Nichols, Iowa Centennial Book
Nichols - Our Town - 1984

Nichols, Iowa Centennial Book 1884-1984, pages 87-89
By Melodi Mills

         Early in 1979 a group of citizens, discussing the lack of community spirit and recreational facilities in the Nichols area, decided to see if there was interest in organizing a group geared toward community interaction and betterment.
         A promotional meeting was set for 26 February 1979, where enough interest was generated to set up an organizational meeting. Thirty people attended the first meeting of the “Nichols Community Club,” where officers were elected, committees formed and a charter drawn up. By the end of the summer there were eighty paid members from all facets of the community, men and women, young and old, rural and urban, other organizations and all religions. Dues were set for five dollars per year, one dollar per year for members under eighteen and over sixty. Committees included finance, business and agriculture, Junior, membership, parks and recreation, publicity, special events, executive and telephone (communications). The first officers elected were Chairman John Hester, Vice Chairman Paul Wedel and Secretary-Treasurer Lyle Ball.
         All members were in agreement that recreational facilities in Nichols were lacking, and a new park would be terrific. A land acquisition committee was formed, and the Parks and Recreation committee was given top priority.
         After inquiry and research, three alternative sites were presented to the club: land owned by Chris Meacham located south of town, east of Highway 70, near the drainage ditch; an area north of the school grounds owned by Kim Meacham (then a corn field); and expanding the established city park in the business area of town. A barn east of town, also owned by Chris Meacham, was mentioned for possible renovation. That barn has since been destroyed by fire.
         By the September 1979 meeting, papers had been signed by all parties for an option to purchase the three acres north of the school for three thousand dollars per acre. All necessary paperwork was submitted to the Iowa Department of Conservation to apply for federal funding. This attempt proved to be unsuccessful, as the appraisal of the proposed property was incorrectly done. Albrecht Surveying of Muscatine was then hired to survey the land, and the paperwork was resubmitted. The Club was to learn in March 1980 if their attempt had proven fruitful. In April 1980, they learned that all federal grants had been suspended for sixty days and that they were at the bottom of a long list of prospective projects.
         Plans proceeded in spite of the setback. The Club voted to borrow four thousand dollars from the Bank to purchase the ground, grass, fertilizer and trees. Six thousand dollars had been provided by the City.
         In the meantime, fund raising efforts were begun. Fund raisers included a couple of dances, the sale of firewood, a Sarah Coventry jewelry party, bazaars on Nichols Day, cakewalks in the July Jamboree in West Liberty and donations from individuals and other organizations.
         Of particular interest was the Walk-for-the-Park held in October 1980. Forty walkers raised almost nineteen hundred dollars for their trek from Nichols to Conesville on a very cold, blustery day. Al Albrecht raised five hundred ten dollars alone by walking all seven miles backwards. Seven backers paid him ten dollars per mile for his over-and-above effort.
         The Club learned in June 1980, after submitting material for the third time, that it had qualified and would receive a ten thousand matching funds grant from the Iowa Department of Conservation upon completion of the project. Farmers and Merchants Savings Bank donated the twelve hundred dollar loan for land purchase, and the park fund was growing healthier every day.
         In 1980 the park ground had been worked, seeded, trees planted, a parking lot constructed and a new sign erected proclaiming the former corn field the Nichols Park.
         In September 1980, the organization decided that it wanted to have a shelter erected, playground equipment installed and the park ready for full use by the Nichols Day celebration at the end of June 1981. An equipment committee was formed, met and made its recommendations to the Club. Equipment was ordered, and much of it was donated or donations were provided for specific items. The Lone Tree American Legion donated a slide, Elder Implement Company donated a tetherball, Barnhart Insurance Agency donated the lumber and hardware for a balance beam, Payless Cashways of Coralville donated railroad ties for the sandbox, the Nichols Nockers softball team paid for and erected the picnic shelter, REC donated their time for setting the light poles and Chown’s Appliance donated two pitcher pumps and some of the wiring for the lights and shelter.
         Volunteers erected the park equipment, shelter and restrooms in three weekends in June 1981. A few worked every spare moment they had during the week, and the Club’s goal of complete use was met before the 1981 Nichols Day.
         Future plans for the Park include more playground equipment, tennis courts and the possibility of another shelter. The city is responsible for ground maintenance (mowing grass, weed trimming, etc.) but the Community Club is still very involved in maintenance of equipment and repairs.
         Other projects the Club has sponsored through the years include the following: repair and painting of the wooden benches in the downtown park, a “Welcome to Nichols” sign contest which was won by Shelly Hester in May 1980, the erection of trash containers on Main Street (containers were donated by the West Liberty Lions Club), a winter recreation program including adult and youth volleyball at the school, helping make an ice skating pond east of the school for the kids in town, a charter banquet held in March 1980, participation in the annual Senior Citizens Thanksgiving Dinner and UNICEF activities, Bike-a-thons for cystic-fibrosis and St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, participation in and large attendance at the West Liberty School Board meetings when budget cuts hinted that the Nichols Elementary building might be closed, help with the nativity scene erected annually in the downtown park by Apropos, participation in Nichols Day committee meetings, sponsoring of a Nichols Day Queen contest, bed races, children’s big wheel-tricycle races, participation in the Almost Anything Goes contest in Lone Tree’s Fall Festival, and bringing Santa to town with sleigh rides in 1981 and 1982. They also won back-to-back best of parade rosettes for their float entries in the Nichols Day parade of 1979 and 1980.
