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Iowa Hawkeyes offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz speaks during the 2017  Iowa football media day at the Hansen Football Performance Center in Iowa City.


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WATCH NOW: Waverly man's Great Danes inspire cartoons, book

WAVERLY – Dale “Toons” Santoiemma finds his Great Danes “strangely hilarious.” So do his nearly 22,000 followers on Facebook and about 8,000 Instagram fans.

“It’s a Dane Thing” — that’s what Santoiemma calls the daily Great Dane-centric comics he draws and posts as DaleToons. Now he’s putting together a 150-page coffee table book featuring 300 drawings being released in February. The cartoonist has raised $87,000 to publish the book through a Kickstarter campaign in September.

“When I started the campaign, I hit my $15,000 goal in two and a half hours. It’s crazy. I had no idea what was going to happen, and the love and support from people who love the comics has been amazing,” said Santoiemma, 47. His followers include fans from Europe, Canada and Australia.

He posts a new cartoon at 5 a.m. every morning.

The New Hartford native has been drawing “It’s a Dane Thing” for more than a year, inspired by George, the Great Dane and “best buddy” he lost in April 2019. “It was a tough time in my life. I’d given up on art. I was looking on Facebook and Instagram at cartoons and some were funny and the artwork was OK, but I thought ‘I can do better.’ I did some sketches and threw them out there. People loved them and wanted more. Every day it kept growing, and it helped me cope with the loss of George. I was liking art again and having fun.”

He also had new inspiration, Georgette, a 2-year-old blue Merle Great Dane, a grayish-blue dog with black spots that weighs 140 pounds and stands 35 inches at the shoulder. There’s also Pebbles, a fawn-colored 1-year-old Dane weighing in at 120 pounds.

“Georgette is a big sweetheart, and she can get very wound up with the zoomies and wants to play. She loves to put her head on my chest. Pebbles is very laid back and a total sweetheart — she does everything slow, and she’s still growing.

“Danes really have no idea how big they are, like humming birds. They’re so different than other breeds and have almost humanlike personalities — which is hilarious and awe-inspiring. They are so lazy, love children, and they don’t eat as much as you’d think,” he explained.

Santoiemma has been drawing since he could pick up a crayon. “I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up, too — an elephant or a cartoonist,” he said, laughing. He was accepted to the Disney School of Animation, “but I never went. I was terrified of going to California by myself, so I went to Hawkeye Community College for commercial art.”

He worked as a freelance artist, drew cartoons and worked for a screen printing design company in Grinnell. He now works as an artist and animator for Sciplay Corp. in Cedar Falls, where he’s been for 18 years.

While followers have described “It’s a Dane Thing” as the next “Marmaduke” or “Scooby Doo,” Santoiemma’s sense of humor is more to “The Far Side.”

“Those always cracked me up. I have a warped sense of humor, sort of a droll way of looking at things. I take all these experiences a Dane or dog owner has and blow them up to the max. The human in my cartoons is based off me, but the Danes in my drawings don’t have names. Well, I know the names, but I haven’t told anyone. I want people to look at my drawings and think ‘this could be my Great Dane,’” the artist said.

Several of his posts have been shared 100,000 times in a single day. “People relate to the cartoons, and they send me pictures and anecdotes about their own dogs. The comments are great, and people think of me as a big deal or a celebrity, which is kinda weird to me and very humbling.”

He sells prints of his cartoons and expects to launch a collection of “It’s a Dane Thing” Christmas cards and eventually, DaleToons dog tags. He will send his book to the publisher in the next several weeks and will print 3,000 copies.

“You always dream about something like this happening. It got to the point that I was tired of waiting for the path to come to me, so I made my own path. I wanted to see how it would go, and so far, it’s been wonderful,” said Santoiemma.

“You just have to make sure you don’t get cocky. Keep your feet on the ground and be a decent, normal person and good things will happen.”

His website is www.daletoons.com and Facebook is https://www.facebook.com/OfficialDaleToons/.

