Monday, May 16, 2022

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Civic Skinny

4 notable deaths, 4 lives well-lived. Rich guy gets richer. And Tirrell, of course.


Four well-known Des Moines men — all in their 80s or beyond — died within days of one another last month. All were interesting men who led interesting lives.

Owen Newlin and Tom Urban were sons of men who built Pioneer Hi-Bred into one of the great agricultural companies of the world, and each son followed in his father’s footsteps. Newlin’s father, Jay J., a farm boy from Earlham, was one of the founders of the company in 1926, was its first vice-president and remained with the company all his life. His son, Owen, joined the company in 1955 as a 27-year-old research assistant and retired in 1986 as senior vice president. He graduated from Iowa State (and earned a Ph.D. in plant breeding and genetics at the University of Minnesota) and remained intensely loyal to ISU — and a major contributor to the university — throughout his life. He served on the Board of Regents for 12 years and was president for eight, eight years in which he found ways to make sure Iowa State got pretty much whatever it wanted from the state and, often, from his own pocket. Immensely wealthy, he was a modest man who lived modestly, as befit his Quaker background. He had a sly grin, a big heart and on occasion the rumpled look of a college professor. He was 92 when he died on July 12.

Tom Urban’s father, Nelson, signed on with Pioneer as a young bookkeeper and business manager in 1929 and ultimately ran the company’s sales operations. Tom Urban joined Pioneer as a young man and rose to become chairman and chief executive. Still in his early 30s, he served a term as Mayor of Des Moines, starting in 1968, and helped guide the city through turbulent times. Dapper and thoughtful, and sometimes aloof, he aided the city’s institutions with his ideas and his money and Pioneer’s. After retirement, he led the effort to revitalize the creaky Botanical Center, turning it into a flowering gem. He was 86 when he died of cancer on July 10.

Sheldon Rabinowitz grew up on the north side of town, graduated from the University of Iowa and then began a career as an accountant in Des Moines, ultimately becoming partner in charge of taxes at what is now the Deloitte office in Des Moines where he mastered the tax code to the great benefit of some clients. He was outspoken, had opinions on everything and was passionate in his beliefs — from the joy of tennis to the importance of Zionism — and when he cornered you he’d give you an uninterruptible earful on one or the other, or both — along with a little free tax advice. (“He was a bull in a diplomatic china shop,” a rabbi said at his services.) He served two years on the Des Moines City Council in the 1970s, and he wrote occasional pieces for the editorial page of The Des Moines Register. He was 87 when he died on July 17.

Frank Fogarty may well have been the nicest man in town — and maybe the most intriguing. “He was a gentle man and a gentleman,” a woman who knew him said the other day. And indeed he was. After growing up in Omaha and graduating from Creighton, he went off for a military (he was an Army Ranger) and then a civilian stint in Germany and, after picking up a master’s degree in Washington, a marketing career mainly in South America. He retired to Florida at a relatively young age and, a couple of years later, in 1997, met Des Moines businesswoman and publisher Connie Wimer at a dinner party in Sarasota. He was 57 years old, had been a life-long bachelor, and knew the world well. (In Des Moines, after people got to know him, and after it dawned on them that he was familiar in detail with far-off spots around the world, there were persistent rumors he had been with the CIA. “I’ve heard those rumors,” Wimer said the other day. “But I never asked him about them.”)

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They married at St. Augustin’s Church a year after they met — he said he knew instantly he wanted to marry her; she swore she would never marry again — and he began yet another new life in a new city with new people. It probably wasn’t easy moving to a new city and marrying one of the most well-known and visible women in that city, but Fogarty won over the city as he won over her, and the city won over him. He brought a dose — more than a dose — of civility along with his big smile and world view. He embraced her personal causes and her professional career (and brought her a dozen red roses every week for 22 years), and her friends embraced him. He was smart, interesting “and a great listener,” a woman said the other day. Indeed, when he talked to you he made you feel you were the only person in the room.

Frank Fogarty turned 80 on May 1. He died of bladder cancer on July 16. …

Remember the Iowa Democratic caucuses way back on Feb. 3? The machinery kind of fell apart that night, and it took a couple of days before the results were known. All hell came down on the party — the networks, with no news to report, lambasted the party and ridiculed the state. Party Chair Troy Price stepped down. Major newspapers wrote much about what went wrong, but instead of spending $5 to buy the newspapers to find out what went wrong the party decided to spend $50,000 to launch a probe.

It hired two well-known Democratic lawyers — former Attorney General Bonnie Campbell and former U.S. Attorney Nick Klinefeldt — to look into it. Six months have passed, and…?

