Where do you call home? Is it the community in which you grew up? Or, if you have moved away from that place, is it where you live now? Or another community where you lived at one time?
For me, there’s no one community. My home is an entire county.
Throughout my lifetime I have lived in 11 different communities, six of which were home while I was growing up.
As an adult the longest I have lived in one community was 14 years in Sioux City. My wife and I enjoyed Sioux City and could have spent the rest of our lives there were it not for career considerations.
We lived 12 years in Creston in southwest Iowa. I have now been in Ankeny for more than 13 years. In another year, I will have lived in Ankeny longer than anywhere else.
In each community I have made good friends and recall good things and good times. None of them, however, rank as my hometown. Because of all this moving around my hometown is Hamilton County in north central Iowa.
I thought of this again recently as I drove north to participate in the American Legion’s Memorial Day service in Williams in northeastern Hamilton County. I was privileged to deliver the Memorial Day address there.
As I crossed the county line from Story County into Hamilton County a sense of home came over me. It always does. There’s something about the familiar terrain that says home.
When I see exit 128 and the signs pointing out Randall, Stanhope, Stratford and Little Wall Lake I remember lots of good things. I played my first junior high basketball game in Randall, enjoyed Stanhope’s Watermelon Day festivities many times and went fishing with my father and brothers at Little Wall Lake. And I remember Stratford had pretty girls!
I spent part of my childhood in Ellsworth at exit 133 where tall concrete grain silos beckon me home. The first concrete silo in Ellsworth was under construction when we moved there in 1953. My father was working at the Ellsworth co-op at the time and when the new silo was completed he took me to the top. At age 5 I thought I could see the entire world from up there.
From I-35 one can see the new water tower in Jewell just three miles west. The sleek new structure was erected directly behind the place where we lived in Jewell. A few miles up I-35 I passed exit 139. From this point County Road D41 will take you nine miles west into Kamrar where I spent my teen years. You can’t see Kamrar from I-35 but it’s always nice to see the sign that tells me it’s still there.
A few miles farther is exit 142 which is where I-35 intersects with U.S. 20 on which you can travel east to Waterloo or west to Fort Dodge. Before Fort Dodge, however, you reach Webster City – our county seat, where I went to community college, where I worked my first non-farm job, where I met my wife and married and where our son was born.
I was still thinking about Webster City when I arrived at exit 144 and Iowa Highway 928, formerly U.S. 20. From this exit, often called the Boondocks exit, you can go west five miles into Blairsburg where my family attended church and where I went high school.
Turn east and in two miles you’re in Williams.
In the fall of 1962 the Blairsburg, Kamrar and Williams school merged into the Northeast Hamilton Community School District. As freshmen, we 10 students from Kamrar and some 40 students from Blairsburg and Williams quickly bonded into a group of friends who faithfully get together every five years to celebrate that bond.
Having covered the entire county as a young newsman in Webster City I am familiar to some extent with each community in Hamilton County.
So it is that my "hometown" is an entire county, a county where I feel more at home than any other place in the world. "You can never go home again," said Maya Angelou, "but the truth is you can never leave home, so it’s all right."