Remembering Frank Iowa, RAGBRAI icon

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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

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.

I had the pleasure of first meeting Frank on RAGBRAI in 1985. I was 26 years old and a decent road cyclist who loved to ride fast. One day, I got a later start than normal and spent most of my day riding at the back of the pack. It was there I found some of the more colorful riders, including Frank. His trademark Duck Dynasty-style facial hair was dark in those days and made it easy to spot him in the crowds of more than 10,000 cyclists.

I had heard about Frank: He was known for partying all day and riding late in the night to reach the next overnight stop. But I was surprised when I met him. While riding with Frank, I learned why he enjoyed the slower pace at the rear of RAGBRAI. It was all about savoring every moment of the ride. He enjoyed a cigarette and a beer at every stop, but enjoyed even more the history of the towns we rode through, and Iowa in general. Frank taught me about different styles of barn, heirloom vs. hybrid corn and the Amana Colonies.

Frank Iowa with his morning coffee. — photo courtesy of Phil Bzdyk, who shared this memory on the Friends of Frank Iowa Facebook page: “I first met Frank on my 1st RAGBRAI. 2003. … We picked Frank up at a WalMart, where he had just purchased the bike he was going to ride across Iowa. Jeff Dunn had been telling me all about this guy, who had changed his name to Frank Iowa, and who had ridden on every RAGBRAI, and who seemed to know just about everyone. I never rode with him on RAGBRAI, because of his tendency to still be lingering in the campsite long after everyone left, and because he would usually come in long after I was asleep. Still, every year we’d chat like comfortable friends. I looked forward to his weather updates on Facebook. He could always be relied on for any Iowa info or Iowa history you needed, you just had to ask. Frank will be missed by friends from all across the country. It was special that he chose RADPAN as his team – his place on our team gave our group a depth and wealth than cannot be refilled.”

Teams are not uncommon on RAGBRAI, and Frank founded one of the most enduring: Frank Iowa and the Rogues of the Night. He handed out “gold” coins to teammates on the 40th anniversary of the group in 2012, an image of a horned cyclist and the word “Rogues” engraved on one side, a map of Iowa on the other. My stepson, Nick, is a proud owner of one of these coins.

A day with Frank started with him waking up around 9 or 9:30 a.m., when most of the other riders on our team were packed and heading out. Frank would savor a large cup of coffee and a cigarette while planning his day, which meant discussing where his favorite RAGBRAI vendor, Mr. Pork Chop, was on the route. Then he’d pack up his small tent and his modest belongings and load them on our Team RADPAN (Ride All Day, Party All Night) bus.

Frank loved riding his bike, but wasn’t flashy about it. I remember once picking him up at the Coralville Target where he got a new bike specifically for RAGBRAI. We loaded it into our bus and one of my teammates, Tom Leacock, helped adjust the bike and get it ready for the ride.

Frank’s attire was much the same as his bicycle: simple and completely functional. He wore printed cotton T-shirts, baseball caps, baggy shorts, mid-calf socks, sneakers and nondescript cycling sunglasses.

There was not a pretentious bone in Frank’s body. He had a passion for life, living simply within his means and finding enjoyment in the moment. There was always something very comfortable about hanging out with Frank. He made friends with ease, and other RAGBRAI riders were always happy to see him. When you saw Frank, you knew you were at the end of the ride, and it was probably time to say a quick hello and get back on the bike.

Aaron Gogerty (left), Frank Iowa (center) and Jeff Felton on RAGBRAI. — photo courtesy of Aaron Gogerty, shared to the Friends of Frank Iowa Facebook page with this message: “Frank Iowa. Rest in Peace my friend. Ragbrai will never be the same.”

Outside of RAGBRAI, Frank kept in touch with his friends over Facebook. I could always count on Frank commenting on my Facebook posts. He loved science and enjoyed sharing the articles he was reading with his friends.

Frank and I were in contact at least once a week throughout the year, but several weeks ago, I realized I hadn’t heard from him for awhile. I was concerned and got in touch with his workplace, and that’s how I learned he had passed away. Frank’s Facebook page has been taken down, but I created a Friends of Frank Iowa page for people to share stories about him.

Since Frank’s passing, I’ve had several teams contact me and share some of their experiences with Frank. The common theme from every team has been how entertaining and welcoming Frank was.

