Celebrating Muscatine at the annual Chamber of Commerce banquet

Ice Block

Living nearly eight years in a relatively small town is long enough to get to know everyone.

Well, almost everyone.

At least that’s how it seemed Thursday night at the Greater Muscatine Chamber of Commerce & Industry’s annual meeting. There were hundreds of people in the reopened banquet hall of what is now called the Hotel Muscatine, which used to be a Clarion Hotel. And a Holiday Inn before that.

It felt as if I shook hands and said hello to everyone in attendance while standing in the lengthy registration line. But it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening — a chance to socialize with many people who really are genuine friends, while also rubbing elbows with many leaders from throughout the community.

So what set this event apart from the many similar evenings that have preceded it through my years on the rubber-chicken dinner circuit? The food, catered by Geneva Golf and Country Club, is a good place to start. It wasn’t rubber chicken. In fact, the beef served was quite good.

Perhaps even more impressive was the ice sculpture centerpiece brought to the party by the staff from Geneva. I didn’t find out from where they got it or if someone at Geneva actually made it. But it looked very cool.

And the longer you live in a community, the awards that are given annually by the Chamber become more meaningful. This, I think, is because you likely know the award winners if you’ve lived in the community awhile. Thursday night, Alliant Energy was recognized as a 70-year member of the Chamber. Individual awards went to:

  • Joni Axel, Chris Boar and Brenda Christensen, organizers of last fall’s first Healthy Living Festival in Muscatine, who were named Volunteers of the Year.
  • Paige Bales, Chamber Ambassador of the Year.
  • Christi Saunders, Young Professionals Network Member of the Year.

All of these winners are people I have worked with at some point in the nearly three years I have worked at Muscatine Center for Social Action. I’m pleased to say I know all of them and regard them as friends. Congratulations to them.

Charlie and Jean HarperCharlie and Jean Harper, owners of Harper’s Cycling & Fitness, all of their children and grandchildren are among the very best friends I’ve made in Muscatine. It’s not every day that Charlie is seen wearing a suit and tie. In fact, it was a sight I’d never seen before — something else that will become a long-held memory of the evening.

After having attended and/or reported on Chamber annual meetings in at least seven different communities in the past 25 years, I’m glad to have not had the responsibility of booking Thursday night’s keynote speaker. Through the years, I’ve listened to some who were downright bad, others who were in no way memorable and a few who left a lasting impression.

James Olson, a retired CIA operative who teaches at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, holds a spot in the memorable category. He is represented by the Midwest Speakers Bureau and is an experienced and practice public speaker. If you do a Google search, you’ll find this profile of Olson. And you’ll realize he has told his story many times in many places.

But the declassified story he tells about his role in helping bring a Soviet KGB agent to the United States could be the plot for a gripping novel or a movie. And how can you not like a former spy who admits to using at least some of the resources then at his disposal to check out the young men who dated his daughter?

Congratulations to the Muscatine Chamber for an entertaining and successful evening.


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