HOLSTEIN, Iowa -- Charese Yanney's voice cracked ever so slightly as she motored east on Wednesday, making tracks to Holstein, site of Friday's ribbon cutting to formally open the final stretch of four-lane U.S. Highway 20.
Holstein, for Yanney' family, is where the push to expand Highway 20 began, tragically, on Nov. 29, 1959, when Yanney's aunt, Theresa Ann Skaff, 20, of Sioux City, was killed in a crash on the two-lane roadway as she returned to Drake University, following Thanksgiving break.
"It can get emotional for me," Yanney admitted.
Yanney was 9 at the time and playing with friends at the home of Abe Kaled, owner of Ye Olde Tavern in Sioux City. The Kaleds and Yanneys had gotten together that Thanksgiving, then did so again in grief that Sunday as Abe died that morning.
"At 8:30 that Sunday night, my dad, Jim Yanney, took a call at Kaled's home," Yanney said. "KTIV anchor Ken Wayman told my dad about the crash. I can still remember the look on my dad's face."
Skaff was the younger sister of Charese Yanney's mother, Do. Theresa Skaff sat in the front seat of a car driven by Sioux Cityan John Daniel Lang Jr. 19, who was also killed instantly, as was passenger Carroll Adkins Brown, a 19-year-old from Sioux City. Drake University track star Thomas J. Rivers, 19, also from Sioux City, died hours later while being treated at the hospital in nearby Cherokee, Iowa
All four were heading back to Drake when the vehicle collided with a truck-trailer driven by Cleo William Perkins of Holstein, as Perkins, who had hauled livestock to the Sioux City stockyards that Sunday, waited to turn left, or north, on Highway 59 to get to Holstein.
"Theresa's dad, Ferris Skaff, was going to take Theresa back to college, but then Abe died," said Yanney, who added that her grandfather, in many ways, died of a broken heart because of the crash that claimed the life of his daughter.
The four deaths were the only traffic fatalities in Iowa that holiday weekend. The young lives cut short sprang the Yanney family into motion. Jim Yanney, who then owned and managed Guarantee Roofing in Sioux City with Do, began lobbying for a four-lane completion of Highway 20 across Iowa, stating time and again that safety for motorists had to be a top priority.
Jim Yanney died four years ago, six years after Do's death. Their work for this highway was passed on to daughter, Charese, who now serves as owner and managing partner for the 92-year-old family business, Guarantee Roofing, Siding and Insulation. When she's not working for her firm, Yanney can be found driving across Iowa, fulfilling her second term as one of seven commissioners serving on the Iowa Department of Transportation. She'll be one of six to eight speakers featured Friday at the ribbon cutting at Holstein, a celebration that, for her, comes with a tinge of sadness surrounded by incredible satisfaction and happiness for the completion of a herculean effort six decades in the making.
And while leaders such as Gov. Kim Reynolds and U.S. Rep. Steve King will share historical facts and stats related to the highway's economic impact at the 3 p.m. ceremony at Boulders Inn and Suites Events Center on Highway 20 at Holstein, Yanney will share her family tale, a powerful reminder of the lives this $215-million commitment may save as the last 40-mile stretch fully opens, unveiling at long last this 300-mile, four-lane thoroughfare across the state.
"I do feel bad for my dad and for those like VH 'Buck' Boekelman of Fort Dodge, Iowa, people who died before they could see this completed," Charese Yanney said, then adding how pleased she was for the hundreds, make that thousands, of people who worked to see it through, whether through lobbying efforts, the sale of land to the state, or simply by sacrificing some pain at the pump through a fuel tax passed in 2015, one that helped expedite this undertaking.
"Think of all the politicians and the landowners alone who have worked on this," Yanney remarked.
Highway 20 was expanded to four lanes from Sioux City east to Moville, Iowa, in the late 1950s. However, work in Northwest Iowa then stopped, even as it progressed on the eastern side of the state to Dubuque.
"There was no U.S. 20 Corridor Association back when my dad began asking that the state four-lane this road," Yanney said. "They began by remodeling the corner and adding turning lanes at Holstein. Dad was active for many, many years and finally backed off a bit as the organized group (U.S. 20 Corridor Association) got going."
Many members of that group will be on-hand Friday for the ribbon cutting. The U.S. 20 Corridor Association, headed by President Shirley Phillips, of Sac City, Iowa, will then host a reception from 4 to 6 p.m. that will feature a fun "Taste of 20" food festival with samples of fares found all along the corridor.
Yanney, who continued to monitor construction progress as she drove east on Wednesday, said she wouldn't miss this celebration. She hailed Phillips for her tireless work, as well as that of Boekelman and, yes, her late father, among others.
Yanney glanced to her left, passing workers in neon-green safety vests as they carted away dozens of orange cones, preparing for yet another small stretch of the highway to made clear for 4-lane traffic, the last of which opens this week in advance of the gala at Holstein.
How often does she drive this stretch, a Yanney family labor of love in many respects? "I bet I've been on Highway 20 here a dozen or more times just since the summer," she said with a smile. "I'm on it a lot more, now!"