Program details told for Courthouse 100 celebration

Nearly two years of planning will culminate Friday, Oct. 27, with the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the Greene County courthouse. The original event, held Sunday, Oct. 27, 1917, drew dignitaries and a crowd of 10,000.

The centennial program will begin at 2 pm, like the dedication, but it won’t be two hours long, like the dedication.

The program will begin with brief comments by Courthouse 100 chairman Don Van Gilder who, over the years has become the historian of the courthouse. Van Gilder, who is now 70, has his own story to tell of being locked in the courthouse past closing as a tyke when his older brother, a courthouse employee, forgot to take him home.

Greene County High School musicians will provide the National Anthem and other patriotic music.

The Honorable Robert Hanson, a 1974 Jefferson graduate, will be the guest speaker. Hanson graduated from Stanford University in 1978 and from the University of Iowa law school in 1981. He returned to Jefferson to work as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice David Harris for one year, and then practiced law in Des Moines for 21 years before being appointed to the bench in 2003. He serves in Iowa’s fifth judicial district.

Hanson’s early memories of the courthouse aren’t as traumatic as Van Gilder’s. He said he has a vague memory of visiting his father, Judge William Hanson, when he was district court judge. William Hanson was later appointed as a federal judge. The back staircase from the clerk of court office to the courtroom and the art – the murals and the cornucopia in the center of the rotunda – made a lasting impression on the younger Hanson.

His early career aspirations included being a garbage collector – “I was intrigued by the way the garbage truck worked,” he said – and being a butcher after watching his Uncle Don Hanson work at his grocery store in Churdan. From elementary school until nearly the end of his undergraduate studies he wanted to be a doctor. It wasn’t until his senior year in college that he chose law school, and he didn’t aspire to become a judge until he had been in private practice for 15 years.

Hanson understands the connection of a courthouse in a rural county. He knew as a boy that important people worked at the courthouse and dealt with important matters. He also learned the courthouse is the place where important community events are held. “It also impressed on me that the attorneys and the judges who resided in Greene County and/or practiced/presided at the Greene County courthouse were highly respected professionals in Greene County generally and in Jefferson specifically, who did important and valuable work, and who contributed greatly to Jefferson’s and Greene County’s great reputation and stature throughout the state,” Hanson said.

The program will also include a poem by Colleen O’Brien Clopton titled “The Courthouse in Jefferson.” O’Brien, a 1962 Jefferson graduate, left Jefferson but then returned in 2001. She has written many poems, columns and articles about growing up in Jefferson. She first wrote the poem about the courthouse in 2002 and said she’s been adding to it ever since. “I imagine working on it until my dying breath, for it’s kind of like a memoir of a town that, like a person, changes over the years,” she said.

Also at the program a time capsule will be sealed. The Courthouse 100 committee began assembling items for the capsule before the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone in May 2016. A specially made box has been crafted, and it will be stored in a vault at the courthouse. The 1916 time capsule is buried near the cornerstone and can’t be accessed without demolishing the building.

The centennial celebration starts on Monday with tours of the courthouse by students all week.

On Friday, the day will begin with Java and Juice at 9:30 am. Tours of the courthouse, including the attic and basement, which are normally not open to the public, will be held from 10 am until 1 pm, and again from 3 to 4 pm.

The 2 pm program will be held on the south plaza of the courthouse, weather permitting. Limited seating will be available; bringing lawn chairs is suggested.

“We think we’ve put together a nice schedule of events and a good program. We hope to see a lot of people celebrate the centennial of one of our county’s true treasures,” committee chair Van Gilder said.

Other members of the committee are Jean Van Gilder, Mike and Dianne Piepel, Pat Richards, Mary Weaver, Chuck Offenburger, Tori Riley and Pete Bardole.

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