Best of the CRANDIC 2018: Community

The results are in! Here are the winners of Little Village’s 2018 Best of the CRANDIC competition in the Community category, representing voters’ favorite people, places, organizations and innovations in the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City area. Browse the winners in the other four categories here.

Best Elected Official:

TIE! Stacey Walker and Mazahir Salih

Walker: Linn County Supervisor, District 2 (elected 2016)

Salih: At-large member, Iowa City Council (elected 2017)

Mazahir Salih and Stacey Walker at the Linn Street Hamburg Inn in Iowa City. — Jav Ducker/Iowa City

Q&A Between Stacey Walker and Mazahir Salih

WALKER: I often feel as if I have two constituencies: One is comprised of people or color and the other is the rest of the people in my district. It’s hard to explain to voters; people get really upset because they just don’t understand the obligation to a group of people who have traditionally been underrepresented at every level of government. Do you find yourself in a similar position? If so, how do you help voters understand your obligations to communities of color?

SALIH: Since I first ran, I said I represent all Iowa City regardless if you’re born in Iowa City or if you traveled the globe to get to Iowa City like me. That’s why I ran: to represent the people who are underrepresented. They are the people I’d been working with. I feel what they feel, I feel their suffering. Diversity on the council is really great, so we can represent different communities, and I think voters respect that.

SALIH: I’ve found it’s easier to get constituents to vote for you than to get three fellow council members to vote the same way as you on something. Do you experience this in the Board of Supervisors?

WALKER: I’ve been quite fortunate to have colleagues on the Board who are generally understanding of the policies and issues that I find important. My biggest battles have come from convincing other elected officials in municipal government to see the wisdom in supporting programs and initiatives that help the socially vulnerable.

WALKER: What are you doing for balance?

SALIH: Without the support of my family, I couldn’t do this. I feel they really respect my talents and encourage me to work, and understand when I need some time out. We’re really very organized so we can help each other out in the house, and make time for me to be a mom, be a wife and be a representative. I really try my best. But I’m also grateful I have children who do great at school and do well taking care of themselves.

SALIH: I sometimes feel people do not look at me like an elected official if they don’t know me. … They don’t look for a female or a person of color or someone wearing a scarf to be an elected official. As a male, maybe it would be different. I wonder if you experience that.

WALKER: I struggle with commanding the same respect that my peers in elected government receive as a natural courtesy. People often use my first name when addressing me, as opposed to using my title, even in our chambers. On topics that I’ve researched for years and have even been published on, I’m rarely afforded the title of subject matter expert. My ideas often need the validation of other white male elected officials before they receive popular support. This dynamic finds its roots in implicit bias, which is why we must continue to train ourselves to recognize when it is happening. It is the respectful thing to do and the right thing to do. We must continue to work through these issues in good faith. Our progress depends on our ability to recognize our shortcomings and our commitment to course correct.

Best Library:

Iowa City Public Library

123 S Linn St, Iowa City

“For those of us with kids, it’s a great resource of sanity.”

— Alexander L.

“You can check out artwork — need we say more? It’s a fun place to go and has great materials and amazing staff.”

— Tara M.

Shout outs

Cedar Rapids Public Library

“Its design allows for all Cedar Rapidians to gather, whether to check out a book, read the paper, play the piano out front, buy a coffee or relax and look over the Cedar Rapids green square.”

— Bridget W.

Coralville Public Library

“1) Friendly, helpful staff
2) Beautiful, easy-to-navigate layout

— Joe M.

The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library

“The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library is a unique and valuable resource for the serious genealogical researcher as well as for those for whom their immigrant ancestry is a newfound curiosity.”

— Mary A.B.

Best Museum:

University of Iowa Museum of Natural History

In Macbride Hall on the UI Pentacrest, Iowa City

Rusty the Sloth, an exhibit at the UI Museum of Natural History. — Tom Jorgensen/University of Iowa

“Despite growing up in Iowa City, before high school, I was blithely unaware of the cultural juggernaut that is the UI except for the dental school and the natural history museum. They had a whale hung from the ceiling. There was an intricate island ecosystem, including with exotic avian cacophony. There were more strange artifacts and stuffed fauna than I could have imagined ever existed. Some, like their dodo, don’t [exist] anymore. It’s still our best museum in town.”

— Daniel L.D.

“Anytime I take people from out of town here they will always utter the phrase ‘holy shit.’”

— Seamus D.

“Giant sloth FTW forever.”

— Brian J.

