In late summer, my wife, Kathy, and I attended my 50-year high school reunion in Manchester. I did not appreciate it at the time, but my hometown provided a great K-12 education. We also enjoyed diverse amenities, including a swimming pool, a thriving downtown, good parks and, of course, a county fair.
After completing an undergraduate degree in economics and accounting, a law degree, and a Ph.D. in economics, I began to appreciate the rich educational experience I received.
Starting in the ‘50s, local leaders had the wisdom to merge districts. As a result, my graduating class had 177 students. Two years later, there were over 200 students in my brother’s class. We had teachers who were deeply committed, and many had advanced degrees. Importantly, the educational programs met the needs of all students and matched career interests and skills with academic programs that would prepare them for college and careers. It was a rural Iowa town that was not only interested in athletics, but also music, drama, speech and debate, and other activities that served the needs of all students.
During the period of the ‘50s, ‘60s and early ‘70s, the community built a new high school, junior high, and elementary buildings. My grandparents had a sixth-grade education, but there was never a school bond issue that my grandparents and parents did not support. Our community appreciated the importance of a good education, good parks and recreational and cultural amenities, and a high-quality infrastructure that met needs of the community.
Over the years, I have commented that I grew up in a remarkable community. As we were driving to the reunion, Kathy said, “I do not want you to be disappointed. You are probably remembering it better than it really was.”
On the way home, we both agreed it was better than I remembered. A broad cross-section of the class of 1968 attended the reunion. It was clear that the students who came back had good lives and had fulfilling careers.
After the reunion, I communicated with the superintendent, Dr. Kristen Rickey, and mayor, Milt Kramer. From those discussions, it was clear that the spirit of the ‘50s and ‘60s is alive and well in Manchester.
The local school has a 98.4 percent graduation rate, offers 25 college credit courses, provides preschool for students with and without disabilities, has volunteers who donated 21,246 hours, offers an apprenticeship program in welding, and provides numerous science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) options for students.
The local community built an 800-foot whitewater park, is building a Riverfront Development Project which includes a shelter, walkway and public art, reopened the Castle Movie Theatre through a nonprofit corporation funded by the private sector and local government, built a skate park, created and built Rawrr with Colton, a dinosaur-themed playground that includes ADA compliant swings, added three miles of trails to the community’s trail system, expanded the retirement community, has a Municipal Airport that received the NPIAS Designation, developed a business park, and organized the Manchester Regional Education Partnership which is a partnership with Northwest Iowa Community College and Upper Iowa University.
The citizens in Manchester and Delaware County got it right while I was growing up, and they continue to get it right. They understood and still understand that good government provides strong schools, diversified recreational and cultural activities and maintains quality infrastructure. Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, all can agree that a free market will not produce those goods and services. The role of government is to provide goods and services that free markets will not provide.
Sadly, our K-12 education and post-secondary education have not improved as quickly as other states because of reduced support. The support for infrastructure has also declined. When we vote in the upcoming elections for local and state officials, look at what the residents and leaders of Manchester have achieved. I hope that all Iowans will support the candidates who, regardless of party, realize the value of supporting good education, strong infrastructure and a diverse offering of recreational and cultural programs. If taxes are needed to support those programs, we should pay those taxes.
It does not matter whether the candidate is a Republican or a Democrat, vote for those candidates who get it right: The role of government is to provide goods and services that strengthen communities. I am a beneficiary of growing up in a community and state that supported that philosophy.