WEBSTER CITY, Iowa – There is just one place in ‘‘my country ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty’’ that can claim such an extraordinary prodigy.
That place is this place, the hub of Hamilton County, a leafy city of relative big shoulders nestled into a slice of Americana that Iowa reserves as its singular domain.
Webster City champions the little-known ownership of being the only town in the USA boasting two Pulitzer Prize winners.
You discover that while strolling through West Twin Park and coming upon an imposing block of memorial granite in Kantor-Mollenhoff Plaza.
A normal stop, along routes of travel, in this berg is for no more than refueling, a soft drink or rest room call.
This particular, what proved to an overnight hiatus, though, was for the installment of a new alternator, a mechanical (?) device not readily available in the community.
Fortunately, Pat Blake (he gets an unofficial Pulitzer) at Blakes Auto Repair came to the rescue.
Meanwhile, how to kill time, whether it be watching TV or the gala Hamilton County Fair Parade downtown.
Then back to awards.
On the athletic side of things, sure, one native-born Webster Cityan, Rod Rust, once coached the New England Patriots of the National Football League.
And, another who calls the community of 8,000 or so her hometown, Jenny Barringer Simpson, is arguably the best female American distance runner of the here and now.
Furthermore, Dick Tighe, a non-native of super hero status who actually hails from Homer, Nebraska, is as familiar as anyone around these parts and once coached the high school football team, the Lynx, to a whopping 375 victories.
Sports icons, to many though, are a dime a dozen.
More valuable is this:
Webster City is home to MacKinlay Kantor and Clark Mollenhoff.
Kantor wrote the original screenplay for the nine-time Academy Award winning movie “Best Years of Our Lives’’ in 1946.
The movie was based on a 1945 novella Kantor penned called “Glory for Me.’’
That was just the tip of the iceberg of an award-winning writing career.
In 1956, Kantor was awarded a Pulitzer in Fiction Writing for his novel “Andersonville’’ that depicted the squalid life of prisoners in a Confederate Civil War internment camp.
Kantor, like Mollenhoff, graduated from Webster City High School.
Mollenhoff, who also graduated from old Webster City Junior College, was working for the Des Moines Register & Tribune when he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting in 1958.
The subject of his compelling investigative journalism was exposing fraud and racketeering in the Teamsters labor union.
Mollenhoff’s list of credits is enormous. Among them is a 1988 chronicle of John Vincent Atanasoff, the Iowa State College professor who invented the first electronic digital computer in 1939.
There is a slight technicality as to the birthplace of Mollenhoff, an imposing gentleman at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds who was born in 1921 and passed away in 1991.
Webster City claims him, but at least one website lists the tiny, unincorporated nearby village of Burnside as his birthplace.
He was born in the family farmhouse and whether the homeplace was nearer Burnside or Webster City remains a question.
Burnside is in Webster County, though.
Military aficionados out there might be interested to learn Kantor, who was born in 1904 and passed away in 1977, was the ghostwriter for Air Force General Curtis Lemay’s biography.
A leading U.S. military leader during the Vietnam Era, Lemay is famous for his quote “We’re going to bomb them back to the Stone Age’’ in referencing North Vietnam.
It was Kantor who actually composed the line for the book.
Returning to the athletic scene, the aforementioned Rust was the head coach of the New England Patriots in 1990 when the Pats went 1-15. He was also the New England defensive coordinator in a loss to the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XX in 1986.
Rust was the starting football center at Iowa State in 1947-48. He grew up in Webster City when his father, Orville, was the football coach, but actually attended high school at now closed Cedar Rapids Franklin when his father moved to that school.
Rod Rust, now 89, was also the head coach of Montreal Alouettes of the CFL in 2001.
He was an assistant at Stanford when Jim Plunkett was the quarterback and was also an assistant NFL coach for nearly three decades.
On the stay in “Boone River Country’’ we were told another native, Chuck Lamson, was a starting fullback as a sophomore at Iowa State in 1958, then transferred to Wyoming and wound up playing in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings and Los Angeles Rams.
A fellow named Cliff Rick was the Cyclone QB in ’58 and the disgruntled Lamson, who passed away in 2015, decided to leave and quarterbacked Wyoming to a 14-3-2 record in two seasons.
Lamson was a first-team all-state back at Ames High in 1956, the same year Webster City’s John Gregory, later the head coach at South Dakota State, was a first-team guard.
Oh, and not incidentally, I couldn’t find a sculpture or statue, but Webster City is also the birthplace of Abastenia St. Leger Eberle, who was born in 1878 and died in 1942.
She was noted for working much of her life for the equal rights for American women.
She was known for her energetic small bronze sculptures depicting poor immigrants in New York City.