Editor’s Note: The following is a series of Monday stories looking at people who were raised in this area and now have made a life and impact here.
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – When one thinks of families that give as good as they get, the name Wright is just one of many, many in Fort Madison that comes to mind. A name, again among many, that is becoming generational and helping Fort Madison stay viable and grow as a community. A tradition, that Brian Wright says, came to him from his mom and dad.
Wright is the youngest of five children born to George and Sandra Wright and the only one born in Fort Madison as the family moved from Des Moines in 1968 to start a partnership with Bill Napier, George’s college and law school buddy. Brian’s oldest sibling is Kris from Des Moines; John, who is a sitting district judge in southeast Iowa; Tom, a teacher in the Baltimore school system and Doug, a construction worker in the Denver area.
Wright grew up in Fort Madison hanging out at Old Settlers Park, living on the east side of town and playing ball with kids like Jamie Decker and Paul Schulte on the ball field at the park and riding bikes around town.
“Paul and Jamie, and Ryan Bowen and other kids, we all played together since fourth grade in Y sports and AAU and that sort of thing. That’s the thing about small town values. Ryan grows up and goes onto play in the NBA, never forgets where he’s from, and his foundation gives to many worthwhile efforts here locally,” Wright said. “He may not live here, but you can feel his impact here and his parents still live here and continue to give back to the community.”
It’s lessons like that have Wright here in Fort Madison raising his family and continuing to give of his time to local efforts, including sitting as 2nd Ward City Councilman.
Brian graduated from Fort Madison High School in 1994 and then headed to Valparaiso University where he played baseball and graduated with a degree in business and public relations in 1998.
Wright then went onto work in the Cincinnati Reds organization in places like Louisville, Ky., and Phoenix, Az. Two attractive towns to a young man out of college, but Wright said his upbringing in Fort Madison has always magnetized him to southeast Iowa. He left work in professional baseball after talking with friends who had successful careers in pharmaceutical sales and was in that field for about 12 years before joining Rashid Pharmacy in a PR capacity.
“I wanted to move back to town because having those small town values of work ethic, family, just being part of a community that afforded me so much and my family so much. Not financially, but more of the aspect that we were able to do so much with youth sports and community organizations,” he said. “Being raised in a Christian home we learned the value of relationships and fellowship. Mom was a homemaker and the glue to the family, but seeing our father out there with the Lions track meet (now the George Wright Memorial), and his work as an attorney and helping people for free and working with the booster club. He taught me the value of giving back. I’m not the one with a lot of money to give, I do where I can, but I have time.”
In addition to serving on the Fort Madison City Council, Wright has also been a part of Fort Madison’s Habitat for Humanity, helped resurrect the city-wide Easter Egg Hunt, served on the Baxter Sports Complex Fundraising Committee and even had an unsuccessful run at the mayor’s spot in 2007. (Full disclosure, the author of this article helped Wright on that campaign).
“I guess I got the first taste of politics from hearing about my dad as campaign chair for Jim Leach in 1976. I guess that’s how John became interested in that, as well. He would have been 14 at that time. But that helped instill those values. For me, being on the council and having run for mayor, I may not have been as versed on the issues as then-Mayor Steve Ireland was, but I still saw it as a way to give back.”
Wright says the greatest gifts he received from his parents were his Christian upbringing, his values and a college education that allowed him to find his own identity and eventually bring that back in some form of service to Fort Madison.
“We were afforded that,” Wright said. “We weren’t pressured, but we saw what our father was doing with it and learned from that. We came from a loving family that taught us about hard work, giving back and respect for elders, which a lot of kids don’t have nowadays, but that starts at home with parents.”
But he’s quick to point out that there are many, many other kids he grew up here that have stayed and are making regular contributions to Fort Madison.
“You look at people like Matt Morris, Paul Schulte, Tony Johnson, Rachel Benda, Joe Rashid, and obviously there are others – people that grew up around here and have made a choice to stay or come, back be it because they have a business to run or chose to build or grow a business. That speaks volumes to the value and tradition of this town. And you just can’t forget about their spouses because some of those people were here, too, and are helping that all take place.”
“Whether you’re talking about the Kempkers or Huffmans or whoever, they didn’t need to come back, they were already successful. It’s family values and traditions and loving that rural, tight-knit community that allowed us to be able to redefine ourselves, break out and make a name for ourselves.”