Well done, Orlan Love

Gazette's outdoor writer retiring but will continue column

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It was Orlan Love’s son, Fred, who came up with the best explanation for his dad’s prowess as a reporter.

Orlan, dispatched to some crime or accident scene, would arrive in his perennial uniform of jeans, boots and a long-sleeved shirt. He’d wander over to where the action was, appearing to all the world like a “curious farmer.” The rest of the media would be corralled on the sidelines, while Orlan would be inside, asking questions, getting the story.

Orlan admitted a few years ago he might be carrying his “look” a bit too far. He was at an Allamakee County meeting about frack sand mining. The guy sitting next to him asked who he was. Orlan said he was a Gazette reporter. The guy said, “I thought you were a New Albin hillbilly.”

That’s Orlan. A tenacious reporter, a lyrical, inimitable writer, delighting in a funny story.

And now he’s retiring after 25 years with The Gazette, as are two other longtime Gazette employees, business writer George Ford and Time Machine writer Diane Langton.

But it’s Orlan I’ve come to praise today. I was his “boss” for 15 years — though that mainly consisted of him telling me what he was working on and me saying, “OK, that sounds good.”

Orlan is recognized as one of Iowa’s best agriculture and environmental writers.

In any story he writes, you’ll find at least a couple of distinguishing phrases that mark it as Orlan’s, that elevate it from reporting to writing. Always.

Orlan is perhaps best known for the outdoor column he has written for decades. He’s won “best columnist” in newspaper contests, an almost impossible achievement for a writer whose main topics are the fairly narrow ones of hunting, fishing and the occasional grizzly bear. Those columns, though, also convey a rich sense of what life is like in Iowa, of the depths of friendship, of the love of land, freedom and great dogs.

Most recently, Orlan has become “a monarch evangelist,” writing extensively about the efforts to re-establish milkweed in the state. He created a tented monarch zone of his own and provided “how to” instructions on how we, too, can grow milkweed in our yards and help save the endangered butterflies.

An anonymous donor so admires Orlan’s writing that he or she gave $200,000 this year to establish the Orlan Love Pollinator Prairie in a Cedar Rapids park, a place that will become a haven for monarchs and bees. I know of no other reporter so honored.

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Some things you may not know about Orlan:

• He’s a seriously smart guy — Phi Beta Kappa smart when he was at Marquette University. In all the years I’ve known him, he’s never mentioned that, and I’m sure he’ll be embarrassed that I did. He’s a reader and an admirer of Mark Twain, Truman Capote and David Foster Wallace.

• He’s lived almost his entire life in his hometown of Quasqueton, population 550. He and his wife, Corinne, also a Quasky native, love the town, and the town loves the Loves right back.

• He’s a Navy veteran, a medical corpsman, from the Vietnam era. Every year, he writes and delivers beautiful, thoughtful Memorial Day speeches at the Quasky cemetery, speeches replete with history and the names of those who lie at rest there.

• He’s a family counselor. When I was moaning one day about a teenage son who was being stupid and keeping me up nights, Orlan listened and said, “Well, Mary, I wouldn’t worry too much until he holds up a convenience store.” I laughed and felt better. And Orlan was right. The kid turned out fine.

• Orlan’s garden is a beast: 80-plus tomato plants and just about anything else that can grow in Iowa’s rich bottomland. He keeps notes and knows what to plant, when to harvest. His garden consistently produces the biggest, best tomatoes you’ll find anywhere — plenty to share with friends and the hundreds of BLTs at the annual fundraiser for the Quasqueton Area Historical Society. When the weather turns dry, he hauls buckets of water from the nearby Wapsipinicon for the tomato plants. Because, as you know, regular gardening is not backbreaking enough.

• Everyone likes working with Orlan.

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I hope Eastern Iowans realize what a privilege it has been to have someone as trustworthy and fair-minded as Orlan covering our news. He’s an honorable man who’s done an honorable job.

Orlan’s current bosses say that with him continuing his outdoor column and freelancing other stories, it will be almost like he hasn’t retired.

But he has. He’ll have more hours to fish the Wapsi or trudge around on cold days hunting pheasants. And on hot summer days, he’ll be the curious farmer hauling water from the river to those thirsty tomatoes. Stop and say hello. Thank him for his service.

• Mary Sharp of Cedar Rapids was The Gazette’s metro-Iowa editor from 1994 to 2011, when she retired. She now works part-time on the newspaper’s copy desk.

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