Shout outs

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art

“Since the flood of 2008, without a museum building, they’ve done an amazing job of staying present in our city and state, through small gallery exhibits in the Iowa Memorial Union and FilmScene, lecture series at the UI, as well as through traveling exhibits throughout Iowa and in the international art world.”

— Kay I.

The Cedar Rapids Art Museum

“Super cool permanent collections, plus awesome temporary exhibits like the Hopper exhibit.”

— Jennifer R.

National Czech & Slovak Museum and Library

“In these times, when consumers and our experiences are funneled toward homogenized monoculture, this distinctive museum is a must. To look deeply at the past and our particular joys, sorrows, art and contributions adds a much-needed richness to our lives.”

— Thea E.

“It’s amazing to know that we have a national museum in southeast Iowa of all places! It’s a beautiful building with so much to offer.”

— Kaitlin S.

Best Neighbor:

Kurt Friese

Nominated by Little Village

Kurt Michael Friese — photo courtesy of the Friese family

In Memoriam

Love thy neighbor. Kurt Michael Friese — who died suddenly on Oct. 26, 2018, at the age of 54 — lived these words, even if it wasn’t the easiest path to take.

Johnson County Supervisors are rarely household names, but Friese’s web of friends, community members and political supporters ensured that whether one agreed with his stances or not, he was well-known and respected.

The list of his contributions to the Johnson County community is quite long. Among the roles he played: chef, teacher, writer, activist, listener and — of course — neighbor. Friese was sworn in as a chair on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors on Jan. 3, 2017. He is perhaps best known as a chef and former co-owner of the downtown Iowa City restaurant Devotay. Friese was instrumental in bringing the slow food movement to Iowa City.

Friese graduated from Coe College in Cedar Rapids and later trained and taught at the New England Food Institute. He served as editor and publisher of Edible Iowa River Valley, and authored multiple books, most recently A Cook’s Journey: Slow Food in the Heartland. He contributed work to Little Village magazine from 2003 to 2008 and the political blog Bleeding Heartland from 2016 to 2018. Friese was a supporter of the Unitarian Universalist Society and Iowa City Pride, marching with the UUS in the 2018 Iowa City Pride parade.

In 2013, Kurt worked to train Shelter House residents in the Culinary Starts program, which aims to teach job skills to prepare its unemployed trainees for work in the food industry. Ever present, ever persistent, ever striving, Friese lived his vision of working for justice from the ground up: Sustainable food and agriculture leads to a healthy community, economy and environment. He poured love into his work.

In his obituary, author Elissa Altman quoted Friese’s email to her after the 2016 election. “Love and understanding are the only weapons against fear,” he wrote. Thank goodness people like Kurt Michael Friese show us how to use love as a weapon. This world needs more weapons like love.

Melody Dworak

Best Advocate for Social Justice:

Natalia Espina

Natalia Espina — Zak Neumann/Iowa City

Q&A with Natalia Espina

What was your path to becoming an activist?

First, I’d like to thank the LV readership for the most humbling recognition. It was completely unexpected and exactly what I needed in this space in time as positive reinforcement.

My narrative was made up of a 32-year journey to becoming a U.S. citizen, and having been churned through our complex immigration system for several years. I spent a chunk of time undocumented in this country, though this was not upon entry to the states, it was many years later. It’s this personal narrative in combination with my professional work for several years in community-based health care and working alongside vulnerable populations which led me to carve out a more defined voice.

What led to the founding of the Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project?

The EICBP was born out of a series of community meetings which began at the UI College of Law Legal Clinic in November 2016, after then president-elect Trump was voted into office. The idea of starting a bond project was not necessarily at the forefront, but it was suggested by UI law professor Bram Elias: In the case of an immigration raid, one major factor, post ICE-arrest, in determining whether or not someone would get deported from the U.S., was whether someone had the ability to get out of immigration jail on bond. A few of us, including myself and fellow co-founders, Julia Zalenski and Elizabeth Panicucci Rook, said, “We can start a bond fund.”

Thus far we’ve bonded out 34 individuals from across central and eastern Iowa, paying a total of $159,500. The value of their freedom goes far beyond the average of $5,000 per person gift.

Do you have any stories from your work with EICBP that really represent the project’s mission?

Most recently, we heard back from the second participant who we helped bail out in summer 2017. After being released on immigration bond, he was able to connect to legal representation. He now has a work permit, is gainfully employed, has his driver’s license and purchased a vehicle. The likelihood is this individual will now be able to remain in the U.S. and will continue to work on regularizing his immigration status. In just over one year since his release from immigration jail, he has already made some massive strides. This is just one example of why we do the work we do. There is no price tag that can be placed on this tremendous success and positive outcome.