         The Club won two awards in 1980 for the Plant Iowa Program, one at the county and one at the district levels, for digging up trees and transplanting them from a local marsh to the Park, using totally volunteer labor. The Program was initiated by Governor Ray to create awareness of the importance of trees and plants to our environment.
         In 1980 the Community Club joined the Iowa Community Betterment Program, a plan devised by Governor Ray in 1970 to promote community betterment through volunteerism. Participating communities are asked to submit three projects, keep a record book of those projects during the year, including descriptions, newspaper clippings pertinent to the projects, photos and records of hours spent by volunteers, and monetary savings because of the use of volunteers and donations. The book is then submitted for judging by volunteer judges for the Betterment Program, who visit the town firsthand to ask any questions that the book may not have explained and to score the projects in terms of need assessment, use of volunteers, projected support. The first week in November of each year, a Community Betterment Recognition Day is held in Ames, Iowa, where volunteers across the state are recognized for the invaluable services they have rendered in making their communities better places to live. Workshops are held on various topics pertaining to volunteers’ projects, a noon Governor’s Leadership luncheon, an evening banquet and the presentation of awards in ten categories for the first through fifth places and honorable mentions are also held.
         The Community Club decided to participate in the Betterment Program after listening to a speaker from West Liberty’s Betterment group. With only one project to submit (the new park) the first year, Nichols was astounded when they took fifth place, a plaque and a one hundred dollar check from Governor Ray in their population category.
         They participated again in 1981, with the three projects submitted being the Park (additional work had taken place during the year), Nichols Day and the annual Senior Citizens Dinner. They received Honorable Mention, a plaque and a check for fifty dollars from Governor Ray for their efforts.
         After a year of hiatus, 1983’s projects included a community survey, the organization of the First Responders and construction of a new city hall-community center. Remaining consistent, the Club claimed fifth place in their population category, a plaque and a one hundred dollar check from Governor Branstad.
         Each year, as part of the Recognition Day, one person or group from each community is nominated for and receives an award for the unselfish giving of himself and his time and for showing strong leadership in the community. These are presented at the noon luncheon. To date, the recipients of the Governor’s Leadership Award are John Hester, 1980, Gary Lenz 1981 and Melodi Mills, 1983.
         Other major projects undertaken by the Community Club include a comprehensive community survey taken in the summer of 1982. Upon completion of the Park project, meeting attendance was on the decline, and the Club had no immediate projects planned. With the help of Rev. Lyle Ball and the Iowa State University Extension Service, a survey was created to see where the people of Pike Township stood on the issues of programs, organizations, businesses, resources, facilities and needs of the community. A town meeting was held in November 1981, and citizens decided what issues they wanted the survey to cover.
         A meeting was held with the Extension Development Specialist mark Settle, Muscatine County Extension Officer Eugene Mathern and the survey committee of the Community Club. Iowa State University took the topics and questions that the town meeting had yielded, molded them into a survey and the Club members distributed the questionnaires to randomly selected (by computer at ISU) households of Pike Township totaling 176 in June 1982. Preliminary results were available at the end of July. Complete results were given in September 1982. Mark Settle and Eugene Mathern attended several meetings in town with the results, explaining how the survey worked and what the results meant. There was an eighty-four percent rate of response in answering the survey, more than enough to make it representative and accurate.
         The one item that showed up most frequently on the survey was the lack of any kind of medical services. Over eighty percent of those questioned had this as one of their main concerns. As a direct result of the survey, the Community Club sponsored the Nichols First responder group in their initial stages, loaning them money for the purchase of a used ambulance and giving the first donation to the group of three hundred dollars, with the promise of more if needed. The treasurer of the Community Club also has been handling the incoming donations and expenses for the group.
         The Nichols Community Club was formed to combat the apathy experienced by many small towns. Too many of the older generation often don’t want to see drastic changes in the community they have called home all of their lives, but people change and needs change. Let’s hope that when the cry “Why doesn’t somebody do something?” goes up, someone will invariably realize “Hey, I’m somebody!” and recruit whoever is willing to help accomplish the needed changes. Thus this organization was formed to make Nichols a better place to live, now and for generations to come.
         After the Park was finished, attendance never really picked up, the same people were trying to handle all of the demands made of an organization of this sort, and those people have reached their burnout point. There are four to seven people in attendance at the monthly meetings now. Projects on the board include the recent purchase of a film projector and screen for use in the new City Hall-Community Center, the donation of money for the signs to be erected in front of the building, and the purchase of a display case for the Nichols High School graduation pictures which hang in the ire station. The future of the organization, at this point, is uncertain. It will take another project big enough to interest and involve many people in the community as well as strong leadership. The Community Club has accomplished a great deal in its short history. Let’s hope the future holds the same.


