Governor Tom Vilsack’s continuing his quest to cover 100 miles on foot this week in his sixth-annual “Walk Iowa” tour. Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson was in tiny Orchard, Iowa at seven A.M. today (Wednesday) when Vilsack arrived. Vilsack is the first Iowa governor to visit the small north central Iowa city.
Jim Lack, the Mayor of Orchard, says 95 people call the town home. You can’t buy gas or a gallon of milk in the town. “It’s pretty apparent that we’re one of those little Iowa towns that’s dying out,” Lack says. He says it’s a “bedroom community” where folks either drive to Mason City or to Osage to work, or stay at home because they’re retired.
While some families with children have moved into the town in the past decade, the average age of an Orchard resident is about 75 according to Lack. “So really basically what we’re doing is holding on,” the mayor says. “There are no businesses here at all. In the past we had banks and grocery stores and taverns and the whole thing, just like any other town, but in the last 30 years it’s pretty much reduced down to…a bunch of people trying to stay alive.”
He has a wish. Lack says maintaining basic services like water and sewer lines becomes a real challenge in small town Iowa, and state policymakers should help small towns deal with that financial hardship. In addition, the mayor hopes the governor and others do more to promote business development in small towns, although he admits that’s “basically” his job. “Little towns really need more support,” Lack says.
Vilsack planted a tree outside the American Legion post in Orchard and met for about half an hour with residents of the town. Then, shortly before eight o’clock, Vilsack and a small group of people started walking out of Orchard toward Osage, which is about six miles away.
A steady mist was whipped into a downpour by stiff winds, and Vilsack says it was probably one of the roughest routes he’s encountered during his “Walk Iowa” events. “I don’t think we’ve ever had the wind and the rain and the cold like we had today,” Vilsack says. “It’s a pretty wet day out there today.”