GAZA, Iowa | When the Journal's Nick Hytrek detailed the massive Mid-American wind farm in O'Brien County recently, he mentioned the unincorporated community of Gaza in his story.
"Tim, have you ever done a story at Gaza?" he asked across the newsroom.
I thought I had. Fellow reporter Bret Hayworth searched the Journal's archives and noted that I have mentioned Gaza in several stories, most of them dealing with the South O'Brien Community School District, which is made up of Paullina, Primghar, Sutherland, Germantown, Calumet and Gaza.
We couldn't pinpoint a story I'd done from Gaza, however.
I was irked I hadn't. Taking the matter personally, I drove to Gaza on Tuesday and introduced myself to Dave Hicks and Kim Steinkamp, the general manager and office manager serving Producers Co-op Company of Gaza. Hicks has been with Producers for 35 years; Steinkamp, 29.
"We're an independent co-op with 314 members," Hicks said as we shook hands across the front counter. "We stand on our own."
The 78-year-old firm offers gas, diesel, propane, oil, seed, feed, fertilizer and farm supplies. Come November, the pros at Producers also peddle candy, from Palmer's Old Tyme Candy Shoppe, Sioux City's sweetest staple.
For years, Steinkamp has driven from Gaza to Sioux City to purchase hundreds of 5-pound boxes of Palmer Candy. Hundreds?
"We sell 3,200 to 3,300 pounds of Palmer Candy around Thanksgiving and Christmas," Hicks says, tapping on his calculator. "It comes to around 640 boxes."
"It's all fresh candy and our customers love it," Steinkamp adds. "They ask about the Gaza peanut clusters, so we always have them ready the week before Thanksgiving."
"They're great customers," says Jon Sadler, store manager at Palmer's Olde Tyme Candy Shoppe. "I've waited on them 19 years. She (Kim) pulls up in a truck and she stacks the chocolate until they almost can't fit in the truck themselves."
The cooperative also maintains the only Gaza (Iowa) "Wall of Fame." The display featuring trophies, letter-jackets and class composites from the old Gaza Consolidated School is an O'Brien County treasure. There's a framed 1923 Gaza High School diploma discovered 26 years ago in a used furniture store in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
"Those items went from the school to the Gaza Fire Department years ago," Hicks says. "We began displaying it here 25 years ago or so."
When I ask how many people call Gaza home, Steinkamp turns to her adding machine. She punches numbers as Hicks compiles a mental inventory of households lining Tabor Avenue (the "Gaza Strip," I call it) and beyond.
Steinkamp tallies 18 residents. When Hicks reminds her of a new family and a retired couple, she adjusts her math. They settle on 24 residents, or one for about every three to four wind turbines you can see from here.
The name itself intrigues me. Gaza, pronounced "gay-za," was established in 1888 and went by the name of Woodstock. Apparently, officials with the U.S. Postal Service frequently confused Woodstock's mail with that destined for Woolstock, in Wright County.
"So, they changed the name," Hicks says.
An account by the late Mila Click, a long-time postmaster at Gaza, notes the name was picked by George Reader, the elevator manager, who opened the Bible and selected for his community the first proper name he came to on those pages.
Reader came to Gaza and stopped.
Why locals pronounce it "gay-za" instead of "gah-za" is a common question. I asked lifelong resident Jon Fisch, whose parents settled a farm here in 1895.
"I'm not sure anyone knew better," Fisch says. "The world wasn't as connected then as it is now."
Fisch suggests the same may have happened elsewhere. He mentions Nevada and Madrid, two central Iowa cities that do not sound like a state out west or the capital of Spain.