Quest for a coin

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The second column of mine that ever saw the light of day in the black and white pages of the Spencer Daily Reporter detailed my quest to find the origins of an antique soda bottle that was evidently filled in Spencer. As it turned out, the bottle's origins could be traced back to the Spencer Community Theatre. At the time, I was taken with the idea of retracing the historical serendipity that fell in my lap.

Now, I think I'm primed to do it again. I find myself on a quest for a coin. Not a coin of legal tender for all debts public and private mind you. I believe the actual term is "token." Specifically, I wanted to see if I could find a Spirit Lake Centennial token from 1979. Frankly, I didn't know such a thing even existed until just before Christmas this year when my mother dredged up her token.

To paraphrase Dickens, if I tell you why she had it, nothing that follows will seem wondrous (but don't worry, you'll find out).

So, being the newly-minted newspaperman and former carrier that I am, I began my search. We young folk have it pretty easy these days, since many historical newspapers are available in a digital format online. In short order, I read two relevant entries from two editions of the former Spirit Lake Beacon one of several publications which coalesced to become the Dickinson County News we all know and love. Entries from Jan. 4 and Jan 18, 1979, told me the centennial logo, which made up one side of the token, was an amalgam of four designs created by Karleton Zeigler, Maribeth Bones, Sister Clare Becker and Candy Iwen. However, the contrast on the archived image is so high, it's impossible to make out each entry's contribution. At any rate, Bones was tasked with combining the designs to form the official logo for the celebration, according to the Jan. 18 edition, and there were several entries afterward advertising crafts and materials Bones was helping to produce for public consumption during the centennial not to mention a good number of open houses, art displays and tea gatherings Bones hosted just because. To my amusement, the Jan. 18 edition also featured a letter to the editor in opposition to beer cans labeled with the centennial logo being sold to promote the event (there was also a now-dated photo of former art center CEO Tom Tourville and an editorial cartoon featuring five Spirit Lake water towers and the caption "We'll just keep tryin' till we get it right," ... yeah, I don't get it either).

But among all the seemingly mundane minutia, there was a full byline article dated May 23, 1985, that was actually at the top of the search results. The piece, titled "First wedding performed in church," detailed Bones' life, ranging from her marriage to her husband Herbert (who's real name was Clarence by the way, but he preferred his middle name) in June 1935 to the couple's retirement to Spirit Lake in 1976.

Now, you may be asking why I followed Bones' path so closely, rather than Zeigler, Becker or Iwen. And that's a fair question. While Bones was the hand behind the final combined design, there is a much simpler answer.

She was my grandmother.

But I have no memories of my grandparents in Spirit Lake. I was born months after they moved from Spirit Lake to Fort Dodge. I heard stories of the cabin named "Tokowanda" near West Lake. I heard stories of grandpa's work shop in the basement of the house on Fargo Avenue. I've held one of his turned alabaster jars he was told couldn't be turned. I've seen dozens of the paintings grandma created, many of them undoubtedly painted in that same house. I can pull out dozens of photos from visits to that house out of various albums, but I'm not in any of them. I know the history, but it's not memory.

I was inspired to write about the memories I do have with my grandmother slightly more than a year ago, when I rediscovered a note she attached to a gift for me. I didn't expect to repeat the pattern again this year but, as these things do, it came about as a sudden surprise.

Though I went looking for one thing, I found another. Reading through the pages of a newspaper that would eventually be rolled into the publication I now write for nourished a sprouting personal connection with the area for me. I felt a high point of reading my grandparents' describe in their own words how they met and what life was like at that time. I felt a low point of repeatedly clicking "refresh" for an outlier of an entry from 1997 that wouldn't load, only to realize it was my grandfather's obituary. I felt a laugh rise in me as I searched his name and stumbled upon my own parents' engagement and wedding announcements.

There was, of course, no way the paper's Lifestyles Editor Cindy Shubert could have known what the article she wrote about a retired couple would mean to me more than 30 years later, just as there's no way I can know what the words I write may mean to someone down the line. But it sets the stage for connections.

I've heard some people say that no one in the Lakes area is really a local. We all come from someplace else, often attracted by stories of the past myself included. Perhaps, with that being the case, we must find our own ways to tie ourselves to the community in a different sense, be it through the written words of others, familiar grainy photographs or the relief image on the back of a coin that some say has no value.