First snowfall a nice symbol of a fresh year

Another Christmas has come and gone and the New Year greeted us with fresh hope and fresh powder.

The last quarter of 2021 was filled with all kinds of new hope personally and professionally. Yes, I took a second job and a lot of people had raised eyebrows about how a person covers a county government from a journalism perspective while working for them at the same time.

Fair question.

I haven’t written about me taking the position because it’s just weird. But the question has come up many times. Here’s my honest-to-God take on the job and why I applied and accepted the position.

I look at this as a way to give back to the county I’ve called home for the past 20 years. We’ve served on boards and committees and volunteered here and there, but this is a chance to really get the backs of the people who are neck deep in service to county residents.

The people I connect with regularly in the journalism business are many of the same people I connect with in digging up grants for the county.

Writing about, and researching, America Rescue Plan Act rules and functionality gave me a knowledge on par with county officials, if not maybe even a bit deeper. So they hired me to administer the $6.5 million coming to the county, and to go find grants to help reduce taxpayer burden, while increasing services to those taxpayers.

It just made sense to me. Lee’s back where she belongs at the Pen City funhouse and helping take some responsibilities off my plate while continuing to hold her own. Fourteen hour days aren’t uncommon, but we find the time to breathe and disconnect.

There’s already been some success in securing grant funding and I’ve been able to take some things off other people’s plates.

But the important thing is that 2022 is shaping up to be very intriguing and exciting – full of potential.

COVID’s nasty brother Omicron is trying to keep the fire going in the pandemic. More than half the county is vaccinated and most officials say the variant is more contagious, but less punitive on the body. We’ll see.

But health experts are saying that 2022 could be the year we get a hold of this thing. Optimism.

I love optimism because I’ve been mired in pessimism for more than two years but I approach my 54th year on the earth with an eye toward a better news product with an enhanced website and more options for our readers, while at the same time setting goals for bringing much-needed funding to county operations.

From a readership perspective, there are several things that we should be looking to in 2022. Progress on the marina will be something epic and we will keep a close eye on that work. I know, engineering marvels dot the globe, but this is really, really cool.

It will be interesting to see what starts to percolate with the new Amtrak Depot when combined with the Kingsley Inn railcam and the adjoining museum.

We have a new county conservation director and we will be interested to see what direction Heather Huebner takes our county parks and conservation areas.

More work on old Hwy. 61 through town will begin, the PORT Trail will continue to expand, Fort Madison High School Baseball Coach Ron Walker has launched a new baseball program to build on the great success he’s been having.

Head Coach Ryan Wilson has the best team he’s ever had, and athletics programs continue to improve at all three area schools and that will be fun to watch.

This Southeast Iowa Regional and Economic Port Authority is bigger news than people realize and the impact of that group on Lee and surrounding counties is yet to be fully realized. But if you’re aren’t paying attention to Mike Norris and that group, you should be.

The Madison is about to increase their footprint under Mark Holtkamp’s leadership and Brian Wright has brought the organization to the forefront of area seniors’ lives through programs at area senior centers.

Fort Madison’s downtown continues to grow, streets continue to get repaired, and school facility improvements are in the works.

Folks, we all have our conflicts, opinions, ambitions, and political leanings. But we all also live here together, we pass each other in downtown shops and grocery stores, or at Gator’s with New Year’s Eve reservations. We wave and still shake hands and thank each other for time and commitments and great projects.

We talk with neighbors about the topic of the day and we move on.

The point is this, 2020 was beyond nightmarish, 2021 wasn’t much better, but 2022 holds promise. And I believe when we can step away from the pandemic and we vault into ‘what’s next’, we will have energy and momentum. The mental drain of the biggest health scare of our generation – perceived or not – will subside and we’ll find inertia in our lives – and we’ll move forward zeal and enthusiasm.

You can draw a literary parallel to the symbolism of a fresh snowfall bringing in the new year. We’ll scrape it away and start fresh, but that’s Beside the Point.

Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of Pen City Current and can be reached at

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