Cedar Rapids/Iowa City, Iowa

Friendship Force Mystery Exchange
Cedar Rapids/Iowa City
By Bob Weissman, ED
June 22-25, 2012

Seven members of the Northern Illinois Friendship Force traveled in two cars about 250 miles to visit the members of the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Friendship Force Club.  We left our area at about 9:30 am and arrived at about 3:00 pm at Coe College in Cedar Rapids where we met our hosts and other members of the hosting club.

After becoming acquainted with our “mystery” hosts, we proceeded to the Coe College Library where we were given a tour of the art collection housed in that building.  We saw many photos by George T. Henry and the art of Marvin Cone along with some paintings by the famous Grant Wood.






Having had our introductions to our hosts’ homes, we were taken to the Ellis Park Overlook Pavillion on the Cedar River where many members of our host club treated us to a sumptuous pot luck dinner.  Our club president, Joan Harrington, introduced herself and thanked the hosting members for having us.  Yours truly, Bob Weissman, the ED for this exchange, was asked to say a few words, which I did.

Saturday was a very interesting and busy day!  We traveled to a nearby town called Anamosa where we visited the Anamosa Penitentiary.  In the penitentiary museum, we were given to “low down” on the history of the prison and its workings.  We also got to try on prison garb and get an idea of what a cell felt like.


We made a brief photo stop at a very old restaurant called The General Store in Stone City before going into downtown Anamosa to see the Grant Wood Museum where we were given a very informative talk about the artist and his art.  Grant Wood is best known for his painting called, American Gothic.  The woman was his sister and the man was a town dentist.  We went past the Stone City quarry, but did not stop there.

From there, we traveled the back roads to West Branch, the birthplace of Herbert Hoover.  Before viewing the grounds, buildings, museum and burial area of this area, we stopped in West Branch for lunch at a small restaurant called Reid’s Beans.

The Herbert Hoover Museum is a great place to find out about all of the good and useful things which Herbert Hoover accomplished.  We should not blame him for the Depression, although he didn’t do much to alleviate the suffering of American citizens during his presidency.

Having left West Branch, our hosts had complete control of where we went.  My hosts took me to Stringtown Grocery, a busy but small supermarket run by the Amish of the town of Kalona.  There were all kinds of fruits, vegetables and handmade and hand packaged items.  I got a photo of a fellow in his buggy!

After Kalona, we went back to Cedar Rapids where we were due to go on a trolley tour of that city.  Being somewhat early, we went to a pub in Czechtown called “The Red Frog” where we had a drink and hung out until it was time to find the trolley.

Our trolley tour of Cedar Rapids lasted two hours.  Mostly we were told about various buildings in the area which had been saved, raised, or rebuilt due to the flood of the Cedar River in 2008.  That was some flood!!

With the trolley ride behind us, we went with our hosts for dinner.  I had chosen to go to a restaurant called, “The Longbranch” since I was hungry for a steak.  Dinner was very good as was the company of Jerry and Phillis Seidl.  Phillis was the incoming ED.







It was a wonderful experience all around!  We arrived home in the late afternoon.

Jean Wilson:

We always think:  It can’t be better than this!

Every Exchange seems to be even more fun than the last, but we know it’s just because we enjoy each new friend we meet through FFNI, and the more the merrier.

This was a domestic Exchange, meaning within the USA—it’s a great way to get know members in other states and find out more about their lives.

We had super hosts—who could ask for anything more?  Their lovely home was surrounded by a garden just as beautiful as our hosts were. We soon learned that they had traveled all over the world, but when Dianne brought out a few of her many albums, we were astonished!

Each one was a gorgeous, wonderfully detailed work of art.   We exclaimed as we marveled at each page:  “Everybody should see these albums. We think FFI and the whole world should know about them.”

The Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Friendship Force treated us to a busy, happy Exchange.  We can’t wait to plan their visit to The Friendship Force of Northern Illinois soon.

Bob Weissman:

This exchange was my first as an ED.  I think everything went very well.  It appeared that everyone had a great time.

I had a super time.  One of the reasons I had such a great time is that I got to stay with two different hosts.  When I arrived at the Seidl’s residence, I was given the opportunity to be with them all day Friday, Friday night, all day Saturday and Saturday night.  I was told that there was another member of the club who had thought he would have an Ambassador.  However, that did not work out as planned.  The Seidls ask me if I would like to spend Sunday and Sunday night with John Geigerich.  John has a friend named Trish, also a member of the club, who accompanied us all day Sunday.

Not only were both my hosts super people, but I got to see Dubuque on Sunday!  This was a wonderful addition to my experience on the Mystery Exchange.  The Dubuque Arboretum was special in that it has wonderful gardens and also had a band which played oldies for at least 1000 folks sitting on the lawn.

Being hosted by two different members has got to be the best!!

Sheila Liao:

It is my first exchange; I am very excited and looking forward for the experience.

Mr. Bob Weissman is very kind to offer the ride for us to drive to Cedar Rapids.

We left 9:30 in the morning and got there right before 2:30pm. The Cedar Rapids club members were there to welcome us. I felt so honored to be treated as VIP.

Coe College has great assets of many local artists’ art collections. Finally, I am at the home town of Grant Wood.

I was holding my breath when I got into my host family’s house. It is a nice, private, wooded area with many custom built houses. Mr. Michael and Dianne Karal have a beautiful big house which has artistic detailed decoration.  They provided me a room with a 4-pole queen size bed.  I had always wished to sleep on a 4-pole bed.

While staying with the Karal family, Dianne shared her recipes, taught me to play “progression” card game, showed us many of their trips photos and scrap books. They had done all photos, placed with great theme and art design. I encouraged Dianne to publish her travel scrap books to promote the Friendship Force organization.

To visit the local art gallery, Anamosa Penitentiary Museum, President Hoover Library, Amanas German town, and trolley tour of their downtown; this trip taught me their hard work attitude and big warm hearts of Midwestern Americans. It also taught me some of American histories.

The trip set a high standard for my future exchanges and it will be the role model to follow to be a great home host.