Six Terrific Book Ideas for Father’s Day Gifts, all with Iowa Ties

I chose these books on the strength of their subject matters, but because of the family men behind each important story. 

Chuck Long: Destined for Greatness by Aaron Putze

Chuck Long’s enthusiastic but calm take on life and football almost makes me wish I’d been a football fan back in the day. I enjoyed getting acquainted with him especially through his years playing for the Iowa Hawkeyes. There are vignettes throughout of his coaches, Governor Terry Branstad, the Farm Crisis of the 1980s (and Hayden Fry having the team wear ANF stickers–America Needs Farmers), other players, and family members. The book has several photos and is full of anecdotal footnotes. At the end is a salute to sports reporters by Chuck Long. Also tidbits and quotes which “didn’t find a home in the storyline but were too good not to share!” A wonderful story about servant leadership.

When Winter Came: A Country Doctor’s Journey to Fight the Flu Pandemic of 1918

by Mary Beth Sartor Obermeyer

This is an immigrant story, of a sickly boy who was eventually healed. That experience led to medical school, but a longing to serve in a small town setting, using the same kindly medical care he’d experienced led him to northern Iowa. Dr. Pierre Sartor was new in a small Iowa town when the influenza pandemic broke out. He forged a partnership with what is now Mayo Clinic, which was beneficial his entire career.

The author’s father, who at age 12 began driving his father to patients, also became a doctor. Dr. Pierre Sartor’s box of treasures was passed to his son, who later gave it to the author, setting her on an exciting journey of discovery. She reveals even more of that at the end of the book. An important chapter in Iowa history, medical history, and of a well-loved Iowa country doctor, who had immigrated from Luxembourg. A beautiful book.

The author’s recent interview by John Busbee on The Culture Buzz.

Wilhelm’s Way: The Inspiring Story of the Iowa Chemist Who Saved the Manhattan Project

by Teresa Wilhelm Waldof

This is a story important to world history, to WWII history, to Iowa history, to the history of Iowa State University. But it’s also a masterfully written family story of the humble man who indeed influenced the outcome of WWII. His efforts were too late for my mother’s three brothers, but my dad–the commander of a B-29 Superfortress with orders for Saipan in September 1945 was spared combat.

Wilhelm’s Way also includes photos, extensive notes, a bibliography, and an index.

Joe Dew: A Glorious Life by Elaine Briggs

This is the story of an amazing man who grew up during the Depression Era, who had such drive and determination to travel however he could to look for work. My mother graduated from Dexter two years before Joe Dew graduated from Redfield, both small rival towns, so I really enjoyed learning about earlier years of Redfield, Dexter, and Stuart.

Joe Dew’s WWII years are especially compelling, and that he survived combat and the Battle of the Bulge–with a Purple Heart, Distinguished Service Cross, and Bronze Star. The G.I. Bill enabled him to finish college in Ames, then work for General Motors.

The Appendices include photos and genealogy, but also patents that Joe Dew has on file in the U.S. Patent Office.

The Good Governor: Robert Ray and the Indochinese Refugees of Iowa

by Matthew R. Walsh

I taught ESL (English as a Second Language) two decades ago, not realizing that the refugee office I often worked with had begun decades earlier by the efforts of Governor Ray. In fact, I ended up working with some of the Hmong women when they arrived in Des Moines in the 1980s.

I was amazed at Kenneth Quinn’s very valuable part in this uniquely Iowan story.

Matthew Walsh’s thorough history of all those years of trips to Indochina, negotiating and working with different presidents, is a fascinating look back at how Iowa in middle of the nation has become such a diverse state. It’s a scholarly book, but also very readable.

Here’s a 16-minute story about the book on Our American Stories.

Missileman: The Secret Life of Cold War Engineer Wallace Clauson

by John Clauson

What a fascinating story on several levels, with roots in small-town Iowa and a terrible accident. Wallace Clauson’s intriguing story is told around his son’s buying a house and his father’s insistence on helping build a fence and a garden. The son can barely believe his father’s revelations about the important part he’d played in world events, but memories come to him that begin to make sense. And his father is dying of cancer.

You’ll learn about Wallace Clauson’s connections with John Atanasoff, early computers, Nuclear missiles, the Cold War, the Yom Kippur War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, secrets, Fermi, Einstein. An incredible biography.

I learned about this history through a 40-minute story on Our American Stories.


  1. Such good sounding books! I like the connections that don’t require buying the books, too.

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