Do you have big plans for 2019? Would you consider running for office?

I have no thoughts of running for office in 2019 though this has been something that has crossed my mind for the future. I’d like to think in order to do this effectively, I need to spend time outside of Iowa City, then bring back my accumulated knowledge to share. Iowa City tends to think of itself as this really special liberal bubble, however I don’t actually think that to be the truth. We still have a fair amount of work to do in the world of social justice and there are many models we need to learn from. Perhaps one day, after some time to reflect and grow elsewhere, I can come back and contribute to the community I love and cherish so dearly within an elected official capacity. I have a lot of people to learn from out there and homework to do!

Hardest Fighting Union:


120 N Dubuque St #210, Iowa City

COGS members stuff mailers into envelopes to let inform UI graduate students about a recertification vote in the coming weeks. Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

“Uniting grad students since 1996 and working on top of their studies!”

— Emily L.

“COGS, baby! We went to the state capitol and fuckin’ lobbied when they tried to take away our unions, and then they sort of did, but COGS is still fighting and I respect the hell out of the people who lead and volunteer.”

— Emily M.

COGS Fast Facts

Full name: Campaign to Organize Graduate Students, UE Local 896
Founded in: 1996
Main goals: Collective bargaining with the University of Iowa Board of Regents to secure fair wages, work hours, sick leave, paid leave, safety, training, human rights, equipment and other rights and benefits for graduate student employees.
President: Laura Szech
Vice-President: Kenneth Elliott
Big move of 2018: New restrictions on collective bargaining passed by the Iowa legislature in 2017 limit COGS’s ability to negotiate things like supplemental pay and health insurance. They also threatened to end COGS’s status as the bargaining unit for UI’s grad students —the union had to rally an absolute majority of the nearly 2,000 UI teaching and research assistants to vote “yes” to retain COGS as their bargaining representative in an October election. (If an employee didn’t cast a ballot, it would automatically be counted as a “no” vote.) After weeks of reaching out to grad students by mail, text and in person, COGS’s campaign was successful: 1,559, or 80 percent, of graduate students voted to recertify COGS through at least 2020.

Best Local Non-Profit or Charity:

The Crisis Center of Johnson County

1121 S Gilbert Ct, Iowa City

“This organization has served the Iowa City area for over 50 years and continues to expand their reach to help those in need. The Food Bank and Mobile Food Pantries help those in food deserts and offer a no-questions-asked food bank where clients can choose their own food.”

— Bobby J.

“We are a better community for the workthat is done at the Crisis Center. The food bank and the counseling services literally save people’s lives.”

— Mary M.

“The Crisis Center does the most good for the widest amount of people.”

— Roger W.H.

Shout outs

Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition

“Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition is setting the bar pretty high for local nonprofits. Their impact is incredible and the people who keep it up and running are AMAZING.”

— Nicole Y.

The Bike Library

“Iowa City Bike Library: keeping bikes out of the landfill by refurbishing or recycling donated bikes. Their goal of ‘more butts on bikes’ contributes to a more civilized, less car-centric community.”

— Anne D.

Cedar Rapids Community Schools Foundation

“If you haven’t been to their Lip Sync for Learning fundraiser, you haven’t lived.”

— Scott R.

Moms Demand Action—Iowa

“They work so hard to stand for gun legislation and promote the middle ground position of recognizing the Second Amendment and advocating for laws that will keep us safer. The Be SMART program in particular is an invaluable resource for keeping kids/adolescents safe. This Moms group shows up everywhere and is willing to share their message across Corridor communities.”

— Holly S.

Best Neighborhood for Singles and Young People:

The Czech Village/New Bohemia Main Street District

Cedar Rapids

Drag queens wow at pride 2017. CR Pride Fest returns to NewBo City Market for the second year. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

A Brief History of the District

The Sinclair meatpacking plant opened on Cedar Rapids’ South 3rd Street in 1872, attracting Czech immigrants with its ample job opportunities. Within a decade, churches and storefronts began popping up in the area, forming a “Little Bohemia.”

The local Czech-Slovak Protective Society opened CSPS Hall on the corner of 1st Avenue and 3rd Street in June 1891, establishing a cultural center in the neighborhood.

In 1975, the Czech Heritage Foundation officially dubbed the 16th Avenue SW area of the neighborhood as “Czech Village.” By 2000, the South End was called “New Bohemia,” with locals focused on preserving its artistic and cultural heritage.

