Cerro Gordo County Iowa
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Pleasant Valley Township, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa

Globe Gazette
Mason City, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa
Sunday, January 2, 2011
by Richard JOHNSON

Backroads North Iowa: Swaledale abounds with community spirit

SWALEDALE -- You have to smile when nearing Swaledale, pop. 174-ish.

Someone with a fine sense of humor installed roadside "Burma Shave"-style signs to help motorists find their way around the "big city":

"Swaledale, Next 7 Exits."

"Watch For Off-Ramps."

That, said city public works director Greg MEIER, is just life in his hometown.

"It's pretty laid-back," he said. "The people are great. The people in town, they'll do anything to help you out."

It's true, said Melicent ("Millie") AMES, 94, hard-charging reporter for the Swaledale Bee ($12 per year for 12 monthly newsletter issues).

"My church (Swaledale United Methodist) is real special for me. And the people," said Millie, who moved to town in 1933. "My daughter (Carol WITT, of Thornton) says she doesn't have to worry about me."

Nearly $3,000 was raised at a pancake breakfast this past fall to help pay medical bills for postal worker Melissa BROCKA, who is battling cancer.

The attractive cover of "100 Years of History and Favorite Recipes," a book compiled for Swaledale's centennial in 1992, bears the apt motto: "The small town with a big heart."

"We just all work together in a little town," said resident Lorraine EDDY, 86.

~ ~ ~ ~

Morning coffee regulars, from left, Lorraine Eddy, Majorie Watt and Beverly Faaborg joing Mayor John Drury at the Community Center.
~ Richard Johnson photograph, Globe Gazette

The planet is holding its own. Thanks to the morning coffee regulars at the Swaledale Community Center.

"We all settle all the world's problems here," said Beverly FAABORG, 79. "And then we continue on to the next day. Somebody gets a tooth pulled, we hear all about it."

Some 25 men and 10 to 12 ladies gather daily, no matter the weather. The ladies also play cards every Wednesday at the center.

"We bring lunch," Bev said, "then we quit playing at 3 o'clock and then we have supper."

Vendors collected almost $7,000 in revenue when the RAGBRAI bicycling caravan passed through town in July.

That will help provide a new floor, furnace, air-conditioning, doors, chairs and restrooms for the Community Center.

~ ~ ~ ~

Pioneers began settling an area in what is now Pleasant Valley Township in 1856. Swaledale was platted on May 5, 1887. The population, aided by an influx of immigrants, grew to 400 by 1891.

The city was incorporated on May 2, 1892.

"There were businesses and there was a grocery store. There was a blacksmith shop," Millie AMES said. "It was quite a going town."

The first century held the usual bad and good:

  • Twelve people died in August 1954 when a Braniff Airways jet crashed south of town during a major storm.

  • Swaledale High School's girls basketball team reached the state tournament in 1944.

  • Aunt Jemima, of syrup and pancake mix fame, visited in the 1940s or '50s. A woman portraying her made pancakes during a promotional event. "She was so much fun," Lorraine EDDY said. "She joked with all the people."

  • In 1989, Hollywood's Zsa Zsa GABOR slapped Beverly Hills cop Paul KRAMER, son of Swaledale native Paul KRAMER, when he pulled her Rolls Royce over for a traffic violation. GABOR was convicted on misdemeanor charges.*

  • R&R Gas & Repair, Swaledale's only gas station, closed in 1990.

  • Residents held a big "appreciation party" in 1983 in the Swaledale gym upon the paving of four and a half miles along Cerro Gordo County Road S-33, which passes through town.

    The event included a barbecue, dance and ribbon-cutting. It was featured in the "Offbeat USA" section of USA Today newspaper.

    "There's been a good bunch of people," said former Swaledale Fire Chief John GAFFNEY, 79.

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    Swaledale Photo Album

    Click on thumbnail photo or the link to see an enlarged view of the photograph.
    Click on "back button" to return to this webpage.

