September 17, 2014

World Food Prize president calls trip to Iran ‘unprecedented’

Kenneth Quinn in Iran.

Kenneth Quinn in Iran.

The president of the Iowa-based World Food Prize has returned home from Iran.

Kenneth Quinn was invited to Tehran to speak at a ceremony honoring Cresco, Iowa native Norman Borlaug, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who developed higher-yielding, drought-resistant varieties of wheat that are credited with saving billions of people from starvation.

Quinn called his visit to Iran an “unprecedented” trip. “I discovered that I am the first ever former United States Ambassador to be invited to come to Iran and address a conference organized by a governmental entity or, for that matter, any other conference organized by anyone,” Quinn told reporters today in Des Moines.

The former U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia is now hoping to capitalize on the trip. Quinn told the Iranian audience that scientific cooperation is needed across national borders to eliminate wheat rust disease.

“To that end, I invited the Iranian Ministry and the Agricultural Technology Research Institute (of Iran) to send one of their top scientists to the World Food Prize Symposium next month,” Quinn said.

Quinn learned today that the director general of the Seed and Plant Improvement Institute of Iran has been nominated to attend the symposium, scheduled for October 15-18 in Des Moines. Wheat rust disease has been spreading across Africa and the Middle East and, according to Quinn, could affect food security worldwide. In his 25-minute long speech, Quinn suggested there could be “no greater tribute” to Borlaug than if Iran, the U.S., and other countries could work together to eliminate rust disease from the face of the earth.

Quinn received a standing ovation. “I took from that…perhaps there are steps possible that could reduce tension and hopefully alleviate conflict, particularly now, with so much turmoil and volatility throughout the Middle East,” Quinn said. The speech in Tehran took place on August 26.

Quinn spent some time with his wife on vacation in Turkey and Greece before returning to Iowa last week. Quinn said he’ll try to work through the governmental red tape necessary to ensure the Iranian scientist can make the trip to Des Moines next month.

Photo courtesy of the World Food Prize Foundation.

Audio: Ken Quinn interview 26:11.


Quinnipiac poll finds Ernst ahead by 6% over Braley in U.S. Senate race

A new poll released this morning shows Republican Joni Ernst holding a lead of 6 percent over Democrat Bruce Braley in the race for Iowa’s open U.S. Senate seat. The Quinnipiac University Poll surveyed 1,167 likely voters between September 10-15.

The poll found Ernst led Braley 50 to 44 percent. The key to the Republican candidate’s slight edge is with independents. The poll found 50-percent of independent voters back Ernst, while 43-percent support Braley.

Earlier this month, a Loras College poll had Braley holding a lead over Ernst by four points.


August home sales dropped more than 9%

Home sales in Iowa decreased last month by 9.2 percent compared to August 2013, according to a new report from the Iowa Association of Realtors. IAR President Kathy Miller isn’t entirely sure why home sales dropped off so significantly, but she says the start of a new school year may offer some explanation.

“The market slows down a little bit because everybody wants to be settled when the kids go to school,” Miller says. “{eople are still buying, it’s just a little bit slower.” The report shows 3,685 homes were sold in August 2014, while 4,059 homes were sold in August 2013.

Miller also credits a low inventory, combined with buyers who are waiting for the right home. “We are still selling homes, it just hasn’t been what it was in the past,” Miller says. “I think buyers are more choosy with what they’re going to buy and that’s just the way it’s going to be.”

While home sales decreased, prices increased by 4.7 percent over the one-year period. The average price of a home sold in Iowa last month was $168,316. That compared to $160,688 in August of 2013. The IAR report found that average home sold in Iowa last month spent 79 days on the market, up from 78 days compared to a year ago.

Des Moines woman accused of picking up kid at school while drunk

Martha Jaurez

Martha Jaurez

Des Moines Police say a woman is facing multiple charges after she drove drunk to a elementary school to pick up her son. Police were sent to Hillis Elementary School in Des Moines Monday afternoon after a 5-year-old boy was not picked up after classes dismissed at 3:45 p.m.

The boy’s father had failed to pick up his son and the mother, 29-year-old Martha Juarez, arrived at the school at 5 p.m. Police say Juarez was intoxicated and had her two toddlers in the vehicle, but not in child safety seats. Juarez was jailed on charges of OWI, child endangerment, and driving while her license is denied, suspended, canceled or revoked.