In 1991, the nonprofit Legion Arts settled into the historic CSPS Hall.

On Oct. 21, 1995, Bill Clinton joined fellow presidents Václav Havel of the Czech Republic and Michal Kováč of the Slovak Republic in Cedar Rapids to dedicate the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library (NCSML).

The flood of 2008 devastated the neighborhood, including nearly all businesses and residences. Many never recovered, but those that did, along with nonprofit organizations and new developers, began to rebuild (and rebrand) the area.

The Czech Village/New Bohemia Main Street District was formed in May 2009 with a mission to “breathe economic life into a historic area of Cedar Rapids,” according to the district’s website.

Today, the district offers robust shopping, dining, art and tourist attractions. The area is home to NewBo City Market, the fully refurbished CSPS Hall, NCSML, the African American Museum of Iowa and much more.

Best Historic Building:

Old Capitol Building

Iowa City

Creative Matters Lecture Series hosts light artist Gerry Hofstetter on Thursday, Oct. 4. — Jason Smith/Little Village

“It is the icon of Iowa City, symbol of our allegiance to wisdom and education over politics and power. Old Brick deserves honorable mention, but no edifice can hold a column to Old Cap.”

— Daniel L.D.

“It’s a majestic material reminder of the university’s and state’s origins.”

— Daniel L.D.

“It is beautifully designed, well maintained and full of history.”

— L. A.

“It is integral to the identity of Iowa City.”

— Susan C.

Shout outs

Brucemore Mansion

“Super cool gardens, an awesome old Victorian mansion and fun events on the expansive lawn.”

— Jennifer R.

Veterans Memorial Building

“A beautiful building inside and out. The Grant Wood stained glass is spectacular. The exhibits are very worthwhile, and the ballroom is a magnificent room!”

— Carole G.

Best Green Building Project:

TIE! Indian Creek Nature Center and Cedar Rapids Public Library

5300 Otis Rd SE, Cedar Rapids

450 5th Ave SE, Cedar Rapids

Green Features: Indian Creek Nature Center

A turtle poses for a photo near the Indian Creek Nature Center. — Jav Ducker/Little Village

Amazing Space: The solar panels in Indian Creek’s Amazing Space helped the center achieve a Net Zero Energy certification from 2017-18, meaning the renewable sources served all the center’s energy needs and then some (like, 94 tons of coal worth of excess energy).

Water treatment: Their Wetland Wastewater Treatment System uses no chemicals or energy. Wastewater from sinks and toilets travel from a septic tank to two cells where plant roots (including cattails and wildflowers) help clean the water underground. Bonus: These cells are lovely to look at and serve as animal habitats.

Rain garden: The center works to keep run-off out of Indian Creek by trading asphalt and concrete for permeable, surprisingly sturdy grassy paving. A permeable chipped limestone is used for paths. Rainwater is collected in both the center’s rain garden full of native plants and its 65-gallon rainwater collection device, nicknamed “Moby,” which recycles the water for gardening.

Green Features: Cedar Rapids Public Library

The Cedar Rapids Public Library — Jav Ducker/Little Village

The roof: Along with serving as a public patio, CRPL’s 20,000-square-foot “green roof” is outfitted with layer upon layer of material designed to absorb 100 percent of rainwater. This water nourishes the vegetation planted on the patio and keeps water from flooding storm sewers.

Lighting: CRPL “harvests daylight” with plenty of energy-efficient, strategically located windows utilizing the light from the sun while avoiding glare on the library’s tables and computers. Automated shades can sense the intensity of the light, and overhead lighting fixtures automatically dim or turn off when the sun is doing the lighting for them.

HVAC system: The CRPL employs a geothermal heat exchange, consuming around a third of the energy the old library building used.

Best Neighborhood for Families:

Longfellow Neighborhood, Iowa City

“The Longfellow neighborhood in Iowa City is well known for welcoming diversity, political awareness, safety, shade, school and being generally woke. I love my neighbors but I’m jealous of the Longfellow neighborhood.”

— Daniel L.D.

“Longfellow has a nice sense of community, the Front Porch Music Festival and cute houses.”

— Ariane P.

Best Power Couple:

Nancy and Craig Willis

“This longtime Iowa City couple have been among the biggest contributors to our nonprofit organizations in the community. They are activists and always willing to share their resources with those who need it the most.”

— Mary M.

Best Business Slogan:

Raygun, “The Greatest Store in the Universe”

1028 3rd St SE, Cedar Rapids

132 E Washington St, Iowa City

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