In memoriam: Remembering those we lost in 2018

Betty Jean Furgerson, Kurt Friese, Sonia Kendrick, John Culver, Basil Hadjis, Frank Iowa and Robert Ray.

Every year brings losses, and we mourn the passing of people who helped make our community what it is. This year has been no exception. From leaders of the food scene to elected officials to a leader on education and civil rights to an Iowa City RAGBRAI icon, 2018 saw the deaths of individuals loved locally and respected nationwide.

Basil Hadjis at the Mt. Vernon Road Hy-Vee in Cedar Rapids. — photo courtesy of the Hadjis family

In memoriam: Basil Hadjis, an icon in the Cedar Rapids culinary scene

After decades of feeding and entertaining Cedar Rapidians, chef Basil Hadjis passed away in the final days of 2017, at the age of 62. Owner of the Vernon Inn, Fourth Street Diner and Sweet Basil’s Pizza Pie and Basil’s Food, Hadjis was a mainstay of the local culinary scene. Most recently, Hadjis could be found at the Mount Vernon Road Hy-Vee, preparing meals at the Market Grille.

“The Vernon Inn was a very special place and home for so many customers that came religiously –– they knew the family, they knew the staff –– they took pride in being part of the Vernon Inn. That stemmed from Basil; he knew everyone and always had a smile and great energy,” remembers former Vernon Inn employee Tim Oathout, co-owner and head chef of Zeppelins Bar & Grill. [read more]

Sonia Kendrick. — photo by Jason Smith

‘I believe plows are greater than swords’: Sonia Kendrick, founder of Feed Iowa First, has died

Sonia Kendrick founded Feed Iowa First in Cedar Rapids in 2011. The nonprofit works with churches and other faith-based organizations, as well as businesses, to grow vegetables in open spaces that otherwise would have been planted with grass, ornamental plants or left untended. All the vegetables grown are donated to food banks, Meals on Wheels and other charitable organizations that feed people in need.

Feed Iowa First has gone from cultivating half an acre at the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Cedar Rapids to cultivating a total of 25 acres in a variety of plots. Since its founding, Feed Iowa First has donated tens of thousands of pounds to feed the hungry. [read more]

Frank Iowa (left) and Jody Schomaker. Schomaker shared this memory on the Friends of Frank Iowa Facebook page: “First stop, first day, of my first RAGBRAI, I meet Frank Iowa. After he chastised me for not having a means for taking any pictures in my first RAGBRAI, he regaled me with a few tales and left me with a Rogues coin. That simple gesture became a pivotal moment and had a profound effect on me. I was right where I was supposed to be.” — photo courtesy of Jody Schomaker

Remembering Frank Iowa, RAGBRAI icon

For the first time in RAGBRAI’s 45-year history, one of the true legends of the event will be missing. Frank Iowa, the only person from Iowa City to ride in every RAGBRAI, passed away on April 30.

He was born Gregson Schmidt, but his love for his state prompted him to adopt the name by which he became known around his hometown of Iowa City. Over the last 45 RAGBRAIs, “Frank Iowa” became synonymous with the cross-state bike ride. [read more]

Gov. Robert Ray, official photo

Iowa Gov. Robert Ray, 1928-2018

When asked what his favorite piece of legislation from his five terms as governor was, Robert Ray often chose the so-called “bottle bill,” which placed a refundable deposit of five-cents on containers of soda, beer and wine to encourage people to recycle. The bill was first introduced in 1977, and immediately faced strong opposition by the beverage industry and grocers. After Ray threw his support behind the bill, it passed both chambers of the Iowa legislature with bipartisan majorities. Ray signed it into law in 1978. [read more]

Betty Jean Furgerson. — photo courtesy of the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame

Betty Jean Furgerson, a leader in civil rights, education and the arts, dies at age 91

Betty Jean Furgerson life was “one of service and leadership,” as described by the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame when Furgerson was inducted in 1990. She was selected for the Hall of Fame not just her for her civil rights work — which included serving as director of the Waterloo Human Rights Commission from 1974 to 1992, and treasurer of the Regional Executive Council on Civil Rights — but also for her work to advance education in the state.

Furgerson was a member of the board of directors of Iowa Public Television for 35 years, and served as its president for 20 years. Her work at IPTV reflected her commitment to expanding educational opportunities and increasing diversity of voices available to the public, as did her work as a founding member of KBBG Afro-American Community Broadcasting in Waterloo and her service on the Iowa Arts Council. [read more]

Kurt Michael Friese — photo courtesy of the Friese family

Kurt Michael Friese, chef, food activist and Johnson County Supervisor, dies at age 54

A well-known chef, Friese studied photography at Coe College in Cedar Rapids before attending the New England Culinary Institute, where he later became a chef-instructor. After returning to the Midwest, Friese established himself as an early leader in the local food movement in Iowa City, working to support local food producers and artisans, and promote sustainable agriculture.

With his wife, Kim McWane Friese, he opened Devotay in 1996. The restaurant, which quickly become a fixture on the Iowa City food scene, was named for the couple’s children, Devon and Taylor.

In 2016, he decided to run for the Johnson County Board of Supervisors on a platform of “preserv[ing] farmland in the North Corridor from residential development and remov[ing] barriers to local food production.” [read more]

Sen. John Culver, official portrait.

John Culver, who represented Iowa in Congress for 16 years, has died

John Culver represented Iowa in both chamber of the U.S. Congress. His service in the House coincided with the height of Vietnam War, and was notable for his defense of free speech and the rights of protesters. He was one of only 16 members of the House to vote against a bill outlawing flag burning in 1967.

Culver explained his vote to the Gazette by saying, “Congress and the American people must rise above the emotionalism and provocation of the moment to preserve long-term constitutional principles over momentary patriot fear.” [read more]

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