• Water, water, everywhere--The Finchford Flood

    • Posted on Aug 08, 1990


    Now, where was I before the Finchford flood took over? Let’s see, I was living in a comfortable but not swank home in Finchford, taking water entirely for granted. Never had I experienced having either too much of too little water.

     Then, in the space of just five days, I learned both the horror of too much followed quickly by the matching horror of too little.

     Sunday, July 29, I awoke to see a large puddle forming un my south yard. This was about seven in the morning, and the puddle was larger than any that had accompanied previous “floods” on the West Fork.

    Ten years in the same place meant that I had seen high water, but that meant a couple inches in the basement. Inconvenient, but nothing to worry about. Besides, for the last two years, the sump pit was filled with sand. The old pedestal pump was rusted from lack of use.

    I walked to the edge of the spreading puddle and stood a brick up on end. Within a half hour it was covered. “A REAL flood,” I said to myself. I woke up my wife and we stood in our south room, wondering what to do first.

    After moving the brick and watching it disappear again, we decided to get my son up, who had just arrived from Southern California. “I wish we had some of this water in California,” he said.

     “So do I,” I said, without much enthusiasm.

    By 10 a.m., the water was only a few feet from the house and rising fast. We were piling stuff up, carrying light furniture upstairs, turning off gas and electricity. No panic, just steady work with some light cursing.

    Just before noon water cascaded into the basement from a broken window. This was a stroke of luck – otherwise water pressure from outside might have collapsed our basement walls.

    As the basement was filling, we kept working. We didn’t yet believe that our house was going under, but there was no denying the crashing and lapping sounds in the basement.

    We left to take our dog and two cats to the very for boarding. Then we dropped off our suitcases at my dad’s, who graciously consented to take us in. Then we returned to the house.

    At 2 p.m. or so, our house was surrounded by swirling river water. The living room was still dry, much to our relief, so we waded in and kept working. After half an hour, we watched water bubble up through the wooden floor and spread into all the downstairs rooms. It was time to leave.

    That moment I felt as though I were living a nightmare. What had we done to deserve this, other than wanting to live by a nice little river? I was depressed and angry at the same time.

    The next morning we returned to survey the damage. There was still enough water in the back yard to float a 10-foot boat, but the living room floor was now getting dry. The water line sat a foot high on the paneling and plaster Water, water everywhere, as they say.

    And not a drop to drink. We were warned not to drink any of the water, since our well had been completely covered and was probably contaminated. It looked clear, but bacteria don’t always make water look muddy. So we used it to wash the floors for two days. Then the well pump quit.

    On Friday, we had no water at all. Wet basement and floors, soggy walls, but dry faucets. We moved from flood to personal drought between Monday and Friday. That must be a record of some kind.

    We couldn’t actually live in our house until Saturday night, after having a new water pump installed in the well, ad spending the better part of an afternoon drying out a water heater.

    And we still can’t drink our well water until it’s tested.

    What’s to be learned from all this? Like all life-shaking events, there is more than one lesson:

    • We depend enormously on each other. Without two dozen or so friends, relatives, neighbors and agencies (the Janesville Fire Department, which helped pump out the basement, Red Cross, Civil Defense, the Black Hawk County Sheriff’s Office), we would have had to abandon our home by now, possibly forever.
    • I’ll never see our West Fork river as quite so benign or beautiful again. It’s capable of doing serious damage.
    • Finally, given hell or high water, at this point in our long cleanup, I would opt for hell.
    Go comment!
    Posted in
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    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
  • There’s hope at Ellsworth

    • Posted on May 16, 1990


    Last weekend I attended a post-graduation celebration over in Iowa Falls. A friend’s son had received his two-year degree from Ellsworth, and we were invited for the party.

    It was a fine party, too. Great cake, good food, a bathtub full of iced cans of various carbonated liquids, and talk. Lots of talk.

    Some of the talk, inevitably, centered on the future of Ellsworth Community College. A fair number of folks at the party made their living, directly or indirectly, from Ellsworth. As goes Ellsworth, so goes their lives and livelihoods.

    Most of the talk was cheerful. Hope reigned. Given the lousy spring they had all suffered at the hands of their administrators, I was amazed at the level of optimism.

    And how lousy was their spring? A horror story. Some 17 faculty members had been given pink slips at Ellsworth and Marshalltown community colleges. Then the faculty at both schools had voted “no confidence” in their top administrators, and angry students had set up picket lines to protest the cutbacks.

    To top it off, John Prihoda, president of the Iowa Valley Community College District (which administrates both Marshalltown and Ellsworth) had asserted in public, “I work for the board of directors, not the students, and I will not resign.”

    Statements like that betray deep insensitivity toward students’ needs. Students and faculty alike felt power-less and demoralized.

    What really bothered them was not just dismissals. Part-time faculty, short-timers, or people who taught light loads with small classes were often let go in the spring as a cost-cutting measure.

    But this spring, people who had been there for years and who taught extremely heavy loads were fired. One popular 12-year veteran instructor taught a full class load plus an overload last semester — at the administration’s request. His pink slip meant that virtually all faculty were vulnerable to administrators’ whims.

    Now, many faculty feel hopeful, as I say. First, because several faculty — including that 12-year veteran — have now been reinstated. Though firing and rehiring veterans faculty hurts everyone’s morale, at least there was relief about the rehiring.

    More important for the long run, President Prihoda has in fact resigned. Faculty feel as though justice was done, though they would have preferred a real resignation rather than “early retirement” and a one-year grace period with a substantial pay raise. It’s called a golden parachute.

    They’re still worried that the assistant president, Beverly Nelson, who received the same no-confidence vote, will be around, but they feel as though their protests may have made a difference.

    Finally, elections for at least one member of the board of directors are coming up soon. Mary Jensen, president of the ISEA Chapter at Ellsworth, mentioned that they will be looking closely at candidates. They want a board which will listen, and will keep the best interests of students at heart.

    Meanwhile, the graduation party at Ellsworth went off in fine style. Some faculty are now interviewing at schools where they won’t have to worry so much about spring firings. But most felt that Ellsworth and Marshalltown community colleges have survived their darkest hour.

    We should all wish them well. Teaching is hard enough without having to worry about dodging an ax every spring.

    Go comment!
    Posted in
    • Graduation
    • Education
    • Hot Button Issues
    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
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“Even before the advent of the Internet, Cawelti’s columns went 'viral' in the Cedar Valley… the role of a columnist is to be thought provoking, to take tacks that shed a different light on an issue or possibly cause a reader to reevaluate a position. At the very least, it should bring clarity to a particular perspective, whether you buy into the commentator’s worldview or not.

Scott's work does just that.  Enjoy this collection of his writing.”

-Saul Shapiro, Former Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier Editor
Read Shapiro's entire introduction.


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