Trip brings meeting with Pulitzer winner – Empty Nest, by Curt Swarm


The last time I was in Jefferson, Iowa, I was six years old and had my tonsils out in the Greene County Hospital. They used ether back then as an anesthetic and it was a horrible experience, so my memory of Jefferson is somewhat clouded and not very pleasant. Sign of the times: My grandson recently had his tonsils out and I told my son not to let the doctors use ether. My son asked, “What’s ether, Dad?”
Jefferson is on Hwy 30 in northwest Iowa, between Ames and Carroll. We lived in Bagley, doctored in Jamaica, and the nearest hospital, or the one our doctor used, was in Jefferson.
Fast forward to today, Jefferson, in Greene County, has an outstanding art-appreciation program called “Ring Out for Art,” in honor of its 168 ft, 13 story, Mahanay Memorial Carillon Tower. Two of my metal sculptures were selected to be put on display near the tower, and next to the court house. Needless to say, Ginnie and I were quite pleased and jumped at the chance to visit Jefferson for an Art Walk. We now have t-shirts that show Big Ben in London, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy, and the Mahanay Bell Tower in Jefferson. Pretty cool.
Jefferson has a casino. We stayed overnight in the casino hotel. No we did not gamble. Life is enough of a gamble for us.
One thing I like to do when visiting or passing through a town I’m not familiar with, is to drop in on the local newspaper office and see if I can haggle them into carrying my Empty Nest column. Carroll, near Jefferson, has a well-known, locally owned newspaper, the Carroll Times Herald. I have heard its publisher interviewed on IPR a couple of times. In our day of internet advertising, that has just about crippled small-town newspapers, the Carroll Times Herald remains strong, vibrant and an integral part of Carroll’s hustle and bustle. It is just the type of newspaper I like to have my column in. Fortunately, the Carroll Times Herald agreed.
Carroll is an hour-or-so south of Storm Lake. As you may recall, Storm Lake is rather famous for, amongst other things like the lake, one of its two newspapers, The Storm Lake Times, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2017 (the 100th Anniversary of the Pulitzer Prize) in Journalism for editorial writing. A small-town newspaper winning a Pulitzer Prize is sorta like a VW Bug winning the Indianapolis 500. Art Cullen, its editor, is a firebrand writer reminiscent in style and looks of Mark Twain. Following the prestigious Pulitzer Prize, Art Cullen was badgered by his New York buddies into writing a book, “Storm Lake.” Ginnie and I have read it, and it is our belief that Art Cullen should also receive a Pulitzer Prize for his book.
Obviously, I would love to have my column published in The Storm Lake Times. Ginnie and I headed north and dropped in on the newspaper. Art Cullen was not there, but his son, Tom, who did all the leg work for the editorial writing, was. Tom is 26 and quite a friendly chap. His mother, and Art’s wife, Dolores (the real brains of the newspaper), dropped in while we were there. I am pleased to announce that the Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper, The Storm Lake Times will be publishing my Empty Nest column. Far out, man. We now have t-shirts with Art Cullen’s face on the front that say, “Art of the Free Press.” We love them!
So, from having my tonsils removed, to having two of my metal sculptures accepted for display, to having two newspapers accept my column, unlike when I was six years old, our visit to Jefferson this time was quite pleasant. The view of the city, rooftop art, and surrounding countryside from atop the Mahanay Bell Tower is awesome—kind of like an Ethernet of beauty, culture and small-town pride. What a sight.

Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at or visit his website at

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