Party chair Mark Smith didn’t respond to a query. Former chair Price — now a press person for Danny Homan at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers — says “as far as I know, they’re still working on it.” And, indeed, Campbell confirmed that. “We’re still working on the review,” she says. “It’s a thorough, ongoing process.”

There’s still plenty of time. The next caucuses, if there are any next caucuses, aren’t set for another 3 1/2 years. …

Companies owned by Harry Stine, the richest man in Iowa, are among the 60,000 or so Iowa companies that have received around $5.1 billion in forgivable loans from the federal government under the coronavirus bailout program, as CITYVIEW reported in an online dispatch on July 12.

Stine Seed Co. of Adel and Stine Seed Farm Inc. of Adel each got $350,000 to $1 million, according to lists released by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

A Forbes Magazine list updated on July 12 says the 78-year-old seed geneticist is worth $5.4 billion, which Forbes says makes him the 484th richest person on earth.

A moment of silence

A tweet from the Flying Mango:

“We at the Flying Mango are deeply saddened by the loss of one of our extended family. Rest in Peace Mr. Owen Newlin. Thursday will never be the same. Always, and I mean always ordered the same thing…’Cajun Catfish with well done vegetables and Mike, can ya turn down the music.’ Our sincere condolences to Owen’s family and friends.”

Applicants for the government loans had to attest that the money was necessary for their continuing operations. The loans’ main purpose was to help the companies keep employees on the payroll instead of laying them off. The Stine applications do not say how many employees were retained.

Many Iowa companies got larger loans.

In the Des Moines area, the biggest recipients with loans of $5 million to $10 million include the Mittera Group Inc., a marketing and advertising company; the ITA Group, a travel business, and Palmer Companies, an employment-placement business in West Des Moines; Anderson Erickson Dairy; Karl Chevrolet of Ankeny, and Trivista Cos., a trucking company in Altoona that owns, among other things, O’Halloran International.

The government breaks loan categories this way: $5 million to $10 million, $2 million to $5 million, $1 million to $2 million, $350,000 to $1 million, and $150,000 to $350,000. It did not release data on loans of under $150,000, which accounted for about 90 percent of all the loans made in Iowa.

The recipients of the larger loans include manufacturers, retailers, nonprofits, restaurants, entertainment venues, funeral homes, churches and schools — and about every other category of business in the area.

The loan program offered a lifeline to nonprofits. Orchard Place, Balance Autism, On With Life and the Calvin Community each got more than $2 million, while the Art Center, the Civic Center and the symphony each received more than $350,000. The Des Moines Community Playhouse, the botanical center, the Hoyt Sherman Foundation and the Des Moines Metro Opera each got more than $150,000.

Two large West Des Moines churches — the Lutheran Church of Hope and St. Francis Catholic church — each got large loans. The Lutheran Church of Hope received more than $2 million to preserve 155 jobs, and St. Francis of Assisi church got between $1 million and $2 million for preserving 143 jobs. Dowling Catholic High School, applying as “Dowling College,” received $2 million to $5 million for retaining 240 jobs.

Roman Catholic churches got most of the other large grants to religious institutions in the metro area. St. Theresa’s, St. Augustin’s, Holy Trinity and Sacred Heart churches each got more than $350,000. The Catholic diocese itself got more than $150,000, as did two Catholic churches in Ankeny — Immaculate Heart and St. Luke.

Three protestant churches — Plymouth Congregational, Westminster Presbyterian, and Meredith Drive Reformed Church — each got between $150,000 and $350,000.

The Des Moines Area Religious Council received more than $150,000.

Raygun, the creative T-shirt store, got more than $150,000, as did Bike World. The company that puts out the Business Record and the company that owns the Iowa Cubs each got more than $350,000, and Adventureland received more than $2 million. The Iowa State Alumni Association received more than $350,000, while the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Association got more than $250,000. (The boys’ association, in Boone, got more than $350,000.)

Simpson College got between $2 million and $5 million.

Several law firms were among the recipients. Receiving more than $2 million were the Davis Brown firm and the Nyemaster firm. Getting between $1 million and $2 million were Ahlers & Cooney, Belin McCormick, Bradshaw Fowler, Brown Winick and Hopkins and Huebner. Loans of $350,000 to $1 million went to the Finley Alt firm, Brick Gentry, McKee Voorhees & Sease, Whitfield & Eddy, and Peddicord
Wharton. Receiving $150,000 to $350,000 where Simpson-Jensen, the Carney law firm, Carr law firm, Alfredo Parrish law firm, Grefe & Sidney, Newkirk Zwagerman, Babich Goldman, Duncan Green, Hansen McClintock & Riley, Lillis O’Malley, Patterson Law Firm, Lawyer Lawyer Dutton and Drake, Pearson Bollman Law, Smith Mills, Sullivan & Ward, Cutler Law Firm and Hope Law Firm.