         Charter members of the Nichols Community Club include: Linda Albrecht, Chris Ball, Clint Ball, Trudy Ball, Marcella Barnhart, Marion Barnhart, Larry Beik.
         Clem Carroll, Gertrude Carroll, Harry Christofferson, Francis Coder, Becky Connell, Amanda Costas, Brian Costas, Gary Costas, Judy Costas.
         Farmers and Merchants Savings Bank – Nichols Office, Patty Green, David Gregg, Gary Hartman, Myrtie Hartman, Todd Hartman, Wendy Hartman, Denny Hazen, Jacque Hazen, Phyllis Hazen.
         Angie Hester, John Hester, Shelly Hester, Alice Hillyer, Carla Hllyer, Clarence Hillyer, Gladys Hillyer, Nelson Hillyer, Richard Hillyer, Carol Kaalberg, David Kaalberg, Gayle Kaalberg.
         Alberta Kelly, Edna Kirchner, Floyd Kirchner, Gary Lanfier, Jay Lanfier, Marcia Lanfier, Ray Lanfier, Nancy Fulcher, Gary Lenz.
         Leroy Marine, Craig Meacham, Sepal Meacham, Darren Menzer, Jeffrey Menzer, Robert Menzer, Roxanna Menzer, Sue Menzer, Phil Mills, Melodi Mills, Bill Newton, Donna Newton, Rose Newton, Ora Nichols.
         Ron Oostendorp, Dean Phelps, Emma Rohr, Karen Sanders, Chuck Skiffington, Charlotte Smith, George Smith, George Sutton, Gloris Vetter, Kristi Wedel, Marilyn Wedel, Paul Wedel, Trey Wedel, Ron Wieskamp, Sig Wood.

