DES MOINES An Eagle Grove man’s legacy has truly taken flight.
Ed Ryan may no longer be around to witness it, but the Iowa State Pigeon Association, the club that he was active in during its infancy, held its 89th annual Pigeons on the Prairie State Pigeon Show Dec. 12-13 at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines.
Show officials reported that 284 exhibitors participated in this year’s event, bringing with them 3,800 birds and coming from 21 states and two provinces of Canada.
“It’s a really nice turnout,” said show co-secretary Jan Nyhus, of Huxley. “We’re hoping for an even bigger turn out next year since it will be our 90th.”
Showing and breeding pigeons has come a long way since the association began in the mid-1920s.
According the group’s archives, the first statewide show was held in 1935, and at that time shows were considered big events if they could draw between 300 and 400 birds.
Over the years, the hobby grew and by the 1960s shows were able to bring in 1,000 birds.
Ryan was one of the members noted in the association’s records during this period of growth. Breeding and showing champion birds for decades, he ultimately earned the Master Breeder Award from the National Pigeon Association in 1959.
He is one of only six Iowans to obtain that designation since the association began awarding it in 1930.
Pigeons tend to be a lifelong pursuit, said James Demro, of Marengo, president of the state association.
“Most people who have pigeons had a family member who had them first,” he said. “The interest was passed along to them, and they continue with pigeons because being around the birds is so relaxing.
“People really enjoy them.”
For Nyhus, her initial exposure to the various breeds of the bird came when she unwittingly married into pigeons.
“The first thing that happened after we got married and bought our first house was we got a loft,” she said. “The birds just became part of our life.”
Married 44 years, she and her husband, Lloyd, have kept pigeons 40 of those years. Even though she jokes the birds were not part of the original marriage agreement, she has more than just accepted the hobby.
Nyhus volunteers nearly 200 hours of her time each year to help organize the annual show.
“Raising pigeons is not just a hobby for people who live in the country,” she said, “and it’s not just for one economic class of people.
“It’s cross-cultural and it doesn’t take a lot of money or space. Pigeons are something everyone can enjoy.”
Show co-secretary Rick Peters agreed.
Initially from Des Moines, Peters moved to Colorado three years ago, but he still makes the trip back to Iowa each year to help set up and run the show. It’s a task he said he enjoys because pigeons are just so interesting.
“The diversity is amazing,” he said. “There are just so many different types. They’re all pigeons, but their differences are so striking.
“The scope of sizes, weight and ornamentation is so broad.”
This diversity was evident in the 34 specialty clubs participating in the 2014 show.
The Iowa State Pigeon Association is an all-breed club, Demro said.
This means the clubs hold their own separate competitions, awarding ribbons for champion and reserve champion within their specific breed. It is similar to several shows going on within a show.
The association is the central element that holds it all together via staging and paperwork. It also will host an open show during the weekend to provide an opportunity for people whose birds don’t have a club presence at the event.
Among the breeds in Des Moines were racing homer pigeons, Jacobin, cropper, frillback, archangel, Oriental frills, tumblers, fantails and French mondain.
Tom Jones, of Bondurant, was a show judge. He said he has raised pigeons for as long as he could remember, but this was the first year in which his opinion as to what constituted a good bird ruled.
“They’re a very therapeutic hobby, even if you don’t show,” he said. “You can go out, sit in a lawn chair, watch them fly and forget about the stress of your day.”
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