June 16, 2024

COLUMN: Nice things to do

Make your own case

The United Methodist Church conference in Missouri offers a sermon series for pastors. One series is about hospitality; nice things to do for people to make them feel better or simply to provide.

I came across it at a sad time.

One of the deaths in the Greenfield tornado last week was Pam Wiggins. Her husband, Dean, was another. If it was not for Pam and her hospitality, I don’t know how my wife Jennifer and I could have been comfortable in Greenfield in summer 1998.

We moved to Greenfield after I found a job at the Adair County Free Press, then owned by the Sidey family. After the job was secured, phone calls were made to find a place to live. We were not in a position to buy, so we rented. Additional phone calls were made and a great, one-bedroom, one-bathroom house was available but not when we needed it.

The tenant of the rental was planning to leave, but he was waiting for the timing to be right to get into his next residence. So what do we do? More phone calls were made and Pam Wiggins was mentioned. She was manager of the senior citizen apartment complex on Greenfield’s southeast side of town. She said there were a few vacant apartments. She made arrangements for us to live in one until the rental house was open.

Wow. What a nice thing to do for a married couple in their mid-20s; a couple she had no history with and young enough to be the grandchildren of people who should be living in those apartments. I do thank the Sidey family for being a character witness.

The Sidey family let us use the backroom of the Free Press office for storage of our possessions. (which is now the Olive Branch restaurant off the east side of the town square.) We only took the essentials with us to the senior apartment. We were in the apartment a bit more than a month. We moved in the rental Labor Day weekend. My aunt and uncle (my father’s oldest sister) who lived in Ames at the time, helped us move in.

The words and concepts of that sermon series were put to action. Jesus did plenty for others; providing wine at a wedding, healing the sick, feeding 5,000 people and making his disciples comfortable the last time they met before his death.

Reminders of what happened to me 26 years ago. Pam started it all with offering us an apartment on a temporary basis.

After the tornado passed Greenfield, Caleb, our staff member who lives and works in Greenfield obviously needed help. He and his wife survived the storm but their house did have some minor damage. He called and asked what I could do since he didn’t have electricity and could only go so far with his work.

I drove to Greenfield. Not wanting to get in the way, like I normally do at car accidents and property fires, I wanted to park far enough away to not be in the way of far more important people. After being cleared by law enforcement on Highway 25 on Greenfield’s south side, I thought the best place to park would be the same senior housing facility. I did park there and residents were outside. I told them who I was and they said I could leave my vehicle there so I could walk through town and help Caleb with coverage.

Of course parking there reminded me of Pam, not knowing she would be one of the deaths until the end of the week.

My goal was to get to Caleb’s house and see how he was doing. Greenfield is considered “small” with about 2,000 residents, but that walk to his house a couple blocks off of Highway 25 on Greenfield’s north side seemed like walking through New York City. The piles of rubble that were a house a couple of hours ago; the cars on their side; the trees that were stripped of everything only leaving a standing trunk made the walk seem farther. Seeing the people in shock or emotional added to it all. I was fortunate to see two people who I knew during my time living in Greenfield.

All kinds of equipment, either being hauled on trailers, or being driven were coming and going. During my walk, every so often people in ATVs would drive by offering water to those who needed one (another act of hospitality). I wasn’t in a skidloader. I wasn’t driving a tractor. I didn’t have a shovel. I was with a camera and notebook. Other people deserved the water more.

After meeting with Caleb I got as much information as we could as it was unknown when anything official would be said about anything. The walk back included seeing if the rental house was still standing. I didn’t expect as others were telling me how the tornado went through town. The rental was in the tornado’s path. I was standing in the same block, but there were no standing houses.

The thing Pam did for Jennifer and I will always stand tall.

John Van Nostrand


An Iowa native, John's newspaper career has mostly been in small-town weeklies from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. He first stint in Creston was from 2002 to 2005.