It takes the Villages of Van Buren County – Empty Nest by Curt Swarm


During the flood of 1947, 17-year old Jack Dorothy was swimming in the flooded waters of the Des Moines River in downtown Keosauqua.  Yup.  The water was high up on the side of the Hotel Manning.  Windows were open and Jack swam in one window of the Hotel Manning and out the other, like a carp on holiday. 

Jack would go on to become a teacher in Douds and basketball coach of both the girls’ and boys’ high school and junior-high teams.  He was one of the few coaches in Iowa history to take both the girls’ and boys’ basketball teams to the State Tournament at the same time.  He would eventually be the principal at Fox Valley and Van Buren County School. 

            Jack’s wife, Laurie, was an RN and founded the Van Buren County Public Health Nursing Service. 

            One of Jack and Laurie’s daughters, Connie, followed in her father’s footsteps and became a Special Education teacher and Guidance Counselor in the Centerville school. 

            Jack, always the swimmer, built an enclosed lap swimming pool at Laurie and his house in Keosauqua and ingeniously heated both the pool house, that also contained a garage, and the house with wood.  He swam laps for exercise.  Laurie used the pool to find relief from Parkinson’s and arthritis.

            Connie, the daughter, now Connie Steinbach, had a dream one night.  She saw her daughter, Emily, descending the steps of the Hotel Manning in a wedding dress.  Sure enough, when Emily and her fiance, Dan Swehla, became engaged, Emily wanted to be married in the Hotel Manning.  Grandma Laurie, now 91, and in poor health, wouldn’t have to travel for the wedding and there would be plenty of room for her wheel chair.

            Well, Emily came down with COVID before the wedding and lost weight.  When she tried on her wedding dress, two weeks before the wedding, it was too big and would be too difficult to alter.  In a panic, Emily ordered another wedding dress online and it came in three days!  But it needed to be hemmed.  Christy Daugherty, of Keosauqua, who used to be one of Grandma Laurie’s caretakers, jumped right on it.  (The original wedding dress is for sale.) 

            The Hotel Manning, being a hotel, was without a cross.  The Steinbachs called around and the old United Methodist Church of Milton provided a stand-alone cross.

            They needed a platform for the bride and groom to stand on when they were married.  The Hemm brothers of Keosauqua, who were handymen for Grandma Laurie since Grandpa Jack passed away, built the platform.  The platform needed a cover.  Another person who had helped Grandma Laurie, Rita Holdon, made the cover. 

            The wedding was to be on Saturday, January 22.  On Wednesday, before the wedding, Grandma Laurie became congested with pneumonia and CHF and had to be hospitalized.  On Friday she went into Hospice.  But she was determined to go to the wedding.  The hospital and hospice staff rallied—they knew Laurie from when she was a nurse.  A wheelchair with oxygen was provided, and Grandma Laurie made it to the Hotel Manning for Granddaughter Emily’s wedding.  Whew!

            Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.  Emily, the radiant bride, wore Grandma Laurie’s necklace, which Mother, Connie, had also worn at her wedding.  For something blue, Emily said Grandma Laurie was her blue, because Grandma Laurie was decked out in blue. 

            Two days later, Grandma Laurie passed away, but she made it to the wedding, by golly, and it took the Villages of Van Buren to get her there.

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