Autumn's arrival -- Fall photos by BRANDON POLLOCK

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Almost 3,000 county residents cast ballots during first week of voting

WATERLOO — In less than a week, nearly 3,000 Black Hawk County residents already have voted by submitting ballots in person, by mail or at the drop box located outside the courthouse as of Wednesday, said County Auditor Grant Veeder.

Almost half of the ballots — more than 1,300 — were placed in the drop box, a secure collection site that sits by mailboxes near the entrance of the courthouse. More than 730 ballots were submitted in the courthouse, more than 580 were mailed and more than 370 were collected at the UNI-Dome polling location, which opened Tuesday.

The first absentee ballots were mailed Monday, and in-person early voting locations opened Tuesday. Four satellite voting locations are available to voters at various dates and times through Oct. 20.

Veeder said voting numbers aligned closely with what he expected for this year’s turnout.

“The one thing that was an unknown was how the drop box was going to be used,” Veeder said. “We did know there were a lot of people who asked about it and encouraged us to get one.”

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The drop box was installed for $2,200. It sits in view of a security camera and is locked and bolted to the concrete. Veeder said the box has already saved the county more than $1,700 in postage fees it would normally pay for voters who send ballots in the mail.

Veeder originally planned to use money from a $267,500 grant to help pay for the drop box, but now the money can be used for other election costs — such as temporary election workers and sending absentee ballot request forms. Any money not used from the grant will be returned to the nonprofit organization that awarded it, Veeder said.

A conservative group filed a lawsuit last week attempting to prohibit Black Hawk County from using the grant.

The county is handing out masks, requiring social distancing, installing plexiglass screens and cleaning surfaces to ensure voter safety at the polls, Veeder said.

“If people want to vote in person before the election or even on Election Day, we are taking prudent steps to protect people’s health,” Veeder said. “We think that if people take the precautions that have become the norm during the pandemic, they can have a safe voting experience at the locations that we’re using.”

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Virus task force notes 'many preventable deaths' in Iowa

The White House Coronavirus Task force told Iowa officials in its most recent report released Thursday that many virus-related deaths in the state were preventable.

The report dated Oct. 4 was released to the media a day after Gov. Kim Reynolds said Iowans shouldn’t let the virus dominate their lives. Average daily deaths have increased over the past two weeks to 10 per day. More than 250 people in Iowa have died in the past month alone.

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“Community transmission has remained high across the state for the past month, with many preventable deaths,” the report dated Oct. 4 said.

Reynolds bristled Wednesday when asked why she hadn’t taken more steps to reduce virus spread, arguing she had taken action.

“We are doing a lot and I’m proud of what we’re doing, but you know what, any death is one too many and it’s heart-wrenching to see the numbers but I have to balance a lot,” she said.

Iowa Department of Public Health spokeswoman Amy McCoy said the state is following many of the recommendations of the task force, including enforcing social distancing measures in bars and restaurants, reaching out to community leaders to provide information and assistance when requested and expansion of testing capacity.

Reports for months have recommended a mask requirement for Iowa, which Reynolds refused to adopt. The latest report says messaging to communities about effectiveness of masks is critical as many outdoor activities will be moving indoors with colder weather.

“Masks must be worn indoors in all public settings and group gathering sizes should be limited,” the report said. “Work with rural communities to message masks work and protect individuals from COVID-19.”

Reynolds has declined to require mask use, including in schools where she requires students to spend at least half of their instructional time in classrooms.

State health data posted Thursday shows 1,515 new confirmed cases were identified through testing over the last 24 hours and five additional deaths, bringing the state death toll to 1,419.

Hospitalizations rose to 449, a day after Reynolds acknowledged a new record of 444 was set on Wednesday. Reynolds said the health care system could handle the increase and no further action was needed to reduce infections.

The seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate in Iowa has risen over the past two weeks from 15.9% on Sept. 23 to 16.95% on Oct. 7, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University. Iowa’s rate was fourth in the nation.

Reynolds has lifted most business restrictions and continues to pursue a strategy of pushing personal responsibility as her primary public health policy approach to addressing the coronavirus pandemic.

National Night Out on Oct. 6, 2020

National
AP
Whitmer kidnapping plot foiled

LANSING, Mich. — Agents foiled a stunning plot to kidnap Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, authorities said Thursday in announcing charges in an alleged scheme that involved months of planning and even rehearsals to snatch her from her vacation home.

