Community and Family in Iowa

Having returned from my trip to Iowa, I could share with you all the things that make city people squirm about rural life. There are certainly some differences when your town has a population of 360 (the current population of my grandmother’s town). While many of those things may be true, I’d like to focus on one of the many positive aspects of small town Iowa.

Family and community are extremely important in Iowa. One of the first things I noticed when I moved to Chicagoland is how many people are disconnected from their family out here. There’s an attitude that, if a particular family member pisses you off or screws up too many times, you should forget them. While there are exceptions, I’m used to the idea that family comes above all things. Even when they screw up multiple times to the point where everyone else has given up, family should always be there for support.

While listening to my grandmother discuss how her small town had changed through the years, I realized that the importance placed on family and community is more of a necessity in Iowa. Nothing is affected if I refuse to participate in community here in Chicagoland because, with such a large population, there is usually more than enough volunteers and participants. In as rural of an area as I was in this weekend, you can’t blow off stuff like that. Community is everything; without it, the town may fade away.

My grandmother's town.
My grandmother’s town.

My grandmothers town is aging a bit. Like many small Iowa towns I’ve been to, there’s an old school building that is no longer used, only a handful of streets and a gas station that also functions as a store for small necessities (since the nearest big grocery store is about a 20 minute drive away). Additionally, you breathe in some of the freshest air and are privileged to the view of a mass of stars at night. The city lights block out so much that the rural night sky is always surprising.

She told me one night that her town was trying. This past Saturday, they held a community breakfast. Last year, they even had what sounds like a pretty active ’50 and Older’ club. Unfortunately, that didn’t last. With little in terms of business in her town, the community atmosphere is what keeps people there. Without it, the town may shrink into oblivion. In my time growing up in Iowa, I saw it happen many times, especially to towns who lost their schools.

I’ve also seen the creation of community succeed. My hometown is a prime example. With a population of only 636, my hometown has the same need of community to survive. Among the five streets that make up the town, there are four different Christian churches and a large ball park with two baseball fields, two tennis courts and two volleyball courts which double as a giant sandbox. I remember the town baseball club being a huge community effort.

Assuming things are still the same, the town has three teams for boys and three teams for girls, separated by age groups, and an adult team. From what I remember, the adult team didn’t travel, but the children’s teams did. Many small towns in our area participated in these city teams. My brother even choose to stay on the older boys baseball club team instead of participating in high school baseball.

During the summer, hardly a weekend goes by without a handful of baseball games at the park. The games are community affairs, with volunteers working at the concession stand and acting as coaches. Even those who don’t care for sports would come to play at the park, enjoy the concession stand and cheer on their hometown.

I'm swinging on the tire-swing at my grandmother's  neighbor's house!
I’m swinging on the tire-swing at my grandmother’s neighbor’s house!

By far, the biggest event of the town is the 4th of July. It’s the only time of the year where you see a traffic jam in this tiny town. People come from all over. They fill front lawns, parks and country roads to watch the spectacle. There is no music to distract viewers from the blast and colors, which light the sky for a good 20 minutes, if not longer.  For the finale, they literally light up everything they have. For a few minutes, the night sky looks like day with the amount of light blasting into the sky.

And so my hometown lives on. You hardly notice it when you drive by on the highway. There’s no reason stop and nothing much to see, but the people who live there love their town. Even though there isn’t a Starbucks near by, children must be sent to a neighboring town to attend school and the nearest movie theater has only one screen, the town thrives.

My grandmother’s town is smaller. Perhaps that means it’s harder to build community there. Still, you can feel it’s existence. People are passionate about building a community where all  feel welcomed and safe. Small towns aren’t just places where you know your neighbors. Typically, people know everyone in their small town. Everyone is an acquaintance, if not a friend, and community is nearly as important as family.


Of course, Iowa is more than small communities. The video below came out during the 2012 presidential race. In less than two minutes, it dispels the idea that Iowa is full of GOP radicals and hillbillies. I highly recommend watching, but warn that there is some strong language.

Too lazy to watch the video? I’ll give you the lowdown.

  • Iowa has voted democratic in five out of the last six presidential elections.
  • Did your state legalized gay marriage before Iowa? Probably not. Equal marriage has been legal in Iowa since 2009.
  • The first woman in America to become a lawyer was in Iowa in 1869.
  • Four out of five Iowans live in cities.
  • One Iowa farmer feeds 155 people.
  • The average Iowa farm is larger than 300 football fields.
  • Iowa has the sixth lowest unemployment in the nation and is the second healthiest
  • Any guesses as to where the computer was invented? The answer is Iowa.