    ~ ~ ~ ~

    Swaledale Depot

    Chicago Great Western Railroad, 1978

    Swaledale Depot 2009

    Swaledale Public Library

    Swaledale Post Office

    Swaledale Post Office, 2013

    Old Church, 2013

    Methodist Church, 2013

    Methodist Church, 2013

    Birdhouses, 2013

    Patriotic Fence, 2013

    Swaledale House, 2013
    2013 Photographs courtesy of Sharon R. Becker


    ~ ~ ~ ~

    Why Swaledale?

  • Said to be the only U.S. city named Swaledale.

  • Big Day, the city celebration held annually in late June, was first held on July Fourth in the 1920s.

    Going strong!

  • Swaledale Area Ladies Club (SAL) furnishes gifts for kids’ Christmas drawings.

  • Swaledale Area Men (SAM), sponsors a variety of fundraisers.

  • Christmas decorations light up Main Street.

  • Home of the Swaledale Federated Garden Club since the fall of 1957
    (the club was federated in 1958).

    Past president Millie AMES, 94, "works harder in the garden than I do," Mayor John DRURY said. "She has unbelievable flowers."

  • Interstate 35, just 1 mile west of town.

    Swaledale native Tom BONNER helped spur its construction through Cerro Gordo, Franklin, Hamilton and Wright counties as superintendent of Carlson Construction Co.

  • Nature changes clothes just outside your door.

    "I have lived in four states and this is the best, even with the cold, cold, terrible winters," said Beverly FAABORG, who got "a good house-buying deal" and moved from Rockwell six or seven years ago. "I like the four seasons," she said.

    ~ ~ ~ ~

    Some Swaledale hot spots

  • The big clock from the old 1902 Cerro Gordo County Courthouse is preserved in a tower in City Park. The courthouse was demolished in 1960.

  • The veterans memorial in City Park, built in 1992 as a city centennial project.

  • The city's lone remaining church: Swaledale United Methodist.

  • First Security Bank. Open 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday.

  • U.S. Post Office: 50477.

  • Swaledale Public Library (see swaledale.lib.ia.us).

  • R&R Towing.

  • Five-Star Co-op.

  • Hi-Way Auto Body & Performance (motorcycle repair service, body work and painting).

  • Volunteer Fire Department (staffed by about 20 first-rate firefighters).

    RAGBRAI comes to Swaldale, July 28, 2009
    ~John Gaps III photograph ~ The Des Moines Register


    ~ ~ ~ ~



     Brothers Orv and Dale Caspers are the geniuses behind Swaledale's Burma Shave signs. Remembering how much fun it was to read those Burma Shave signs when they were kids, the brothers took paint brush in hand to place their own poetry onto Swaledale's take on Burma Shave signs.

    "All you need is a hammer and a nail," Orv explained.

    A plump woman
    And a big barn
    Never done any
    A man harm.




    ~ ~ ~ ~

    * People Magazine, September 11, 1989, Vol. 32 No. 11

    Zsa Zsa Gabor Has Been Courted Before,
    But This Time It's A Trial

    Some people are just born victims. Take Zsa Zsa GABOR. "People are always picking on me," says GABOR, sitting regally in the living room of her $15 million Bel Air home, smoothing her pink chiffon pants. Take last June 14. There she was, tooling down Beverly Hills' La Cienega Boulevard in her convertible Rolls-Royce Corniche, when up pops a cop on a motorcycle telling her to pull over. Something about expired registration tags. Zsa Zsa did as she was bid — she has been stopped by policemen before. "Usually they say, 'Zsa Zsa, what's the matter, are you married these days, do you want to marry me?' " says GABOR.

    Not this guy. Without so much as a sociable "I loved your Pee-wee Herman special," Officer Paul KRAMER [son of Swaledale native Paul KRAMER] ordered an up-close of her license. Well!

    GABOR fished it out of her glove compartment, but as it turned out, it had expired. A bad start. One thing led to another, most of which are in dispute, but it seems safe to say that after the two exchanged unpleasantries and had a little road chase, KRAMER told Zsa Zsa to get out of her $110,000 coupé. When she did, she slapped him across the face, knocking his regulation sunglasses to the ground.

    That did it.

    KRAMER arrested GABOR and called for backup to take her to the station. He handcuffed her so tightly, she claimed, she had to cancel a charity appearance because her wrists were an unsightly black and blue. Despite the two broken fingernails — never recovered — she got up the pluck to host a dinner for 36 a few days later. A sheer act of will.

