• A Few Words about Janey Mae Cawelti

    • Posted on Dec 19, 1999


     My 82-year-old stepmother died last week, and though expected, her death brought hard grieving to her extended family. She had become my family's matriarch, beloved of her two children, nine grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, and all the step-relatives on my side.

     She had been a family friend for years before my own mother died in 1963. I remember family picnics, dinners, and parties over the years with my mother's slim, elegant, best friend. She always arrived with her daughters Sharon and Barbara, whom I came to know like sisters.

     When Jane married my dad in 1978, it seemed like a natural merging of the two families, and for years we got together as a  large and raucous group at holiday gatherings.

     The notion of the "wicked stepmother" from fairy tales always seemed strange to me. Jane Cawelti was the kindest, most generous, funniest stepmom imaginable, and managed to make a fine life with my dad well into her seventies.

    As retirees, they bowled, played cards with gusto and passion, traveled to Florida to visit my uncle, to Montana to see a plot of land she owned, and all over Northeast Iowa on weekends just to get out of the house.

     Jane wasn't without flaws; she smoked for most of her adult life, and paid for it with steadily deteriorating lungs that made supplemental oxygen a necessary companion.

    She also suffered from claustrophobia and panic attacks. She called herself a "'fraidy-cat," and admired those of us who flew whenever we could.

    She turned down opportunities to fly to Hawaii because she just couldn't bring herself to climb on an airplane. And she struggled just as much with elevators, needing much coaxing to ride one even in the low buildings in Waterloo.

    Yet I constantly marveled at her people smarts, or rather her people wisdom. She knew how to talk to everyone, from her customers at Berg Drug in downtown Cedar Falls, where she clerked for decades,  to her granddaughter, who relied on her advice for everything from boyfriends to career options. She always gave wise counsel mixed with sharp observations, one of which I'll never forget: "It's more fun to play for a little money." 

    About once a month for years I would play a round of "Texas Rummy" with Jane and Dad, nearly always losing a little money to one of them because they just knew cards. Janey Mae, as my Dad called her, loved competition, and played with such concentration and passion that I realized I was out of my league. This was a woman who, with a different turn of the stars, would have made a big-time gambler in Vegas, or at least a professional stock broker.

    And no one loved a joke more than Jane. She would reel them off, keeping us all hooting with laughter. I could tell a few here, but this is a family newspaper.

    So she had a good life, and on her death none of her extended family felt pangs of regret for lost potential or missed opportunities. She  provided a stable, loving family, and as her growing and healthy grandchildren would attest, she did that better than most.

    The hard part came in the last four years, with her steadily declining health. Emphysema destroyed her lungs, shingles rattled her nerves and damaged her eyesight, and Alzheimer's was taking her mind.  My dad, now 87, nursed her along, helping her through those days when nothing made sense to her.  His love and affection kept her alive far longer than anyone expected.

    Six weeks ago he took Jane to the Western Home in Cedar Falls where she declined further until her death on December 6.

    She slipped away peacefully early in the morning with my Dad, Sharon and Barbara at her side. When I received the news that morning, I felt a  mix of sadness and relief, since dying seems preferable to lingering in that twilight vegetative state. Certainly my dad felt unburdened, though still overwhelmed at times with the loss of his long-time mate.

    Life goes on, as they say, but for the friends and relatives of Janey Mae Cawelti, it won't be the same. One of the lights of our lives has flickered out. 


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    • Aging & Birthdays
  • Back to the Future with Jon Crews

    • Posted on Dec 05, 1999


    "Again?" wail Jon Crews's detractors.  His supporters reply: "Again."

    Crews, Cedar Falls' new mayor-elect, first sought and received that same public office before the Vietnam war ended, in 1971. Nixon was President, "The French Connection" received Best Film Oscar, and Jane Fonda won for best actress in "Klute."        Both Elvis and Sinatra were still performing, and computers resided mostly in large air-conditioned rooms full of techno-geeks.

    Most of us were thinner, hairier, and lived  in worlds of youthful fantasies which now seem quaint, if not endearing. The good old days, as they say.

    At the time, Crews made news for being the nation's youngest mayor, and proceeded to serve four terms until 1979. At that point, most people would have had enough of the hassles, and found a new career. Crews was still a young man, after all, both bright and capable. 

    So it came as a surprise when he returned to run again in 1987 for another four terms until 1993.  The Energizer Bunny came to mind, or maybe just plain masochist.

    Who would want that job again?

    Then when he lost in 1993, that had to be enough. He had been competent, but not flashy, and made the usual mistakes. So voters turned him out. 

     Yet he stuck around, serving as County Treasurer, and four years on the Cedar Falls City Council.  Something odd was emerging here.

      Comes now Jon Crews again, running in a four-way race against Stan Smith, ending up only second, yet running an aggressive campaign and--gasp--winning yet a ninth two-year term to become Cedar Falls' millennial mayor.

    Now I've heard some unkind things about Jon Crews from the "Again?" people.

    Some people suggest that he can't really do anything else, so he may as well serve as mayor. That's the same objection I hear to my own chosen profession, teaching. Those who can, do, those who can't, teach.

    To them I say: Phooey. You haven't tried teaching or mayoring, so shut up.

    Another objection  concerns his leadership style. On a charisma scale, he's off the scale in the wrong direction.

    To these people too I say: Look in the mirror. For everyone with a scintilla of charisma, there are hundreds who couldn't move a crowd to notice them, much less elect them. Beside, charisma's fleeting, fickle, and ultimately beside the point. Character and perspective make the right kind of difference, not charisma.

    If you question that, consider this century's most charismatic leader, Adolf Hitler, and the horrors his charismatic personality produced.

    Or consider last century's least charismatic leader, Abraham Lincoln, a man so homely he seemed a living caricature. Yet he kept the country together, ended slavery, and wrote phrases that invoke the better angels of our nature.

    Incidentally, I couldn't vote for either candidate since I live outside the city limits, so I'm speaking as a literal outsider here.  For all Jon Crews's flaws, he seems to embody one huge virtue that's always in short supply: Perseverance.

    He has become our Energizer Elephant, charging on and on, refusing to let either time or voter rejection discourage him. Let us remember that Lincoln too lost several elections, but kept going. Babe Ruth struck out hundreds of times, but kept going. John Glenn gave up as an astronaut,  served as Senator for years, then aimed again for the stars, returning to his first love.

    Crews then, seems also to have returned to his first love, being Mayor of Cedar Falls.  Because he has persevered, consider why we should appreciate him:

    • no one can accuse him of being inexperienced
    • his ninth term won't be marked by unpleasant surprises
    • he knows the city well enough to know what can and can't be done
    • most Cedar Fallsians, including his detractors, accept him for being a common-sense, good-hearted man
    • he knows the difference between a police officer and a fire fighter

    One could do far worse than persevere and win again, and most of us have.

    Welcome back and godspeed, Jon Crews. 


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    Posted in
    • Personalities
    • Politics
    • 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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