorite Prof” award an unprecedented three times, showing that those students who didn’t obey the “Four F” rule loved him.

     That’s the way it is with legends, I suspect; they’re both loved and hated, revered and feared. Legends never provoke indifference, and Joe Fox never tolerated it, either in himself or in his students.

    The key to his legendary status around UNI certainly was his presence. Joe Fox always seemed like a huge man to me. Actually he’s not; he’s under six feet, and probably weighs around 170.

    But he always projected himself outward with a thunderous, rolling voice, carefully cadenced into fully realized sentences. He orated when he spoke, much like Orson Wells narrates or the younger Everett Dirksen spoke before the senate.  

    And Joe would look at his hearers with penetrating, intense eyes-no glasses-under a deeply furrowed forehead and bushy eyebrows.  His eyes always seemed to place his points while his voice hammered them home.

    More than one freshman trembled before Josef Fox’s rolling thunder.  Indeed, more than one faculty member and administrator trembled.

    I remember once when the administration committed an obvious blunder; the whole faculty knew it, as did most administrators, but they forged ahead anyway, defying the full faculty and refusing to admit their mistake.  

    At a faculty meeting held to debate the issue, someone said, rather weakly, “Maybe we could just count on the Board of Regents to act honorably and overturn this decision.”  

    This was after long debate and discussion.  Joe Fox rose majestically, took us all in with a deep, sorrowful glance, and began softly, “If (pronounced “eeehff”) the department head had acted honorably, we would not have to deal with this problem today.  (pause. Then louder) And eeefhh the dean had acted honorably, we would not have to deal with this problem today.  (longer pause. then almost shouting.)

    AND EEEHFF THE VICE PRESIDENT AND PRESIDENT HAD ACTED HONORABLY, WE WOULD HAVE NO PROBLEM TODAY. (pause. now very softly again.)  Ladies and gentlemen, I submit: If our administrators haven’t yet seen fit to act honorably, we would be foolish to expect the Board of Regents, who hired them, to act honorably NOW!”

     The faculty always giggled a bit after these outbursts because such passion and rhetorical flair had long gone out of style.  Cool reserve and stumbling managerial doublespeak was the order of the day.

    Still, no one could deny Joe Fox’s presence, and his speeches, which he usually placed at the end of a faculty debate, would often swing a vote entirely.

     So I was surprised when I asked him, “Joe, why didn’t you ever publish your ideas nationally?”  And he answered “I wasn’t good enough.  By the time I was 40, I realized I wasn’t going to write a great book, and my pride wouldn’t let me write a bad book.”  

    So Joe Fox’s legend has remained local/

     But not his legacy.  Friday afternoon, afternoon, after his final lecture, he took a moment to thank his “Present Predicament of Mankind” class for their attentiveness.  The whole class rose and fervently gave the Old Professor a sustained standing ovation.  

    It was a movingly right moment, though we all knew we couldn’t repay him for those 32 years of exhorting, explaining, questioning, wondering aloud, struggling with mankind’s follies, tragedies, and now the ghastly predicaments facing us all.

     What Joe Fox leaves us is the notion that education, a genuinely liberal education, is a fundamental first condition for understanding one’s self and the world.  Without that, we remain in personal darkness.  He insisted that we must change our attitudes and institutions, and soon.  To not change is to not survive.  

    And Joe thought that the most important mission of the university is changing students’ minds-teaching the ways of seeing, thinking and communicating that will insure mankind’s survival.

     He was not optimistic last Friday.  He saw a horror of a decade ahead precisely because so few people can or will change.  But of those few who do initiate positive changes, Fox insisted that it will be because they were touched sometime by a good teacher in a good class.

     Professor Fox was too modest last Friday to suggest he made that kind of difference at UNI.  When I asked him what he thought his major accomplishment had been, he said with a chuckle, “I made up the reading lists for the humanities course years ago.  That got the students reading books they wouldn’t have.  That’s my major accomplishment.”  
    Well, as he would say, horse manure.  

    Those of us who know him well or appreciated him as a teacher carry part of him with us as his permanent legacy.  When we catch ourselves hearing a voice thundering inside us, “By damn, that’s Wrong!” or “What is the REAL problem here, beneath all this CRAP?” or “I’m sorry, I’m confused.  Please enlighten me,” we can thank our local legend, Professor Josef Fox.

    He’ll be more than missed at UNI. He’ll be remembered and revered. 

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