16 thoughts on “Community and Family in Iowa”

  1. Good read this morning Tonya, honestly this may make me sound sheltered; but until Chicago three weekends ago; I had never met someone from Iowa! lol…. weird I know. Everything you say makes so much sense; without community there would be almost no reason for those people to live in a town in the middle of nowhere…

    1. I don’t think that makes you sheltered. How many people have met someone from every state. The thing with Iowa is, may people forget about it. When I went to Washington D.C. there were people who didn’t even know where Iowa was located.

      While it may not be for me, Iowa has it’s own charm. It makes for a nice vacation from the hustle and bustle that characterizes urban life.

  2. That was a great read.
    It is a shame that towns like that, that truly breath community are slowly disappearing due to younger people looking for happiness elsewhere.
    It is towns like these who can tell us what connecting means and how one can make things work if you work together.
    Again lovely read.

    1. Thanks. I think keeping the youth is the struggle. Iowa, in particular, has a significant problem with ‘brain drain.’ I don’t think there is a solid solution to that yet. It probably starts with organizations working to provide a benefit for recent graduates who stay (for example, offering to pay off a doctor’s schooling in five years so long as they spend those five years working in Iowa).

      Other than that, having a community and offering activities for younger people help them stick around. If there’s nothing for anyone to do in town, how can you expect people to stick around?

  3. Thanks for sharing about the richness of family and community. They’re probably a whole lot happier then most people that live for the rush of life and strive for affluence.

    1. It all depends on who we are. I think the idea of having a lot of money and things often distracts us from what truly makes us happy. That said, each person is different. I, for one, love the rush of urban life. I’m not trying to make a ton of money or working long hours. It just has to do with my personality and how I thrive. Others would be happy with a simple, quiet lifestyle. Sometimes, I think you’re right. People join the rush, thinking they can buy that calm lifestyle someday. No one has to buy anything. Those are the kind of people who would be happy in a small town. Not to mention that I could comfortably live off of a $25,000 salary in Iowa. That’s certainly not the case in urban areas.

      1. Happiness is a state of being, and not a feeling or something you work at getting. I just think it’s too bad that people think that they have to rush through life and strive for affluence, so called ‘success’ or even social status in order to achieve it. Hence, people missing out on life, trying to ‘find’ happiness. Don’t get me wrong, I would probably die if I didn’t live in a city. My whole life I grew up in the city. I guess what I was trying to get at was the people in the more rural areas being happier because of the richness of relationships and community, maybe less pretension and a lot less stress. Valuing people, relationships, quality of time well spent, rather than trying to, as you said above, rush around so that they can one day buy the ‘good life’. 🙂

  4. I loved reading this. I wish I could feel the same about the forgiving family members and choosing family first, sadly my situation’s only solution was to cut off most of my family. I admire those who have big family’s that all get along to some extent or another and I’m glad you’re proud of who you are and where you came from.

    1. There are always situations in which we have to let them go. In fact, there are certain things I make a point not to speak of near my family because I don’t want to start a fight. No matter what, I’d try very hard to fix things. Cutting family off is a last resort, but sometimes it must be done.

      This is a rather positive way of looking at rural life, but it has it’s problems as well. I choose to focus on something positive because rural areas are not the worst place on earth. They get a bad rep and I wanted to show off something that is great and unique about that lifestyle.

  5. I think you accurately described the many aspects of small towns and communities in IA, and in other parts of rural America. Rural anywhere, for that matter. People aren’t that much different any where.
    As for the video….I love it!

    1. I agree. Even when I studied abroad and talked to people who had radically different solutions for typical issues, I found we were all aiming for the same thing. We all have similar dreams for peace and pros parity. People may go about it different, but we are all the same at the end of the day.

      Isn’t the video lovely? I was in college when I first saw it. The small town life may not be for me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t support Iowa like I would any family member.

  6. Hi TK, I went to your blog after seeing you liked one of my posts. I’m a Nashville, Tenn., native, but lived and worked in Des Moines, Iowa, for almost 10 years and made a LOT of great friends there…some of my closest. I really enjoyed your post, for several reasons. What part of Iowa are you from?

  7. Your Iowa post makes me appreciate this state even more. I am not originally from Iowa, I moved to Iowa from a very traditional, rural, anti-progressive Kansas town. Although the Iowan small-town description you used can be used for any small town in the Midwest, Iowa is remarkably different. Thanks for posting 😀 !

    1. I’m happy you like it. Growing up in Iowa, the stereotype of rural life seemed odd to me. I mean, I love me a good demolition derby and I saw my share of people sporting Confederate flags, but most people hardly acted like ‘hillbillies.’ I moved out of Iowa, but I still respect the culture there. I think Iowan culture has been able to evolve without stereotypes. Assumptions about rural culture tend to be rooted in assumptions about the south. Assumptions of city culture never touch Iowa. It’s a state of it’s own creation. I’m happy to hear you’re enjoying your time there.

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