EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is based on a roundtable interview conducted July 25 by high school students Emma Brown of Chicago, Caitlin Hexamer of Des Moines and Emilia Hughes of Eldridge, members of Diana Nollen’s Culture Writing class from the Iowa Summer Journalism Workshop at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.
Diana Nolen, The Gazette
WEST BRANCH — On Friday and Saturday, this community steeped in history will celebrate its most famous son, Herbert Hoover, with a parade, Hoover-Ball competitions, music, food, games and fireworks.
Hoover, who was born in West Branch on Aug. 10, 1874, died in New York on Oct. 20, 1964, is buried with his wife, Lou Henry Hoover, in his hometown.
He was orphaned at age 9, and at age 10, was sent to live with an uncle in Oregon. Hoover attended Stanford University in California, where he met his wife, the first woman to major in geology in the United States. Together, they led a life of adventure, discovery and philanthropy.
Hoover became a mining engineer and found the richest vein of gold in the history of Australia. He mined silver in Burma, then palladium and zinc in Russia. He was living in London when World War I broke out, and entered into humanitarian service through hunger relief at home and abroad.
Hoover was elected the 31st U.S. President Nov. 6, 1928, took office in March 1929, steered the nation during the early years of the Great Depression, and was defeated by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932.
Thomas Schwartz, director of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum since 2011, weighs in on the life of the only U.S. president born in Iowa.
Q: What is Herbert Hoover’s legacy?
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A: He represents the quintessential kind of rags-to-riches story. But for Hoover, the thing to remember is not so much that he was a millionaire many times over by the age of 40. For him, the idea of self-made was improving one’s character — not necessarily one’s material possessions but one’s character — being someone worthy of respect and an honorable individual. Someone who could be trusted.
West Branch was a Quaker community, and still has a very large Quaker presence. He grew up in the “quietest tradition,” where you sit for sometimes hours until someone is moved by the Spirit to speak. Quakers are driven by the inner light. That light tells them when they see need, to address the need, and that no one needs to know about their good deeds — not even the person they’re helping — that it’s enough that God knows. And so his wife, Lou, referred to it as “stealth philanthropy.”
What most Iowans don’t know about Herbert Hoover is that he fed hundreds of millions of people in the period from 1914 — World War I — to the end of his life in ’64. All of his service with philanthropic organizations and in a public capacity, he did without compensation.
He was the first president not to take a salary. There have been only two other presidents who followed suit: John F. Kennedy and President Donald Trump.
(Hoover’s) legacy is literally hundreds of millions of lives that are here today because he fed their grandparents (and) their great-grandparents when they were little. It began in World War I with a commission for relief in Belgium. It continued when he became head of the U.S. Food Administration, the American Relief Administration (and during) the Russian famine from 1921 to ’23.
The one thing you need to know about both the Hoovers is that they understood that children represent the future, and how you treat children, how you treat their childhood, will impact the way that they as adults will behave. ...
Everyone knows Abraham Lincoln. And it’s a big and it’s an impressive and inspiring story. And I tell people in Iowa, you’ve got a story every bit as big and powerful and inspirational as Lincoln — only you don’t know you’ve got it. And that’s Herbert Hoover.
Q: Besides the president’s name and the title, what about Hometown Days is unique compared to other summer festivals in Iowa?
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A: (Schwartz cited features from the parade and historical events to free museum admission and Hoover-Ball.) If people haven’t been to one, it’d be a nice way to remember Iowa’s only president. Even though Iowa’s population hasn’t changed much in 20 years, I keep reading that the state is becoming more urban, which means that there are probably generations of people and transplants that have never witnessed one of these little town celebrations. And I would encourage people who haven’t ever witnessed or participated in something (like this), it really is a nice way of connecting to a tradition as old as America — and that is getting together with people and celebrating. It’s just a nice thing to do.
l Comments: (319) 368-8508; firstname.lastname@example.org
IF YOU GO
l What: Hoover’s Hometown Days
l Where: West Branch
l When: 4 p.m. to midnight Friday (8/3) and 8 a.m. to midnight Saturday (8/4)
l Friday highlights: Youth Hoover-Ball Tournament, 4 to 6 p.m., Village Green; Doubles Bags Tournament, 6 p.m., fire station; music by Swing Crew, 8 p.m. to midnight, fire station
l Saturday highlights: Hoover-Ball championships, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Hoover-Ball Courts; Hoover Library free admission, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; parade, 10 a.m.; Hoover Life Celebration, 1 to 2 p.m., across from Birthplace Cottage; kids’ water ball fights, 2 p.m., fire station; Eastern Iowa Brass Band, 8:30 to 9:30 p.m., Hoover Stage; fireworks, 9:30 p.m., Hoover Stage
l Also: Food, games and contests for all ages, music, pony rides, historic presentations, beer tent
l Details: http://hooverdays.org