An untold number of bars and restaurants received less than $150,000, but several received more. Four Jethro’s restaurants each received between $150,000 and $350,000, as did Noah’s, Teddy Maroons, La Mie Bakery, Django, Malo, Centro, Christophers, the Drake Diner and the Orilla Chicken. Exile Brewing received between $350,000 and $1 million, as did Orchestrate Management, which owns or manages Centro, Malo and Django as well as Bubba, the Gateway Market, Zombie Burger and South Union Bakery.

Auto dealers also were major recipients. Charles Gabus Ford in Des Moines received more than $2 million as did Charles Gabus Motors in Grimes. Gabus Automotive in Des Moines got more than $1 million. Fourteen Deery dealerships in Iowa received money; the loans included more than $350,000 for Deery Brothers Chevrolet in Pleasant Hill and a similar amount for the Deery Chrysler dealership in Waukee. The Willis dealerships, under the name Willis Cadillac, received more than $2 million. Two Gregg Young dealerships each received more than $350,000. The Shottenkirk dealership in Waukee received more than $1 million while the dealership in Indianola received more than
$350,000. Ed Stivers Ford received more than $1 million.

The loans are forgivable if the borrowers meet certain criteria, the main one being that at least 60 percent of the money be used for payroll within 24 weeks.

As of the other day, the SBA had approved 4,908,498 loans totaling $517,430,018,251. …


From an article in Salon criticizing Gov. Kim Reynolds by author and playwright Jeff Biggers of Iowa City:

“Iowa has become the petri dish of the Trump White House’s reckless policies.”

In case you were wondering: Marty Tirrell is still in Massachusetts, where he is awaiting trial for yet another scam. He is spending some of his time writing letters of apology to friends and former friends, and former wives, and laying his soul bare about his drinking and gambling. The trial is set for Sept. 10. Meantime, because the courts are slowed by the coronavirus, a new sentencing date has not been set by the federal court in Des Moines. The longtime sports talk-show guy who scammed friends and acquaintances and trusting businesses out of millions of dollars pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud in return for the dismissal of nine other counts. Mail fraud carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. …

Remember Terry Branstad? He was governor of Iowa forever. In fact, governor of Iowa longer than anyone anywhere served as governor. Never forgot a name. Loved to campaign. Knew every corner of the state. Supporter of Donald Trump. Friend of Chinese
president Xi Jinping. Nice guy. Nice wife.

What ever happened to him? ♦


  1. Tim Urban says:

    Barry Griswell will also be missed.

  2. Susie says:

    Can’t say I don’t love reading this column, but just a thought. Writing about a bunch of rich white guys in Des Mones and Marty Tirrell seems a bit off as we recognize our systematic exclusion of all things diverse in this country.

  3. Owen Newlin was a key factor in the success of the Iowa State Univ Ag college in the 70’s and 80’s. My father, Lee R. Kolmer was Dean at that time and credited Owen Newlin as a key reason for the expansion of research facilities and other major building projects. During that time 8 new major facilities were constructed on the ISU campus for the Ag college…all with public monies. Owen Newlin gave his heart to ISU and the Ag College, we shall not see his kind again for some time. May he R. I. P.

  4. Adam J. Moraine says:

    Stine is worth 5 BILLION DOLLARS and needed a loan? LOL!……..That’s cute. As an essential worker that has worked the frontlines of this Covid-19 crap, every Monday-Friday since Day 1 without hazard pay, I should be the one hitting up Stine for a loan.

  5. Allison Engel says:

    What an apt, eight word description of Owen Newlin: “He had a sly grin, a big heart…” He did have both, and had the immense respect of Pioneer employees. Ditto for Tom Urban, who was such an inspiring leader. (I once saw him give a speech to U.S. and Canadian Pioneer employees in English and then effortlessly deliver it in French for the eastern Canadians.) The Register was late with an article about Tom’s death, and never noted Owen’s. One of the most important figures in business, education and philanthropy in Iowa deserved better. Thank you, Michael, for these appreciations. And for the whole column, every issue.

  6. Eric Branstad says:

    Do you know what a Chief of Mission is or are you just being a jerk?

  7. Eric Branstad says:

    Do you know what a Chief of Mission is or just being a jerk?!

  8. Eric Branstad says:

    Do you know what a chief of mission is?! Do you read People’s Daily? Or are you just trying to be a jerk?

  9. Tim Sacco says:

    “… Danny Homan at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers …”

    It’s “American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.” AFSCME no questions and I’ll tell you no lies.

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