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By Staff | Nov 23, 2018

Do you have any idols…those that you think are cool, have a great job or have done something you admire? I am going share three of mine.

I think that Richard Engel has an amazing job. He is a journalist and NBC News Chief foreign correspondent. Anytime there is anything major newsworthy around the world, whether that be an earthquake, terrorist attack or good old fashion war he is immediately on a plane traveling to the scene of the history-making event. He literarily gets a first-hand front seat view of history as it unfolds. He has all the resources of his news network behind him.

He gets embedded in the military. He is fluent in Arabic, Italian and Spanish and has been in every hot spot around the world since 1996. He covered the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. At times, his life was at risk having received the Journalism Courage award. Two times I have seen how people react to danger. After 9/11 and again a couple years ago after a terrorist attack in Nice, France, the planes that we traveled on to Brazil and France were near empty due to cancellations. You get a lot more seat room that way. I think that Engel has the best job in the world.

My second idol that does something that I admire is Jon Meacham. He is a presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize winning author of a biography of Andrew Jackson. I love history, at one time considered becoming a Historian but Meacham took the job. He is from the south and they did not teach us much about U.S. Southern History in the classes that I attended. I think that there was a reason for that -being that it was not something pleasant that they wanted to talk about. Meacham’s new book, “The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels” is something that should be taught in school. We can better understand today if we are well educated on our past. I see us repeating mistakes of history so drastically that it feels like most have no respect for history.

My third idol is deceased…Bernice Mortensen. This one takes some set-up. It is based on local history in Royal, Iowa where I grew up and where our primary office is located. It has to do with the Ku Klux Klan. Probably few know this but there was a resurgence of the KKK starting in about 1916 after the release of the movie, “Birth of a Nation,” highlighting the Klan. The concentration of membership was not in the South but more in the Midwest and Southwest.

Iowa KKK membership reached 100,000 peaking before 1926 after which dissension within caused the Klan to collapse not to resurge again until the Civil Rights era in the 1960s in the South. I have seen estimates of 3-4 million members nationwide in the 1920’s. The focus of the KKK had shifted or expanded, however you see it, from the original hatred of blacks to hatred and opposition to Catholics, Immigrants and Jews. The 1920 US Census reported that 14 million foreign born people resided in the U.S.

According to the Annals of Iowa (State Historical Society), the Klan set strict membership requirements and set a creed. Potential members had to be 18 years old, male, native born, white and Protestant. They had to swear to working “100 percent for Americanism”, and promoting patriotism and old-time religion, supporting “Native, White Protestant Supremacy.” There were women in Klan auxiliary groups. Annual dues were $10, which was no small sum at the time.

Klaverns tended to form where there were more Catholics, which fanned the Klan opposition, but not always. Clay County Iowa did not have a Catholic church at the time but there was a klavern in Royal.

Towns that were listed with Klan’s in our region by the Historical Society include Marathon, Cherokee, Fonda, Storm Lake, Dickens which had a Klan band, Rembrandt, Boone, Webb, Palmer, Varina, Schaller, Laurens, Havelock, Sheldon, Centerville, Manly, Red oak, Davenport, Waterloo, Ottumwa and Sioux City…all Iowa towns.

The KKK reportedly had strong klaverns in Anamosa, Creston, Des Moines, Dubuque, Greenfield, Perry and Vinton. According to the State Historical Society, members were recruited through fraternal and business groups, community concerns about crime and immorality were exploited, bigotry and prejudice were appealed to, and local klaverns became involved in politics such as school board elections. Groups that opposed the Klan were the American Foreign Legion and the Farm Bureau.

While Royal was not mentioned in the Historical Society record, our town historian, who knows just about everything about every family that ever lived here, says that Royal did have a klavern and they would have their meeting outside on a farmstead on the northwest corner of Royal. They wore white sheets and the pointy white hats.

This is where my third idol, Beatrice Mortensen, came into the picture. The roads were not paved then and she had access to a vehicle. She reportedly drove back and forth on the dirt road on the west side of Royal by the farmstead where the Klan was meeting, kicking up as much dust as possible intending to get their clean white robes dirty. She was successful enough to make them mad and her obstinance made the local lore here to where they still tell about it at the coffee shop.

My grandfather ran the Standard Station and would have been Catholic at that time. The farmstead where the Klan met is about a quarter of a mile away from where his station was. Yup…Bernice Mortenson would be one of my heroes. This is why I love history.

David Kruse is president of CommStock Investments Inc., author and producer of The CommStock Report, an ag commentary and market analysis available daily by radio and by subscription on DTN/FarmDayta and the Internet.

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