It's who ya know.... and who you don't


I don't know what's more amazing, the number of people I know when I walk Avenue G during the Rodeo Parade...

Or the number of people I don't.

I live about three blocks from the parade route so I use my scanner to judge when police start to roll down the route, give myself a little time, and then head down 6th Street to Avenue G to throngs down the hill.

It never fails that I get there about an hour early.

I take a right on Avenue G and immediately run into the music crazies led by Neal Dodd at Dodd's Printing. I walked by and and Neal asks if I'm ready to shoot 5,000 pictures.

I'm getting a little better with my camera, so I don't need to do that, but yeah...that's usually the process.

I walked about four blocks up to the judge's flatbed where Parade Chairman David Fedler is set up with his band and float judges ready for the action.

Fedler said the the parade brings more than 20,000 people to to town and this year he had about 150 total entries including the emergency response vehicles and the mounted flags.

He said road construction was a challenge, but the city getting 15th to 18th Streets on Avenue H open ealier this week helped because it will allow people to get around a bit easier. We're not delusional... just a bit easier.

But these folks aren't concerned about getting around easier. Their top priorities are the candy being thrown, the pageantry, the Moose's Bloody Marys, the coffee at Swed, the donuts from Harvestville Mercantile, and... the candy.

But as I walk through those posted at the curb in their lawn chairs, something washed over me this year. I really am new to this town.

Yeah, a lot of them are from out of town and there are close to 34,000 people in Lee County, so I don't know everyone. But it escapes me that so many are unfamiliar in this little town on this second Saturday in September every year.

It can only speak to this - how incredible is this event that C.E. Eddie Richards started with a stockyard rodeo almost 75 years ago.

Fort Madison, the town where most say there's nothing to do,  packs 20,000 people on a downtown street, and then another 40,000 to 50,000 at a 4-day rodeo concentrated on about 250 acres at the top of the bluff in Fort Madison.

The stories that have come out of those campgrounds over the years should be compiled and be on every coffee table in Fort Madison.

But how did we do that? It's really kind of mind boggling.

Next year the 75th Anniversary will be ushered in with a new chairman as General Chair Tony Johnson steps down from the rotation this year, his fourth. The spot is typically a three-year post, but the pandemic added one for Johnson.

I've had many conversations with Tony over the past four or five years and when we talk about the uniqueness of this event and how year after year, they continue to put on one of the best outdoor rodeos in the upper Midwest, he just swipes it away.

Volunteers, he says. It's the people that come together from so many facets of life, with different perspectives and ideas. That dynamic that has stayed intact for so many decades is really one of the great stories of the upper Midwest.

The product, which is among the best anywhere, is the end result. The exhale if you will, full of energy, commitment, organization, and rodeo life.

But when you live in a community of about 10,000 and your community quadruples over the span of a week, even after 20 years of helping chronicle the events, it never doesn't amaze.

Congratulations Tony Johnson on a great run as Chairman, the Rodeo has grown under your leadership and despite some harrowing turns along the way - look what you guys did.... again.

I didn't stop for the Bloody Mary, or the donuts or coffee, or scramble for any candy, but taking a few minutes to talk to those people I did know was sweet enough - But that's Beside the Point.

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

Beside the Point, editorial, Sunday, Fort Madison, Rodeo, parade, Tony Johnson, opinion, Chuck Vandenberg,


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