Traer to mark 150 years as a community

Planning committee seeks volunteers

Michelle Podhajsky (left) displays a commemorative edition of the Star-Clipper newspaper from 1998 during a Traer Sesquicentennial planning meeting last week while Patty Seuss (right) looks on. Traer will celebrate its sesquicentennial — 150 years since the town’s founding — in 2023. Photo by Ruby F. Bodeker

A local group is hoping people will wind up in Traer in 2023 for 150 reasons — to mark 150 years since the town’s founding in July of 1873.

As the community gears up to celebrate this historic event — Traer’s sesquicentennial — the Traer Chamber of Commerce held a kickoff organizational meeting Monday, September 20 in the library basement with about a dozen individuals in attendance.

Past Chamber president and current board member Michelle Podhajsky opened the meeting by telling the gathered group, “The Chamber initiated this meeting to get the ball rolling … We’re here to lend whatever support and community involvement we can help with through the chamber. I’m not in charge of anything, I’m just trying to facilitate a community conversation so we can get more people on board … This [is] a stepping off point to get started so we can have some sort of run at this for a couple years before it’s right on top of us. “

The site for the town of Traer was platted in the summer of 1873 by a local railroad agent named John W. Traer of Cedar Rapids along the Pacific branch of what eventually became the Burlington, Cedar Rapids, and Northern Railroad — a time when Iowa’s prairies were mostly trackless.

The influence of the railroad on the town’s founding was a big part of the discussion Monday evening, but following introductions, the meeting began with the ultimate questions — when to mark the celebration?

“One thing we ought to figure out is, do we want to pair it with the [Winding Stairs] Festival?” Bruce Morrison said. Morrison is a retired local farmer who — along with his wife Judy Morrison — was instrumental in planning Traer’s 125th celebration.

“The Dysart and Garrison [communities] are having their 150th also [in 2023] because it’s really the railroad being built from Vinton straight west that started these three towns and other existing hamlets like West Union and Buckingham and more,” Kennan Seda said.

A representative from the Winding Stairs Festival Committee — Kristi Hulme — was also in attendance Monday evening to provide feedback and guidance from the festival committee’s point of view.

The Winding Stairs Festival takes place every year — pandemic cancelations aside — the weekend after the first full week in August.

Ultimately the committee decided to hold the sesquicentennial celebration in conjunction with the Winding Stairs Festival in 2023 but also build in events throughout the year.

“I think we’re pretty well zeroed in on the Winding Stairs Festival for the big celebration,” Bruce Morrison said towards the end of the roughly 90 minute meeting. “And it’s just a matter of having other little things before that which can always be scheduled at different times.”

Those “other little things” that were discussed by the group included putting out a Traer sesquicentennial book in line with the centennial and quasquicentennial (125 years) books that were published, a possible YouTube channel devoted to the town’s history, a guided walking tour, an audio tour, a cemetery tour, fundraising for a special legacy town improvement, a time capsule, a veteran’s memorial, sesquicentennial merchandise or “swag” to raise funds for a legacy project, a family picnic, a commemorative wine, a walking tour of the North Tama school, a sesquicentennial logo, and many more ideas.

Several times the need to involve the youth of the community was addressed and how best to do so.

“This history, really, is for the young people and I think if they — even if five percent of the students at the school were to get involved — they’ll remember it and pass it down,” Seda said.

Incorporating a bit of whimsy and nostalgia into the celebration was also brought up Monday night.

“The beard and or mustache contests. A lot of people would still like to see that come back again,” Podhajsky said while reading from a list of suggestions she has received already via email.

“And they need to get started on those early!” Bruce Morrison added with a laugh.

The next meeting to plan Traer’s sesquicentennial is set to take place on Monday, October 18 beginning at 5:30 p.m. in the Traer Library basement — all are welcome.

Podhajsky is hopeful more interested individuals will attend the October meeting, jokingly imploring the planning group Monday night to next time bring, “whoever you can con, pay, or swindle into coming.”