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From Elvis to enlightenment

A weekend's trip through Iowa

Published: Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014 11:11 a.m. CST • Updated: Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014 11:15 a.m. CST

Anyone who thinks Iowa is void of entertainment should take a ride in my car. Last week I traveled from Jasper County’s southern border to its most northern town, covering a family fair, a town festival celebrating its history around natural mineral springs and an Elvis impersonator. This is a weekend which can only be found in Iowa.

In my travels, I found the Percy Fair — a family reunion of sorts to honor the memory of a town from which most of the attendees descended but have never seen. Now, they come from areas surrounding Monroe, Prairie City, Runnells and Pleasant Hill once a year to keep the spirit of their great-grandparents and parents alive.

In Colfax, I witnessed the town of just over 2,000 more than double in size as demolition derby drivers crashed, twisted and mangled their cars in a last-man standing, dirt-filled cage match. As I captured the moment in photos, I was given a mudbath when two cars nearly broke the concrete barrier as they battled it out against the wall — tires spinning, maxing their RPMs. The spectators near the pressbox all scrambled to avoid the flying sludge. It was gritty derby magic.

At a unique Sunday evening church service in Baxter, the community and congregation hosted special entertainment. Only in an Iowa town would the local care facility administrator moonlight as the King himself — Elvis Presley. The gospel-rooted Elvis is the only entertainer who could get away with singing “I’m all shook up” in a small-town sanctuary.

As I examined my weekend in pictures, one image caught my eye. A volunteer firefighter stood on the concrete barrier at the Mineral Springs demolition derby in full gear — his body against the sunset. To me, this image is indicative of the dedication Jasper County residents have to their communities. The firefighter appears stoic, but what the photo doesn’t show is the humid, hot and sticky air from that night. It doesn’t show the vigilance the emergency workers kept in order to ensure driver and spectator safety. All of this to keep the vibrancy and unique culture of their town in motion.