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Old Cedar Falls chamber building moves to new location (PHOTOS, LIVE VIDEO) (copy)

CEDAR FALLS — A police escort was on hand Wednesday morning as the old Cedar Falls Chamber of Commerce building moved from its riverbank home to a new location on East Fourth Street.

A gathering of curious onlookers watched as the building was hoisted onto a truck and paraded through downtown streets. People who live nearby set up lawn chairs and watched the building roll by. They also saw cars and trucks in its path get towed.

Aylsworth House Movers transported the building from its original location at 10 N. Main St. to 310 E. Fourth St. It weighed an estimated 25 tons and took about one hour to move, crawling from First Street to Clay Street, then on Second Street to State Street and then to East Fourth Street.

The original brick was stripped from the building for the move. New brick will be added later to match its new location.

“This was extremely wide to move in a city — it’s 47-foot wide,” said Aylsworth House Movers Owner Ron Aylsworth. “You can imagine what that takes.”

Throughout the move, Aylsworth had someone in front and behind the building to guide it down the street and around corners.

“It takes a lot of coordinating,” Aylsworth said.

Soon the structure will house Cedar Falls Community Main Street, only a couple of blocks away from its current location. Main Street faced a shortage of storage space after losing the use of one current location.

“We were going to need to move our stuff out of there,” said Cedar Falls Community Main Street Executive Director Carol Lilly.

Meanwhile, Western Home, owner of the old Chamber property, was in the process of selling that parcel to the developers of the planned six-story Hampton Inn and found it had an extra building on its hands.

“Rather than tear the building down the thought was to just move the building and repurpose it,” Lilly said.

The lease on Community Main Street’s current offices at 206 Main St. Suite B is up in April 2019.

“Really from a timing stand point it all just fell into place,” Lilly said.

The building is being donated, but Community Main Street is paying for the move and preparation of the new site.

“We are putting in a basement,” Lilly said. The building didn’t have a basement at its previous site.

“We have been told it was built to move when it was originally built,” Lilly said.

The biggest challenge was finding a place to put the building, Lilly said.

Loree Rackstraw recalled as Vonnegut confidant, supporter of the arts, environmental causes

CEDAR FALLS – Loree Rackstraw was both a practitioner and patron of the arts.

A professor emeritus at the University of Northern Iowa in English, Rackstraw is perhaps best known for her 2009 book, “Love as always, Kurt — Vonnegut as I Knew Him,” about her 42-year friendship with the “Slaughterhouse Five” author.

But more than that, she championed writing, reading, music, the arts — and lasting friendships — throughout her life.

Rackstraw, 86, died Wednesday at Mayflower Health Care Center in Grinnell.

The former English professor and American literary critic taught at UNI from 1966 to 1996. She also was a former fiction editor at the North American Review.

She left Cedar Falls in 2011 and returned to Grinnell where she grew up. She received her undergraduate degree in philosophy from Grinnell College in 1953, and her master’s degree in English from the University of Iowa.

“I think she wanted a change of scenery,” says longtime friend Scott Cawelti. Their friendship, which Cawelti describes as “a mutual admiration society,” spanned more than four decades. “We were colleagues and became great friends. We bonded because we had almost everything in common. She was the older sister I never had.”

He recalls Rackstraw as someone who helped musicians, artists, poets and writers through her encouragement and regular attendance at events. Her 50th birthday party was the occasion of musical group Winter Ridge Handy’s first gig — Cawelti, Robert Waller, Martha Waterman and Marilyn Schultz. “We’d never performed before; we just rehearsed and talked about it. She galvanized us, and we played together for five more years,” Cawelti notes.

Barbara Lounsberry, also Rackstraw’s colleague at UNI, describes her as “wonderful and beloved. Loree was one of the first environmentalists at UNI. She brought Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas to campus for an early national conference on the environment,” Lounsberry recalls.

Rackstraw also helped shape UNI’s humanities program, bringing Joseph Campbell, author of “Hero with a Thousand Faces,” to address the campus and metro area.

“Her collection of Kurt Vonnegut paintings is priceless, and because of her close friendship with Kurt he came to campus regularly, delighting everyone. Loree also cared deeply about the metro area and sought ways always to enhance the beauty and health of the Cedar Valley,” Lounsberry adds.

Rackstraw was a divorced mother with two kids, working part-time jobs and struggling toward a graduate degree when she met Vonnegut at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa in 1965. He replaced her mentor and teacher, novelist Verlin Cassill, in leading the workshop. During the semester, a brief love affair ensued and ended, but their friendship grew and lasted until Vonnegut’s death at 84 in 2007.

She mined their years of private correspondence and conversations, as well as his essays, speeches, reviews and page proofs, to share an intimate portrait of the man she admired, as well as his triumphs and frustrations as a writer and social activist.

She told Vonnegut about her work on the book, which took six years to complete. “I told Kurt what I was doing, and he was pleased. I told him about two years before he died,” she said in a 2009 Courier interview. She completed the first draft just days before his death.

Her Cedar Falls home was filled with Vonnegut’s doodles, self-portraits and graphic art, his gifts to her, often inscribed for “dear Loree.” She planned to donate the letters and artwork to the University of Iowa.

Rackstraw also published several academic articles in books and journals, including “The Vonnegut Chronicles; Interviews and Essays” (1996) and “Kurt Vonnegut: Images and Representations” (2000).

For many years, she hosted a book discussion group, The Oxherders, which explored philosophy and religion, and was a member of the Cedar Falls Supper Club, a group that still meets monthly.

Northeast Iowa high schools among state's top in U.S. News rankings

WATERLOO — Four Northeast Iowa schools hit the top 30 for the state in U.S. News & World Report’s 2018 ranking of Best High Schools.

The rankings were created by evaluating more than 20,500 public high schools nationwide, identifying those that best serve all students and assess the degree to which students are prepared for college-level coursework. Top-performing high schools receive gold, silver and bronze medal recognition, with gold indicating the greatest level of college readiness.

Decorah High School ranked sixth in the state and 1,848 nationally followed by Cedar Falls High School in seventh place, with a national ranking of 2,207. Both received silver medals. Hudson High School ranked 21st and Charles City High School ranked 25th, both receiving a bronze medal.

Gold and silver awards are based on the percent of students participating in and achieving passing scores on the Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests, according to U.S. News. Top performers also had to do well on state assessments and graduate at high rates.

Silver was the highest award in Iowa, which received 14 representing 4.2 percent of its public schools. That put the state 46th in the nation. The top states with more than 25 percent of their public high schools receiving gold or silver medals were Massachusetts and California.

A total of 104 bronze medals were awarded in Iowa based on graduation rates and how the schools performed on state assessments.

Others high schools in Northeast Iowa that U.S. News rated as bronze medal winners included: AGWSR in Ackley, Denver, Grundy Center, Hampton-Dumont, Iowa Falls-Alden, Jesup, Oelwein, Osage, South Winneshiek in Calmar, St. Ansgar, Starmont in Arlington, Sumner-Fredricksburg and West Delaware in Manchester.

For more information on rankings, go online to

Evan Vucci Wong Maye-E