Six men were charged in federal court with conspiring to kidnap the governor before the Nov. 3 elections in reaction to what they viewed as her “uncontrolled power,” according to a federal complaint. Separately, seven others linked to a paramilitary group called the Wolverine Watchmen were charged in state court for allegedly seeking to storm the Michigan Capitol and seek a “civil war.”

The two groups trained together and planned “various acts of violence,” according to the state police.

Surveillance for the kidnapping plot took place in August and September, according to an FBI affidavit, and four of the men planned to meet Wednesday to “make a payment on explosives and exchange tactical gear.”

The FBI quoted one of the men as saying Whitmer “has no checks and balances at all. She has uncontrolled power right now. All good things must come to an end.”

Authorities said the plots were stopped with the work of undercover agents and informants. The men were arrested Wednesday night. The six charged in federal court face up to life in prison if convicted. The state terrorism charges the other seven men face carry a possible 20-year sentence.

Andrew Birge, the U.S. attorney in western Michigan, called the men “violent extremists.” They discussed detonating explosive devices — including under a highway bridge — to divert police from the area near Whitmer’s vacation home and Fox bought a Taser for use in the kidnapping, Birge said.

“All of us in Michigan can disagree about politics, but those disagreements should never, ever amount to violence. Violence has been prevented today,” Detroit U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said.

A few hours later, Whitmer pinned some blame on President Donald Trump, noting that he did not condemn white supremacists in last week’s debate with Joe Biden and instead told a far-right group to “stand back and stand by.”

“Hate groups heard the president’s words not as a rebuke but as a rallying cry, as a call to action,” Whitmer said.

Trump tweeted that the governor “has done a terrible job” and again called on her to “open up your state.” He said he does not tolerate any extreme violence.

Whitmer, who was considered as Biden’s running mate and is almost halfway through a four-year term, has been widely praised for her response to the coronavirus but also criticized by Republican lawmakers and people in conservative areas of the state. The Capitol has been the site of many rallies, including some with gun-toting protesters calling for her ouster.

Whitmer put major restrictions on personal movement and the economy, though many of those limits have been lifted since spring. The governor has exchanged barbs with Trump on social media, with the president declaring in April, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”

There is no indication in the criminal complaint that Trump inspired the men. Authorities also did not publicly say whether the men were angry about Whitmer’s coronavirus orders.

The criminal complaint identified the six accused in the plot against Whitmer as Adam Fox, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, Brandon Caserta, all of Michigan, and Barry Croft of Delaware. All but Croft appeared Thursday in federal court in Grand Rapids. They asked for court-appointed lawyers and were returned to jail to await detention hearings Tuesday.

Fox, who was described as one of the leaders, was living in the basement of a vacuum shop in Grand Rapids. The owner said Fox was opposed to wearing a mask during the pandemic and kept firearms and ammunition at the store.

“He was anti-police, anti-government,” Brian Titus told WOOD-TV. “He was afraid if he didn’t stand up for the Second Amendment and his rights that the country is going to go communism and socialism.”

The government said the plot against Whitmer appeared to have roots in a June gathering in Dublin, Ohio, attended by more than a dozen people from several states, including Croft and Fox.

“The group talked about creating a society that followed the U.S. Bill of Rights and where they could be self-sufficient,” the FBI affidavit said. “They discussed different ways of achieving this goal from peaceful endeavors to violent actions. … Several members talked about murdering ‘tyrants’ or ‘taking’ a sitting governor.”

The seven men charged in state court are accused of identifying the homes of law enforcement officers and making violent threats “intended to instigate a civil war,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said.

They were identified as Paul Bellar, 21, of Milford; Shawn Fix, 38, of Belleville; Eric Molitor, 36, of Cadillac; Michael Null, 38, of Plainwell; William Null, 38, of Shelbyville; Pete Musico, 42, and Joseph Morrison, 26, who live together in Munith. According to the affidavit, Musico and Morrison are founding members of the Wolverine Watchmen, which authorities described as “an anti-government, anti-law enforcement militia group.”