        Descriptive lines under photos in this section follow:
    ~ Installing sign at the new Park, Ron Wieskamp, Lyle Ball, Harry Christofferson, Gary Lenz, Richard Hillyer. – page 87.
    ~ Club members erected play equipment at the Park. Bob Menzer, Becky Connell, Sue Menzer, Lyle Ball. – page 87.
    ~ Work day at the New Park. – page 88.
    ~ The town of Nichols has joined 200 other Iowa communities as a member of the Iowa Community Betterment Program. Two judges arrived in Nichols October 3 to evaluate the town’s entry for the 1980 competition, the new Nichols park. Sitting left to right are the judges, Loren Buol of Albia and Debbie Wegner of Fort Dodge.
    ~ Standing left to right are: Marcella Barnhart, Nichols treasurer; Gary Lenz, Community Club chairperson; Melodi Mills, Club treasurer, and John Hester, Club Vice Chairman. – page 89.
    ~ Community Club held a successful Walk for the Park, as 40 people mad 7 mile trip to Conesville. Youngest walker, Jerry Nour, 5, walked 3 miles, and Brian Costas, as first finisher, won $5 furnished by Clem Carroll and Dave Kaalberg. – page 89.
    ~ Brian Costas walked (and ran) the seven cold windy miles to Conesville from Nichols last Saturday and was the first person to accomplish the task, therefore, winning $5.00. – page 90.
    ~ Al Albrecht walked the entire seven miles backwards to collect $510 in pledges from his sponsors. – page 90.

The Legend of Uncle Backwards
There is a legend in our town,
about a man named Al.
He worked down at the tractor store,
and tried his best to sell.
Well one day, now some people said, “Hey, we need a park.”
“We have to have some money first,”
Was heard the next remark.
“Hey, let’s have a walk, like they do in them big towns.”
“By golly, now that’s just the thing.
But where’ll you find the clowns
to walk a distance great enough to bring the money in?”
“Oh we’ll get ‘em alright, you’ll see,
now let this thing begin.”

So all the little kids in town, they got their sponsor sheets,
They filled ‘em full, they pulled all stops, they hit
all blocks and streets.
Now the a-dults thought, “Hey, we can walk,
Can’t be shown up, can’t be all talk.”
So they got their papers and the dough to back ‘em up you see,
T’was the biggest thing to hit this town in this here century.

Now the fellas at the tractor store were sittin’, shootin’ breeze
and in a little while,
Someone said, “Hey, Al, old pal, bet 10 bucks
you can’t walk a mile…
Now Al was not the kind to let a bet go by that way.
“Put your money where your mouth is friend
and I’ll show up that day.”
Al showed up, so the legend goes,
with rearview mirror in hand.
The wind was blowing viciously, was hard enough to stand –
Let alone walk for seven miles to Conesville,
and this is what he planned.
The first mile came and went and thinks ole Al, thinks he,
“Heck, I could go another one, that’s two times seventy”
He made it all the way to goal –
walked seven treach’rous miles.
Heel first, toes last, and still he kept his smile.
They say the pain showed in his face,
but he just stood and grinned,
“The money here is for good cause – for this I’m gonna win…
…that bet.
(And he did, or so the legend goes.)
All five hundred ten.
(Dollars that is.)

‘Twas the 25th of October, ’80 was the year,
They dubbed him “Uncle Backwards,”
least that’s the way I hear.
He brought fame and fortune (or as close as we could come)
The day he walked to Conesville with his backside to the sun.
So the folks in town were grateful to that set of aching toes,
And one man’s answered challenge….
….or so the legend goes.            mm


1979-80 Chairman, John Hester
             Vice Chairman, Paul Wedel * Jacque Hazen
             Secretary-Treasurer, Lyle Ball
1980-81 Chairman, Gary Lenz
              Vice Chairman, John Hester
              Secretary, Becky Connell
              Treasurer, Melodi Mills
1981-82 Chairman, Jacque Hazen
              Vice Chairman, Larry Beik
              Secretary, Sue Menzer
              Treasurer, Carla Hillyer
1982-83 Chairman, Melodi Mills
              Vice Chairman, Patty Green
              Secretary, Becky Connell*
              Treasurer, Carla Hillyer* Keith Barnhart
1983-84 Chairman, David Gregg
              Vice Chairman, Mary Carter
              Secretary, Mary and Kevan Chown
              Treasurer, Keith Barnhart

              Note: Names followed by * resigned before completing term; names following * were elected to fill the vacancy.

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