During the 33 years I knew Frank, nothing changed about him, except his beard got a little grayer. His RAGBRAI celebrity grew significantly over the years and he loved to talk about the towns, the stops, the food and the music. He was a wonderful ambassador for Iowa, his Iowa City community and RAGBRAI.

Jeff Dunn misses Frank terribly and wants him to get the recognition he deserves. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 246.

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  1. Thank you Paul and Emma for the wonderful edits to my piece. Frank was an awesome guy that will be missed by many on RAGBRAI. As another tribute to Frank, our bike team (Team RADPAN) will be passing out glow in the dark wristbands that say “Light the Night for Frank Iowa” and “Team RADPAN 2018.” Those riding on RAGBRAI will see the RADPAN jerseys on the road and passing out the wristbands.

    Bless you folks for putting this tribute in your magazine!

  2. As Frank used to say:

    No hill too long, no hill to steep, you can’t stop halfway up and have a beer and a cigarette.

    Frank, I’ll meet you in the first bar on the left, unless it’s on the right.

  3. Frank is our friend and I am so grateful he is being recognized as he left our lives with a big hole in it. Sharing these stories will help us all celebrate the life he lived. He and Barry Katz had a sort of competition going on to see who would come into Camp last. Many stories just behind that. We used to joke that the last person in had made the most of that day and the most of that night. As a team RADPAN member we would traditionally stay out late. I was always glad to know I was on schedule when I would see Frank in towns. We’d always go hit the grocery store for emergency road beers. He had so many friends along the ride. I enjoyed meeting all of you for our occasional safety brakes to make sure that we were safe and properly hydrated that usually required several beers and having saddlebags that can carry 4 cases of beer well let’s just say we were very safe. Plus when the State Police shut things down we’d have beers to wait it out and let the party strat again. When I began taking over as team captain for Team RADPAN I made a point of leaving the highway and going to his house to pick him up. Something we almost never did. We had built a steel bike rack that would carry our bicycles in a covered trailer so that the bicycles would never rub against each other and that the wheels would have their own separate rack so they also would not be able to rub against each other. Many of our teammates had some very expensive bicycles and enjoyed riding very fast. But Frank always had a modest bike and rode every year the whole route I remember Frank picking up a new bicycle I think that he got from Walmart to go on Ragbrai. He got a kick out of us securing his bike and the front wheel like a Kestrel. One year he hit deer or a deer hit him and taco’d the front wheel on a downhill. Luckily he didn’t get hurt too bad. But he fixed it.opened the brake and made it to camp. Sitting in camp we always had beer saved and food for our late night crew. We shared some beautiful Iowa star filled nights just becoming better friends and listening to Frank Iowa facts and history. One night we had a guitarist playing songs in camp late enough for Frank. He always shared with me cool Iowa events on Facebook and always had liked or commented on my posts. We’d go up town in search of the perfect Margarita (Team RADPAN logo) a late night outing to shut the town down. I have fallen in love with Iowa over the years. 20 plus years… I got alot of friends in Iowa. Now I have one less. Sharing the life of Frank with Friends of Frank is a cool tribute. Thank you all for Sharing.

  4. R.I.P frank. We didn’t know each other well or for very long. But we sure did love bitching about our jobs late at night. Lol every time I would come into his job he’d rub my stomach for good luck cause my gut is so huge. Called it a budah belly. It was just so weird and rude, and hilarious. Frank was the type of guy who you could barely know, but every time you see him it would be like old friends catching up after a couple of years.

    It’s just such a shame he didn’t get to ride into Iowa City. His home.

  5. Thank you for the fitting tribute to Frank Iowa, A.K.A. Gregson Richard Schmidt, October 29, 1951 to April 30, 2018. Everything that was written was true of him in our college years, too. A favorite saying of his back then was, “Never say good-bye. Good-bye means forever; and, forever is a very long time.” Ride on in the sky, Frank, and enjoy the view from the Heavens.

  6. I am sitting in the back of Gabe’s in Iowa City. As my wife, daughter and I were having a drink and wondering where Frank was, because we have been meeting here at homecoming for many years, I decided to Google him and discovered he had passed away. I first met Frank in 1972 in Acting 1 at the Old Armory. He convinced me to become a Bozo in “I Think We’re All Bozos on this Bus.” Goodbye My favorite Bozo. I will miss you.

    1. Frank invited me to that play…he was wittingly and amazingly funny, talented in so many ways! Like so many, blessed to have known him in college. Sounds as tho he never changed, only grew better!!! T.u. for sharing

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