The three children were placed in the care of the Iowa Department of Human Services.

Photo courtesy of Polk County Jail.


U-I senior hoping to be crowned Miss America

Aly Olson

Aly Olson

A senior at the University of Iowa is spending this week away from the classroom to compete in the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Aly Olson is the reigning Miss Iowa.

“It’s kind of crazy to already be at this goal I’ve been dreaming about because I do want to be Miss America and I believe that I can be the first Iowan to be Miss America,” Olson said. “To be at this point in my life when I’m only 21 years old is extremely exciting.”

An Iowan has never won the Miss America Pageant, although Catherine Ann Lemkau of Muscatine finished as 1st-runner-up in 1993.

Joanne MacDonald of Ames also finish one spot away from the crown in 1958. Olson, a 2011 Des Moines Lincoln graduate, will find out on Sunday if she has a shot at being crowned Miss America for 2015. “At this point, I’m not nervous, I’m just so excited,” Olson said.

Aly Olson

Aly Olson

This week, Olson has been taking part in preliminary competitions ranging from swimsuits, evening gowns, a talent contest, and interviews.

The final night of the Miss America Pageant will be broadcast live on Sunday at 7 p.m. (CST) on ABC-TV. “On Sunday night, they cut (the field) down from 53 to 15 at the very beginning of the broadcast and just those 15 women will move on to compete in areas of competition,” Olson said.

Iowans can help Olson reach the round of 15. The Miss America Organization gives the public the chance to vote for a finalist online at

The public voting ends tonight (Thursday) at 10 p.m. (CST). Olson is pursuing a bachelor of music in vocal performance at the University of Iowa, along with certificates in music education and performing arts entrepreneurship.

Photos courtesy of the Miss Iowa Scholarship Program



Vision Iowa board funds projects in Waverly, Council Bluffs

The Vision Iowa Board today awarded grants to a couple of projects in western and northeastern Iowa. Board spokesperson Jessica O’Riley says a $675,000 Community Attraction and Tourism (CAT) grant will help finance the construction of a Veterans Service Center in Waverly.

“We really think this is a first-of-its-kind (project) in the state,” O’Riley says. “Several various veterans organization have gotten together and they’re combining into this one service center so vets have one place to go to find all the information they may need. It’s also going to be a functioning community center, so people can hold receptions, showers, and graduation parties there.”

The total cost of the Veterans Service Center is estimated at just under $3.6 million. O’Riley noted that actor Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, have donated $5,000 toward the project in Waverly.

The Vision Iowa Board also awarded a one-million dollar CAT grant to the YMCA of Greater Omaha to build a new facility in downtown Council Bluffs.

“There will be a health and wellness center with walking track, a warm water therapy pool, a gymnasium with bleacher seating, an aquatics center, an early childhood education center, a teen center, a family center, an outdoor splash zone, and parking,” O’Riley said.

The new 73,000-square-foot YMCA carries a total price tag of just over $16 million.



ISAC leader expects shooting to cause counties to reevaluate security

The executive director of the Iowa State Association of Counties (ISAC) expects officials in many of Iowa’s 99 counties will be reevaluating their courthouse security measures following the fatal shooting Tuesday in Jackson County.

Bill Peterson says it’s been a few years since the ISAC has surveyed its members on the use of metal detectors or other methods to screen visitors entering county buildings. “But, I would say the vast majority of counties do not have any security that would evaluate whether or not an individual was bringing a weapon into a county facility, whether it’s the administration building or the county courthouse,” Peterson says.

A Maquoketa man shot himself on Tuesday inside the Jackson County Courthouse. Authorities say 71-year-old Francis Glaser — upset about a property tax assessment — went to a board of supervisors meeting and fired a shot at the county assessor. He missed and was then tackled to the ground. Glaser shot himself in the head, but investigators aren’t sure if he intended to kill himself or if he was trying to shoot others.

The Jackson County Courthouse does not have permanent security measures. Peterson says most counties simply can’t afford the necessary machines or manpower. “I think it does, in many cases, become just a financial decision that they would not provide that,” Peterson says.

The Jackson County sheriff said Glaser did not have a permit to purchase or carry a gun. Glaser was the former city manager of Maquoketa.