Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Mystery Exchange

Our “Mystery Exchange” was a great trip to Iowa, where we were guests of Friendship Force of Cedar Rapids/Iowa City. None of the travelers knew where they were going until shortly before the trip, so there was great suspense and excitement. Sharing rides, the Northern Illinois ambassadors drove to central Iowa in two cars.

This was a Domestic exchange – within the United States. But for Taiwan-born Sheila Liao, it proved to be an encounter with a different aspect of American life. Read her blog, describing her impressions of her first exchange.
Exchange Director Bob Weissman provided this report and photos:

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 cemetery 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.
When the Seidls and I first met, I was told that there was a fellow club member who had been disappointed that he didn’t have an ambassador to host. I was asked if I would mind spending Sunday and Sunday night with John Geigerich. I agreed to do that. As it turned out, I was hosted by both John and his friend Trish who is also a member of the club.
On Sunday morning, the Seidls took me to their son and daughter-in law’s house for breakfast. The bagels and omelets were delicious!! After breakfast, Phil, the Seidl’s son, took me to see a Frank Lloyd Wright house called the Douglas-Grant House. It was secluded in the woods, so we didn’t get to see much of it. However, it was very nice of Phil to show it to us.
John and Trish had planned a busy day for me! They wanted me to see Dubuque!! We went to an area called, “Mines of Spain” which is a large park with a few educational stations. We then went to Eagle Point where we had a great view of the Mississippi River, a dam and lock. Also, Julien Dubuque, the first European trader to visit the area is buried there.

Having spent some time at Eagle Point, we went back into downtown Dubuque where I became acquainted with various sights, buildings and the walk along the Mississippi. We took a ride on the Fendon Trolley which traverses a fairly tall hill and goes down to the riverfront.
For dinner, we went to an Italian restaurant called Vinny Vanucci’s. Dinner was great! Following dinner, we took in the Dubuque Arboretum with its beautiful gardens and the band which played oldies for several hours.
The last thing we tried to do was to see the site of the movie, “Field of Dreams.” We finally found it when it was almost dark. It had been closed since six! Oh well.
In the morning, Monday, Trish took me for a walk around the track. It was difficult to keep up with her although she was only going one third her normal speed! At 9:30, the Ambassadors and their hosts met at Huntington’s Restaurant for our Farewell Breakfast. So much food!! One could not finish all the food!! Just before having our pictures taken, I presented a check made out to the FFI Legacy Fund to Phillis Seidl on behalf of our FFNI. She in turn gave me a check made out for the same purpose.

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