When you have orbited the sun as many times as I have, people sometimes want to tap into the insights you have gathered through the years. Young journalists and newsroom managers ask about the lessons I accumulated from a half-century in the newspaper business. One lesson is quite simple, actually: Keep your eyes and ears open, and never hesitate to ask questions. The lesson came through loud and clear one afternoon in the 1980s when I was an editor on the Des Moines Register’s metro desk. The phones were constantly ringing.
The man who answered the door at a farm house west of Bloomfield one afternoon in the early 1970s was an imposing figure, even without that thick beard on his chin.Gideon Yutzy was a member of the Old Order Amish religion. He was the patriarch of a family that moved into the countryside west of my hometown several months earlier.That was 50 years ago. The arrival of the Yutzys began an Amish settlement that has grown to about 1,800 people today, making Davis County one of the largest enclaves of Amish in Iowa.I was there at Yutzy’s front door to interview him. I wanted to ask about the legal issues surrounding attempts by state and local governments in the Midwest to force Amish children to be educated beyond the eighth grade.In 1965, the issue boiled over near Hazleton in Buchanan County. A front-page photo in The Des Moines Register showed the nation what happened when government officials arrived at a one-room Amish school and tried to take the children to a public school.Little Amish boys and girls scattered like rabbits into a cornfield.