STORM LAKE, Iowa | My dad, Don Gallagher, walked away from the Storm Lake Farmers Market on Thursday and bumped into Katie Couric. The former national news anchor, who now works for National Geographic, proceeded to interview the retired feed salesman.
Couric spent three days in Storm Lake this week to work on the story synonymous with the Buena Vista County seat: Immigration.
My dad, who turns 93 in November, told her he's been a resident of "The City Beautiful" for nearly three decades. A father of eight children and grandfather to 27, he said his family has enjoyed nothing but positive interactions with newcomers to Storm Lake who have populated the city's schools, churches and businesses.
Couric told him that not everyone shares that opinion.
The old salesman realizes as much. He also senses that without meatpacking -- and a labor force to keep the industry humming -- Storm Lake, like much of rural Iowa, would be shuttering schools and churches, watching hopelessly as the downtown sector crumbles.
My old boss, Storm Lake Times Editor Art Cullen, said much of the same to Couric over a two- to three-hour span on Thursday. Cullen recalled telling me on his first day at The Times in 1990 (the year the paper was founded) that telling the story of new immigrants would be the most important thing we'd do.
I wrote about Khamlo Khounlo, a Laotian immigrant who worked as a custodian at Storm Lake High School when The Times named him our "Man of the Year" in 1992. I recall distributing the newspaper with Khounlo's picture on the front page and hearing a fellow glance down at the paper and said, "Great. Now we have 'gooks' on the front page."
That was 25 years ago. I pray no-one in Storm Lake uses a racial slur like that today. I pray Storm Lakers continue to accept people into this diverse community, offering comfort to those fleeing oppression, starvation, violence, or simply seeking an opportunity that comes with doing a job on the kill floor I won't touch.
Cullen, winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing, reiterated the point to Couric, who is doing a National Geographic TV series: Newcomers by and large do jobs that "native" Northwest Iowans -- like Cullen -- won't. Thousands of Mexicans, Sudanese, Laotians, Vietnamese and more report to work processing hogs or turkeys in Storm Lake, working to feed us while feeding themselves and their families, learning English, buying homes, sending their children to high school, then college.
The story repeats in Denison, South Sioux City, Sioux City, Sioux Center and wherever cattle, pigs, hogs or poultry are processed en mass.
I met Kim Vo, a Sioux City West High senior, last May. She sat with her parents, Vietnamese both, describing their packing-plant work ethic in the Tyson Fresh Meats de-boning department and the constant sacrifices they made to see that their oldest daughter would make the grade at high school and beyond.
Vo earned the Kind World Foundation Distinguished Scholar award, an annual award of $10,000 she planned to use while studying at the University of Iowa.
Vo would like to be a pharmacist someday. Who knows? When I'm 92 years old, Kim Vo might be my pharmacist, the person upon which I'll rely to get my medicine right.
"My mother said she never thought I would get this scholarship," Vo told me last spring as she served to interpret for her mom. "It's all unbelievable to her. She is proud and amazed."
Those two words describe my feelings about Storm Lake residents. And, how I feel about the recent immigrants who do all they can to achieve the American Dream.
SIOUX CITY | A three-story-tall bison will greet traffic traveling eastward on Fifth Street later this fall as the centerpiece of one of two new murals planned at downtown Sioux City buildings.
The other mural, visible to westbound vehicles and pedestrians in the Historic Fourth Street District, will feature prominent Sioux City landmarks, according to preliminary designs shared with the Journal by Downtown Partners.
Downtown Partners has commissioned murals from a state and an international artist at the new Goosmann Law Firm building at 501 Douglas St. and at M's on Fourth, 1021 Fourth St., using a $25,000 grant from the Gilchrist Foundation awarded in August. Both artists will complete their work during the month of October.
The bison mural, at a three-story building being renovated by Goosmann Law Firm at 501 Douglas St., has been designed by world-renowned street artist Martin Ron, of Argentina.
A preliminary design features a large bison staring westward toward oncoming traffic with two people sitting atop its head. Birds, including an eagle, pheasant, goose and other red birds, are flying around the image. The mural covers the full side of the building and measures 1,125 square feet.
Ron, a resident of Buenos Aires, will travel to Sioux City Oct. 9 and paint the mural in two weeks with the help of a single assistant.
Downtown Partners executive director Ragen Cote said one of his first steps will then be to tour the city and photograph some of the people to get a feel for how to approach the design.
"He incorporates people and nuances, and gets a feel for the culture of our city," Cote said. "His work is supposed to blend all of these things together in an interesting way that you would normally never see this type of work done."
Cote said she did a double-take when she first opened Ron's concept image and was taken aback at the giant bison, which appears to be walking directly out of the side of the building.
Ron is a prominent 3-D artist known for his imaginative mural work, particularly throughout Buenos Aires. The Goosmann building, currently under renovation, is part of an expansion by the local law firm and will house administrative staff as early as mid-October.
Goosmann Law CEO and Managing Partner Jeana Goosmann said in an email the entire staff is excited for the uniquely designed mural.
"I’m thrilled to see our Midwest culture get brought to life using our 501 building as the canvas," she said. "Martin Ron’s work is incredible and quite simply breathtaking. His pieces make you feel as though they are going to come to life."
At M's on Fourth, Des Moines artist Jenna Brownlee will paint a mural with a floral design that incorporates a handful of Sioux City landmarks: the Sergeant Floyd Monument, Woodbury County Courthouse, Chief War Eagle Monument and others.
