Readers share their thoughts on local pride

Looking on the bright side while we wait for a thaw

Todd Dorman
Published: March 2 2014 | 10:38 am - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:04 am in

Last Sunday, I asked readers to reflect on what makes them proud to live around these parts.

I was following the lead of Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett, who urged his city’s citizens to list what they love about their town. Corbett wants locals to brag instead of bash Cedar Rapids, and the mayor even issued a proclamation banishing the old, snarky “City of Five Smells” joke to prove his point.

“Any mayor in any community doesn’t like it when their own citizens run down their town,” Corbett said on “The Bob Bruce Radio Experience” this past week.

“Let’s have a discussion for how we sell Cedar Rapids,” the mayor said.

I don’t mind the joke, or the smells. But I appreciate the idea of thinking about what we like about living here, especially amid our frozen gloom.


Reader response has not been overwhelming, but the quality is high. And let me reissue the invitation to share your thoughts, because I’d like this to be an ongoing conversation. What do you like about living here, and not just in Cedar Rapids, but the region? Where are your favorite places? If you’re planning to spring break on sand and beneath palm trees, why are you coming back to the tundra?

Do you have a story that you think sums up the glowing attributes of our locale? Or are you itching to crack wise over all this civic-minded navel-gazing? I bet some of you are.

If you’ve got something to share or say, please do.


Some of your fellow local folks have been kind enough to prime the pump.

Elizabeth Maxey Ray wrote about what happened on Valentine’s Day when her “octogenarian mother” had car trouble on First Avenue in Cedar Rapids.

“Within minutes, not one, but two, kind citizens pulled over to help her, moved her car safely out of traffic, and stayed there with her until I could get to mom,” Elizabeth wrote. “They were such a comfort to her rattled nerves. This is a big SMALL town where strangers reach out to help, even during their busy morning commute. and even though it made them late to work.

“I’ll take Cedar Rapids any day over a big city,” she wrote.

So put kindness on the list.


Shari and Andrew Barden would add great schools. Their two kids, Emma, a University of Iowa grad living in Des Moines, and Charles, a senior at Valparaiso University, each attended Linn-Mar schools.

“From their earliest days at Bowman Woods school to middle school and through high school, they had teachers who were not only stellar at their jobs but were caring people who instilled a love of learning. For that we are grateful!” the Bardens wrote.

Steve Berg has lived in Cedar Rapids not quite two years, and he’s compiling lists of his favorite spots like a native. He sent a list of restaurants, including 16th Avenue Grill, The Butcher Block, Emil’s Hideaway, The Irish Democrat, The Class Act and The Lost Cuban, to name just a few.

After that came his list of his top attractions. Outdoor concerts and tours at Brucemore, Penguins Comedy Club, the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, the African-American Museum, NewBo City Market, farmers markets, Theatre Cedar Rapids, Orchestra Iowa, CSPS/Legion Arts, the Kernels, the Museum of Art, Cedar Rapids Community Concert Association and “big-name acts” at the U.S. Cellular Center. Tough to argue with any of those.

“All this without a casino!” Berg wrote, days before a pair of state market studies raised the possibility that we may remain without a casino.

Rich Greer pointed out that CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and financial advice website, recently rated Cedar Rapids No. 1 on its “Best Small Cities to Live and Work.”

“Not only does Cedar Rapids provide residents with access to jobs — its unemployment rate tied for sixth in our pool of companies — but employees in the area have relatively short commute times and decent wages. It is also one of the safest cities on our list, ranking in at number 4 in that category,” CreditDonkey reported in its rankings.


My favorite response came from Cara Ullrich of Marion. She grew up in Clinton, got a bachelor’s degree in theater and master’s in women’s studies at the University of Northern Iowa.

Her thesis was a two-hour piece of performance art. Her adviser said, “Why not?”

Then she spent eight years in the Twin Cities working on the tech side of theater. “Burned out,” Ullrich came back to Iowa, working at Roots Market in Cedar Falls, even though she had no natural food experience.

“Why not?” the manager said. Eventually, the baker quit, and soon, Ullrich was baking.

“Then I fell in love and moved to Marion,” Ullrich wrote. She landed a job at the Lincoln Cafe as a pastry chef, where she describes the experience as akin to “Jedi training.” And she started a side business doing decorative

iron work, putting that theater tech expertise to work. She sells her work at New Bo City Market.

Now she’s the pastry chef at Zins in downtown Cedar Rapids. The owners liked her granite and iron tables, so they put them in the restaurant’s lounge.

“Is this heaven? (This is where you say, ‘No, it’s Iowa.’)” Ullrich wrote.

“And the love of my life that brought me to Marion? She’s a lady. Dude! Women can marry women here! Hell yes! And we are getting gay married in June.

“So, in summary, if you want a great public education, want to completely reinvent your career, feel totally supported by wonderful, forward-thinking people, and enter into a legally sanctioned same-sex marriage, come to Iowa. ‘Fields of Opportunity’ was a cheesy state motto, but completely and entirely true,” Ullrich wrote.

Why not? This dude is convinced. Keep your stories coming.

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