I felt somewhat guilty for missing CIB on Friday, but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to head back to my hometown of Waterloo for a few days. As a volunteer and board member for the American Diabetes Association, I offered to drive home to represent the ADA at the 3rd annual CultureFest at the Waterloo Center for the Arts (or commonly known by the locals as the Rec Center).
It also gave me a chance to visit my grandparents and take my grandpa out for his birthday.
Going home can be refreshing and also melancholy at times. Many of my Des Moines friends have a misconception about Waterloo, even when I describe to them what it’s like to live there. It’s a blue-collar industrial town that is seeking a new identity, and trying to hold on to the past. The past is one of the glory days when Rath Packing Company, Chamberlain, and John Deere was at it’s high point. The past also has it’s low points with the riots of 1968, the fractious strife between the lower and middle class blue-collar east siders and the upper and middle class white-collar west siders, and the large reduction of the industrial section. John Deere is still strong, but it’s much different today.
Since moving to Des Moines after college in 1998, the transformation of Des Moines from what it was to it’s current state is nothing short but astounding and pleasing. Meanwhile, it’s a longer process in Waterloo. There are some talented individuals who are working hard to cultivate the image from a “rough town” to a town with plenty to offer. There are signs that things are moving forward in Waterloo. The riverfront on the Cedar River is being developed as the Phelps Youth Pavilion, the Public Market, and other small projects have been created.
However, the mentality for most in my hometown remains stuck in the past. And frankly, it’s in the way of progress. Having a fatalistic view of “things will never change” or “I’m happy with the way things are” have become a major factor in young professionals moving out Waterloo after graduating from either high school, Hawkeye Community College, or UNI.
Individuals like Aaron Buzza, Chassidi Ferguson, and others are committed to push and sell Waterloo to new residents and encourage life-long residents to change their attitude and adapt to the future. Time will tell if the older generation is willing to move away from being stuck in neutral and open up to new possibilities for my hometown.