History project included mighty expert panel

When asked to head up a project to commemorate the Press-Citizen’s 150th birthday by selecting notable people from the past 150 years who helped make our community the great place it is today, I must admit I was apprehensive. Maybe even a bit scared.

Look at the Fabulous 150

And I was asked to pull together a committee of folks to help select these 150 people. My initial reaction was, well: “Really? You want me to ask other people what they think? And you want me to get that done before we’re celebrating our 151st?”

In hindsight, this task was not at all like herding cats.

It turned out to be a meaningful and enjoyable experience, thanks to the knowledgeable and delightful group of experts who agreed to take part in this selection process.

Many hours were spent around a table in January talking, debating, sharing stories — most with relevance to the project at hand, though some were just plain entertaining.

And I listened. And took notes. And learned more about this community in those many hours than I have in the 15 years I’ve lived here.

What resulted was a list of 150 people who this committee agreed have had a lasting impact on Johnson County. While we think the list we came up with is certainly comprehensive and representative of the many factions that make up our community, it is entirely subjective. A different committee probably would have come up with a much different list of newsmakers.

Without a doubt, I am honored to have made some new friends who can join me around the table for a cup of coffee and conversation any time they’d like.

Our committee included:

Willard “Sandy” Boyd, former University of Iowa president and interim-president, law faculty member. Without a doubt, Mr. Boyd (he commands such respect that I can’t bring myself to call him Sandy) possesses more knowledge about the university over the past 50 years than anyone else on Earth. And he’s one of the most humble people I’ve ever met. While every other member of our committee placed Mr. Boyd high on the list of the 150 newsmakers, he demanded — very politely — that he not be included because of his involvement with the selection process. With protest, we respected his wishes and removed his name from the list.

Bob Hibbs, local historian. Bob is a collector of historic information and artifacts. What doesn’t reside in his head can be found in his “history room” at his North End Iowa City home. In addition to giving our committee a running start by supplying us with a long list of names to begin discussing, Bob also wrote short biographies on 100 of the 150 newsmakers. Those biographies can be found online at www.press-citizen.com. A former Press-Citizen reporter himself, he also helped our reporters write biographies of several other people and pointed me in the right direction to collect numerous photos.

Leigh Ann Randak, curator of the Johnson County Historical Museum in Coralville. Leigh Ann certainly didn’t monopolize the conversation and debate, but when she spoke up, we knew it was because she had an important point to make. She’s a person I can relate to, being a careful and respectful listener and then speaking when you have something to say.

Willa Dickens, longtime owner of the downtown business Herteen & Stocker. Willa is representative of local business owners who work hard to build success. He knows local people and events, the kind we’d refer to as local-local, the people who grew up here and have lived here all their lives. Willa loves a good story and his wit and sense of humor brought us comic relief at just the right times. He’s just a purely enjoyable person to know and was not at all ashamed to raise his hand and volunteer to take Mr. Boyd’s place on the list. More than once.

Bob Elliott, former Iowa City councilor, longtime ACT employee and former Press-Citizen reporter. This guy knows Iowa City, and he’s clearly passionate about the diversity of people and opinions that make up our community. He shared anecdotes and “carried the ball” for many people who I’m not sure otherwise would have had a champion. But he presented irrefutable facts that ultimately convinced most everyone else to support his suggestions. Bob is a member of the Press-Citizen’s Writers’ Group and his weekly column appears every Friday on the Opinion page.

Rex Brandstatter, local Realtor and expert on all things Coralville. Rex brought with him a wealth of knowledge of local sports history, knew which teams won under which coach and during what years. He also is representative of the local business community, not just in Coralville. Because of his personal business background, he shared his knowledge of local building and development.