GARDENDALE — The Gardendale sign went up last week and Arnold Zajicek checked off the first and most important item on his bucket list.
"I am so much relieved," Arnold, 85, says as he holds up the 6-by-30-inch green reflective sign with white letters that spell "Gardendale." "That was my mission this year coming to Iowa."
Arnold grew up in Gardendale, a rural development east of Cedar Rapids and north of Bertram along Summit View Lane on the east side of Highway 13. I wrote about him last November after he emailed about his dream to have a sign erected along the highway to identify the community.
The new sign is on a power pole about 300 feet from the highway. It’s not exactly what Arnold had hoped, but it’s good enough. Gardendale may not be on the map, but it’s now identified.
"I think it’s great," says John Reasoner, an area resident for six years. "My dad grew up in a small town. Keswick, Iowa."
Arnold’s connection to Gardendale began in 1929 when his father, James, moved the family from a farm south of Cedar Rapids to house owned by his father-in-law, Charles Werba. Arnold later had 11 lots in the area but sold them when his parents moved to Solon in 1969.
Long retired after a 30-year career with the Department of Veterans Affairs Hospital in Iowa City where he supervised the air-conditioning crew, Arnold and his wife, Mary Louise, now live in Lakeland, Fla. They make an annual trek to Iowa to visit relatives and friends.
Earlier this year in Florida, Arnold paid $58 to have the regulation sign made. It was in his trunk when he let me know he was back.
"Can we get a sign up for Gardendale?" he asked.
I contacted Linn County Engineer Steve Gannon to ask the same question. A sign along Highway 13 would require state approval, which could take years, he said. "From the county’s point of view," Steve added, "we have a lot of unincorporated areas. I doubt it would bother us to put a sign up along Summit View."
Steve checked records, found area plat maps dating back to 1913 and gave Arnold the OK as long as he bought a $40 permit.
With assistance from Gardendale resident Jon Shebetka, the sign was installed the next day.
"It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do," Arnold says. "My mind doesn’t work so well," he adds with a laugh. "I can’t get it out. It’s locked on my hard drive."
That’s understandable since he was of such an impressionable age when he moved to Gardendale.
"My mom used to take me by the hand to pick mushrooms," he says. "We’d walk to Indian Creek. We’d walk to Cedar Rapids. I could ride the streetcar free but my mother had to pay a nickel."
In a way, the sign is an early birthday present. Arnold turns 86 on Oct. 1. And now his bucket list, what he wants to accomplish before he dies, is off the ground.
"I haven’t put it on paper," Arnold admits. "This had to be done first. Now I can go back to Florida and get lesser things done."