Cote said the colorful mural would be strategically positioned to allow for "selfie moments" for those walking by in the Historic Fourth Street District. She said Brownlee was selected by organizers because of her unique script-writing style and experience working in historic districts.
M's on Fourth co-owner Vernon Meyer said he believes the mural will "bring a little life" to Fourth Street, and that he was a strong proponent of incorporating the area's history in the design.
"That's our heritage, and I think that's important," Meyer said. "If you're going to do something, let it reflect all of Siouxland. And it does."
Sioux City's Planning and Zoning Commission approved a conditional sign permit for the first design Sept. 12. On Tuesday, the commission will take up a similar application for the second mural at Goosmann Law building.
If all goes according to schedule, Cote said, she expects painting to conclude in late October.
Nebraska's highest court handed opponents of Whiteclay alcohol sales a resounding victory Friday, all but guaranteeing the village's four embattled beer stores will remain closed.
In a unanimous decision, the Nebraska Supreme Court rejected the store owners' bid to reopen, citing a technical flaw in their appeal.
The stores, which were forced to close in April, had for decades served millions of cans of beer each year to the Oglala Lakota people of South Dakota’s nearby Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where alcohol is banned.
Friday's decision ranks with the 1876 Battle of Little Bighorn as one of the most significant wins ever for the Lakota people, said Frank LaMere, a Winnebago activist from South Sioux City who had sought the end of Whiteclay beer sales for 20 years.
"Today will be a red-letter day in Oglala Lakota history," LaMere said.
At a news conference in Sioux City, LaMere too many generations have lost people to the scourges of alcoholism and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, due to sales from Whiteclay.
The court's 17-page opinion did not weigh in on the issues of rampant alcoholism on Pine Ridge or lawlessness in Whiteclay itself.
Instead, the justices determined that a fatal legal flaw had doomed the beer store owners' appeal of the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission's decision to deny their liquor licenses earlier this year.
"Our decision today does not address the merits of the parties’ respective positions, but rests solely on jurisdictional grounds," Justice John Wright wrote in the opinion.
The court agreed with Dave Domina, attorney for Sheridan County residents opposing the stores, who argued the store owners hadn't correctly appealed to the court because they didn't include his clients in the case.
As a result, a Lincoln judge's order reversing the Liquor Commission's decision was void, Wright wrote.
Andrew Sndyer, attorney for the beer stores, did not return phone messages Friday.
The owners of the four stores — Arrowhead Inn, State Line Liquor, D&S Pioneer Service and Jumping Eagle Inn — either couldn't be reached or declined to comment.
"We are exploring our options," said Clay Brehmer, co-owner of State Line Liquor, in an email.
Domina said the case topped any he's handled in his prominent career, which included multiple murder trials, leading the investigation into Commonwealth Savings Co. that resulted in the resignation of then-Nebraska Attorney General Paul Douglas in 1984, and prosecuting the impeachment of University of Nebraska Regent David Hergert in 2006.
Even his $1.28 billion jury verdict in a price-fixing case against Tyson Foods, which was later overturned by a judge, doesn't compare, Domina said.
"That one was about money. This was about people.
“Today’s Nebraska Supreme Court decision means that the shame of Whiteclay is over," he said. "It also means huge rocks have been removed from the road to recovery for many of the Oglala Lakota Sioux Nation and the Pine Ridge Reservation.”
Bryan Brewer, a formal tribal president who has opposed Whiteclay beer sales, thanked the Supreme Court and the people of Nebraska.
"The Lakota people, we've never won anything. This is a major victory for us — kind of our first big win," Brewer said. "We are very pleased up here.
"We're very happy with their decision, and hopefully we can start the healing process for our people, especially our children."
It is unclear whether the beer stores will make another bid to reopen.
They could seek a rehearing by the Nebraska Supreme Court, or ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision. The stores could also sue the state in federal court.
Another option would be to apply for new liquor licenses, then appeal once more if the licenses aren't granted.
Bob Batt, the state Liquor Commission chairman, said there's "zero" chance the commission will allow beer sales to resume in Whiteclay anytime soon, short of a reversal by the courts.
He called Friday's decision a victory for due process and the rule of law.
"God Bless America," he said. "We’ve brought some closure to this."
Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson, whose office represented the Liquor Commission in the appeal, complimented two lawyers on his staff, Solicitor General Jim Smith and Assistant Attorney General Milissa Johnson-Wiles, for their work.
"Today’s decision affords an opportunity to write a hopeful chapter in the story of Whiteclay," Peterson said in a news release.
A task force led by two state senators, Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln and Tom Brewer of Gordon, has already begun drawing up plans for new business development and human services in Whiteclay. The task force is visiting the area this weekend for a series of meetings.
"Streets once plagued with public intoxication, vagrancy, assaults, rape, and unsolved murder are now peaceful," Sen. Brewer said Friday. "The drain on Sheridan County emergency services and law enforcement is a fraction of what it once was. The healing of a town once called 'The Skid Row of the Plains' has started."
LaMere said he was "elated" by Friday's decision, but said Nebraska officials must continue to enforce liquor laws to ensure the alcohol sales aren't simply moved over to an adjacent county.
"It is my hope that the flow of alcohol from Whiteclay to the Lakota people has ended (for) as long as the grass shall grow, the waters flow and the Lakota remain sovereign," LaMere said.
He called for a day of "healing and reconciliation" on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, asking people to offer prayers of thanks and to seek forgiveness for allowing Whiteclay to "devastate the people for so long."
"Prayers must be said for ourselves," LaMere said.
Journal staff writer Bret Hayworth contributed to this story.