SIOUX CITY | Descendants of rugged immigrants who settled in a long-gone Sioux City neighborhood will gather this weekend to reminisce about the good ol’ days in the South Bottoms.
The South Bottoms is unusual because many of the families stayed in touch after their homes, stores and churches near the Stockyards were demolished in 1957 for construction of Interstate 29 and the 1963 channelization of the Floyd River.
"It was a whole different era. Everyone got along and loved each other and still do," Gert Stevens said. "These days, you often don't know your neighbors anymore."
Reunion gatherings began 33 years ago and attracted hundreds. The numbers have dwindled as many of the kids who grew up there are in their 80s and 90s now. Many have died. Only 36 people have registered to attend the catered dinner Saturday.
On Sunday, people are invited to attend a 9 a.m. service at the Church of All Nations on the Goodwill Industries campus, at 3100 W. Fourth St., followed by a potluck at 11:30 a.m. at Goodwill.
"People keep coming back because of the camaraderie," said Stevens, whose husband, Tom, grew up there. "We have picture albums that trigger stories and a lot of 'Do you remember?" talks."
Tom Stevens is sure to tell a fowl story.
"We lived at 304 Court St. and there was a gas station across the street," he recalled. "Trucks loaded with chickens would stop there and they'd take chickens out of one truck and put them in another truck. I don't know why. Some of the chickens would get loose and run into the weeds and I'd run after them and catch one. Then, we had fresh chicken for dinner!"
Workers started moving to the area in the 1880s as the Stockyards grew with packing houses and railroads. Residents were Polish, Lithuanian, Greek, German, Russia, Italian, Scandinavian, Syrian, Mexican, Irish, black and Native American.
During its heyday, the area was home to seven grocery stores, Hobson grade school, churches, Mary J. Treglia Community House, an ice house and the Wall Street Mission. Monthly dances were a highlight. Vicki Bata recalled her father-in-law, Pedro Bata, had an orchestra that played for the dances and other events. Her brother-in-law Pete Bata of Iowa City will sing for the guests at this year's reunion.
Although the homes in the South Bottoms were small, the owners' hearts were not.
Karen Mackey, the city's Human Rights Commission executive director, recalled, "During World War II when my dad was a teenager, he slept on the floor of his Aunt Cora Graham's house when he went to work in a packing house. Aunt Cora didn't have a lot of room, but any relative was welcome to stay."
Her father, the late Army Lt. Col. John Mackey Sr., returned from his home in Beaverton, Ore., to attend many of the reunions until his death in 2003.
"He made a lot of friendships there and even met Mom at the Church of All Nations," she said of her late mother, Louise Katzenberger. They married in 1954.
Although Karen Mackey and her brother didn't grow up in the Bottoms, she plans to attend the dinner Saturday.
"It's a chance for me to reconnect to people I have known my entire life. It's a fun time."