A tornado puts a T-shirt in perspective

The focus of this column was going to be the unfortunate choice Iowa City’s softball team made in applying the words “Dirty Dodge” to their competition shirts.

But then an EF-3 tornado hit downtown Marshalltown and life, once again, came into a meaningful perspective.

So this column is about that. Perspective. A 27,000-some population town heavily damaged by a tornado eclipses a poor choice by a high school softball team, don’t you think?

But, before I go down the road to Marshalltown, let me address those two words.

The term Dirty Dodge has been around for generations. It’s a reflection of this town’s former identity as a meat-packing center, but it also has some roots in the way our city was characterized as violent. Hence, Dirty Dodge was loosely applied to what was viewed as a bubbling, fractious, blue-collar hub of humanity.

I suppose that was rooted in some reality back then.

But times have changed and so has Fort Dodge. One only needs a quick drive-through to see it has changed on the outside. But, more importantly, it has morphed into a kind and progressive place on the inside.

The schools have taken up Rachel’s Challenge, and kindness in general, in a continuing push to focus on what can be done for the good of its student population. They are literally teaching the power of positivity.

The job force has shifted to the skilled, technical focus that we are seeing sprout nationwide. Are there still so-called blue-collar jobs here? You bet. We need them. But through the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance, we are steadily showing Iowa and the world — yes, the world — that Fort Dodge is not just open for business and ready for 2019, it is ready for lies beyond 2020. If you think I’m making this up, go out to CJ Bio America or Cargill or any of the other multinational firms that have chosen to locate at Iowa’s Crossroads of Global Innovation and see what they’ve got cooking.

At Iowa Central, biofuel is on the agenda. The community college — can we just get rid of the word community now and call it what it is, a college? — this place is educating our youth who elect to stay local for their continuing education so that our workforce is prepared for the burgeoning future.

In downtown Fort Dodge, the push is for a historical renaissance that walks hand-in-hand with quality of life issues such as entertainment and housing, not simply through the ambitious and hoped-for Warden Plaza rehabilitation, but in every crack and cranny where art, food, ideas and positive energy can be implemented.

Speaking of housing, have you noticed what’s happening here? Single- and multi-family residences are on the rise. What makes the construction of that housing possible is the promise of what lies ahead in Fort Dodge.

I can go on.

A name – Meriwether – has finally been given to a park in a largely African-American neighborhood that, historically, had been at least partially marginalized due to its population. Fort Dodge is facing that down, finally. Fact: It’s 2018. It’s time to stand together in unity. Wait! It’s long past time to stand in unity. Just ask Sherry Washington, whose efforts are working to close that divide.

Does our town still have problems? Of course it does. But come in here and show me a place that doesn’t struggle. I’ll sit down and listen. Then I’ll say this: We all struggle.

What I won’t listen to is a defense of Dirty Dodge. I suggest that anyone who is holding onto it file that phrase in a folder called The Past.

When the principal of Iowa City High School, John Bacon, learned about the T-shirts from a local woman, Meghan Lamoureux, who reached out to complain, he was genuinely appalled.

“On behalf of City High School, I want to offer my deepest, most sincere apology for the inexcusable, unacceptable T-shirts that were worn during the state softball tournament. I was totally shocked when I learned this had happened. I am extremely saddened and disappointed. You have every right to be extremely upset. I am truly sorry that this happened. I just cannot begin to tell you how badly I feel about the issue. I promise you I will be taking every appropriate step to try to determine what happened, and make sure nothing like this happens again. Please know we are taking this very seriously. Once again, I give you my most sincere apology.”

John Bacon, we accept your apology.

Now, let’s move on.

When I called Marshalltown Times-Republican Publisher Abigail Pelzer Thursday afternoon she said two words: “It’s bad.”

Not only is the Times-Republican our sister paper, owned by the same firm, but Abbe Pelzer is a former colleague and dear friend. Some of you may remember that not so long ago she was news editor here at The Messenger.

Well, time passed and she’s in Marshalltown, putting out a newspaper from her home with the help Messenger reporters Chad Thompson and Hans Madsen. They worked out of her home Friday because the T-R main building, like so many other sites in downtown Marshalltown that are still standing, had no electricity. Together, they collected stories and shot the photos that so viscerally portray what lies ahead for Marshalltown.

It will be long time healing.

And when that healing is completed, Marshalltown undoubtedly won’t look the way it did before the tornado hit, and it won’t look the way it does now in the midst of its wreckage.

When you think about it, that’s not so different from Fort Dodge, only it didn’t take a tornado to alter the face of this town.

Jane Curtis is editor of The Messenger.