Mission Accepted: Visit 939 Iowa arrives in NW Iowa

Thursday, July 8, 2021
Seth Varner (left) and Austin Schneider (right) followed a route coming south from Sergeant Bluff and traveling north to visit towns scattered across the northwest corner of the state before ending their run in Sioux City. The two University of Nebraska - Omaha students are on a quest to visit the state’s 939 incorporated towns. The duo sits by the Remsen “Neat and Hard to Beat” sign as part of their visit to Remsen.
(Photo contributed)

PLYMOUTH CO. — Two college students from Nebraska are on a mission this summer to visit all 939 incorporated towns in Iowa.

Seth Varner and Austin Schneider, are sophomores currently enrolled at the University of Nebraska - Omaha and hail from Wahoo, Nebraska.

During the summer of 2020, the two set out to visit all 531 incorporated towns in the state of Nebraska and accomplished that goal.

This summer’s challenge is bigger as they decided to add Iowa to their list.

“It’s over 400 more towns than Nebraska,” Varner said. “It’s going to be a busy summer. We started April 2 of this year and we’re hoping to be done by the end of August or September.”

From June 3-5 the two made a loop of northwest Iowa counties: Woodbury, Plymouth, Sioux, O’Brien, Osceola and Lyon, visiting 46 towns.

They said they found highlights in each community, whether small or large.

Their first Plymouth County stop was Kingsley.

“The big thing was the Freedom Rock because we are doing all 95 Freedom Rocks,” Schneider said.

“We also met a couple from Kuchel Roof, who had reached out to us. They gave us a shirt and ball cap from their business,” he added.

At Remsen, the two made a stop at St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

“That is a very beautiful church. We could see the steeple from miles outside town,” Varner said. “Sure enough it was open, so we could peek inside. We got some awesome pictures.”

In Oyens, they found St. Catherine’s Church and Cemetery.

“That was a smaller town and I was surprised they had a church there,” Schneider said. “We have seen some churches turned into homes on our trips.”

From there they traveled to Le Mars where they made their way to the Plymouth County Courthouse, before having a lunch of taverns and stepdogs at Bob’s Drive-Inn.

“They were really good,” Varner said.

The two also enjoyed a visit to the Wells Visitors Center and Ice Cream Parlor.

“It was cool to see how it all started and came about. That was a highlight of Le Mars. Of course, we had to try the ice cream obviously while we were there,” Schneider added.

During their time, they also found the numerous murals in Le Mars, and enjoyed the downtown architecture.

In Craig, they found the outdoor post office, with post office boxes under a roof.

“There is a really nice looking playground in Craig,” Schneider said. “For a town that small, that’s pretty impressive that they are building new things for the community to enjoy.”

Brunsville’s history stood out to the two as they found the original jail.

“We read the plaque on it. I think that was really funny that the original people that built the jail actually ended up the first people to stay in the jail and they had the block on the outside, and they got out. Nice little history,” Schneider said.

They also noted the veteran’s memorial, the church, and the Corner Cafe as other highlights.

With 78 residents, Struble was one of the smaller towns on their route.

“We found that Gen. Jack Nicholson and Jim Nicholson grew up there,” Schneider said. While they made a stop at the St. Joseph Church, they were unable to go in.

“I did get a cool picture of the railroad and an old sign,” he added.

From Struble they ventured on to Akron, while there they got a tour of Ye Old Opera House, which is used for local theater and dance events.

“We also popped down to Westfield and talked to the mayor there,” Varner said.

It was also in Westfield where they found the Loess Hills Visitor Center and took their picture at city hall.

“A lot of people talked about how good the bar, Hummer’s Roadhouse, is,” he continued.

Next up on their trek was Hinton, where they were impressed by the new elementary school, which they thought must be the high school.

“They have a really cool school complex,” Varner said. “There’s also a really cool mural on the side of the post office.”

Their visit to Merrill, “The Heart of Plymouth County,” gave them the opportunity to see even more murals and history.

“We found the vets memorial, a couple of churches,” Schneider said. “Seth thought the Expresso Yourself mural was really cute. It’s on the side of the coffee business.”

Varner and Schneider said they’ve learned a lot on their adventures.

“People are just super supportive when they find out what we are doing. They think it’s actually the coolest thing ever,” Schneider said.

He continued that as they talk to one person, another person hears it, and wants to know more about their trips, as well.

“It’s a good spotlight that we’re showing what some of these towns have. It’s great for the people in the community to see,” Schneider said.

“Our whole thing is going out to prove that there is something to do in every single town,” Varner said. “Some of these towns, all incorporated, may have only 15 people, but you can find something to do, there might be a city park to play at, if any buildings are up, there is still history to be told. Anybody from that town will gladly tell you about it’s history.

“It’s really cool for us to just give people a chance to talk about their communities,” Varner said.

Each town visit is saved to their Facebook page, Visit939Iowa.

“Even in our comments section on Facebook, people tag old classmates and stuff, saying, ‘Oh I went to school there’ or ‘I was baptized in that church.’ So it’s just really special for us to connect people in communities, like something so simple as taking photos and sharing on our Facebook page,” Varner said.

Varner and Schneider said the tour is something for them to do all summer.

“It’s better than just staying in Omaha all summer and working,” Varner said. “The tour is an opportunity to get out traveling and exploring, try some good food here and there, learn a few things. There’s so many different things you can get out of it.”

As of June 6, the two have visited 327 towns, about 35 percent of their 939 list.

They plan longer trips to eastern Iowa in the upcoming months.

“We will look for the courthouses, the Freedom Rocks, historical sites, eat at bars and local stops,” Varner said.

Their message is the same in each community: In every town, whether large or small, there is something to do.

“Even if it’s just a bar, it probably has a dart board, and people stop to talk,” Schneider said. “We even occasionally ride on a merry-go-round or go down a slide.”

Their visits are all about communities and what they have to offer.