Generations of local leaders propel Bancroft, population 699

BANCROFT – The city of Bancroft, called “the garden spot of Iowa” for almost 90 years, may not be growing in population. But like a good perennial plant with solid roots, it is regenerating and flowering. Located in northern Kossuth County in north-central Iowa about 20 miles south of the Minnesota state line, Bancroft has a population of 699 residents, according to 2020 Census data, down from 732 in 2010. It’s who makes up that 699 number that matters. Bancroft has an eclectic mix of new, longtime and returning residents.

Iowa Virtual Academy strives to reflect traditional school

When the COVID-19 pandemic halted in-person learning in March 2020, interest in virtual schools skyrocketed. One of two virtual schools in the state, Iowa Virtual Academy opened in 2012 with 61 students, and as of the end of last school year served about 540 students, said Steve Hoff, principal of Iowa Virtual Academy, based in Guttenberg in northeast Iowa in the Clayton Ridge School District.

Buddhist monastery finds home near Decorah

In the rolling hills of northeast Iowa, amid fields of cattle and corn, sits a simple, cream-colored building. The gravel road leading to the dwelling climbs an incline. A weathered wooden sign surrounded by flowers and tall grass reads “Ryumonji Zen Monastery.”

A Buddhist monastery, the only one of its kind in the state. Buddhism, an Eastern religion that began in India, follows the teachings of the Buddha Siddhartha Gautama. It focuses on participating in good to reach enlightenment.

Buddhist communities increasing across Iowa

Iowa’s Buddhist population grew in the last several decades with new places to practice — Cedar Rapids, Clive, Decorah. Now Indianola. 

The latest is in Warren County’s county seat of Indianola, where the former Saint Thomas Aquinas Church, built in 1958, will become a Buddhist temple. The Board of Adjustment approved a special work permit at a November meeting. “Mostly, this would be a place of peaceful contemplation,” the Karen Buddhist Association wrote in its application to the city. The Karen Buddhist Association of Iowa is made up of about 50 families.

Iowa Farm Bureau is a small nonprofit. It’s sitting on a huge business empire.

In May, senior executives at the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation finalized a little-noticed financial maneuver that could boost their income for years to come. While a nonprofit, the Farm Bureau owned a highly profitable, publicly traded insurance business, FBL Financial Group. For nearly a year, the executives — whose incomes depended on FBL — had wanted to privatize the company. But the move spurred several lawsuits, with a major investor publicly accusing the Farm Bureau of low-balling the remaining shareholders it was attempting to buy out. To settle, the Farm Bureau paid investors more, and the deal closed this spring.