    The bruises may be gone, but the skirmish isn't over yet. This Monday, GABOR squares off with KRAMER again — this time in a Beverly Hills municipal courtroom. In The People of the State of California vs. Zsa Zsa GABOR, the Hungarian-born defendant, 70ish, is charged with five offenses: battery upon an officer, disobeying an officer, driving without registration, driving without a license and having an open container of alcohol. (That silver flask of bourbon in the glove compartment belongs to her eighth and current husband, Prince Frederick von ANHALT, of West Germany. "Sometimes I use it to sweeten my Diet Pepsi," he explains.)

    Zsa Zsa admits that the license was outdated. As for the registration, not only had she paid it ("It gives me a heart attack to write the check"), she had overpaid it, causing a bureaucratic bungle that left her with outdated tags. Of all the luck.

    And that disobedience charge is just the result of a cultural misunderstanding. While KRAMER was running her license by the folks back at HQ and finding out that her registration had expired too, Zsa Zsa got antsy. After 12 minutes, according to the police report, she shouted, "You are an a——. I'm leaving," and sped off. According to GABOR, she asked what was taking so long, KRAMER told her to "[Bleep] off," and Zsa Zsa took him literally. "On my word of honor, I thought he meant I should go," she says. "That's what they say in London, and that's where I was raised."

    Zsa Zsa has always had a remarkable knack for self-defense, and what a handy skill it has been. Last January she was removed from a Delta Airlines flight for letting her Shih Tzu loose in the first-class cabin. "He was in a Louis Vuitton carrying case the whole time," Zsa Zsa maintains. "My dear, the stewardess hated me." Months before that, she threw entertainment reporter Claudia COHEN (wife of megabucks Revlon chief Ron PERELMAN) out of the Regis PHILBIN Show dressing room and marched on-camera calling Cohen a bitch in front of millions of viewers. "I had no idea the cameras were on," demurs GABOR. In 1982 she made headlines for demanding that a row of handicapped people be moved to the back of a Philadelphia theater where she was performing. It was an usher, she says, who moved what she calls the "paraleptics. The theater owner, a terrible man, wanted me to take the rap." Victimized again.

    "I like her as a person and think she's a good lady," says Larry KING, who recently had Gabor on his TV show, "but we all have to get a little older, and Zsa Zsa refuses to see that. Poodles on leashes being walked by doormen is yesterday. I guess it must be very hard on her." . . .

    Zsa Zsa simply doesn't get old. In fact, she often gets younger. The driver's license she gave to Officer KRAMER had been physically altered to change her birthdate from 6/6/23 (already suspect) to 2/6/28. "You can say I'm full of s—, but don't say I'm old," she says.

    Zsa Zsa's traffic court appearance is just one more trial to bear. Slapping Officer KRAMER was an intuitive kind of thing. Although he claims that GABOR said, "You are an a——-, you are a f—er," when he told her to get out of the car, she says he said, "Get out, you f—," and grabbed her wrist. "It was like Nazi Germany," says Zsa Zsa. "They killed half of the gorgeous girls. You should have seen the hatred in his eyes." So she slapped him. "This is a woman's reaction," she says. "I admit I have a Hungarian temper. Why not? I am from Hungary. We are descendants of Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun."

    The defense rests.

    NOTE: GABOR was sentenced to 72 hours in the El Segundo Jail, 120 hours of community service at a women's shelter and $13,000 in court costs.

    GABOR was quoted as saying, "He [KRAMER] should have apologized and kissed my hand -- that's what a European gentleman would have done." A couple of years later, KRAMER sued GABOR for going on TV to say that he was on drugs and he was a homosexual, both claims which he denied. KRAMER and GABOR evenutally settled out of court.

    In 1990, the famous 1979 Rolls-Royce Corniche was sold at auction for $90,000 in Las Vegas. The slapping incident provided late-night monologue fodder for months.

    ~ Margot Dougherty, David Marlow, Robin Micheli and Tee Wohlfert in Los Angeles

    Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, October of 2011

  • Swaledale's Big Day, 2004

  • Swaledale's Big Day, 2005

  • Swaledale's Big Day, 2012



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