A former Des Moines Register columnist who hosted many of the newspaper’s yearly bike rides across the state of Iowa is hoping for a reconciliation that keeps the event’s management team in place.
The man who’s managed the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa for the past 16 years resigned yesterday, along with the rest of the RAGBRAI staff, and announced plans for a competing “Iowa’s Ride” during the same week as RAGBRAI next July. Chuck Offenburger, the “Iowa Boy” columnist for the Register for 21 years, spoke with Radio Iowa early this evening.
“I was suprised and shocked when I heard this,” Offenburger said. “I had no idea that this was in the works or that this might happen.”
In a statement posted online, the RAGBRAI director T.J. Juskiewicz, who resigned today, said the decision was based on how The Register and its owner handled its story about Carson King. King is the former ISU student who raised $3 million for the University of Iowa children’s hospital with a poster he held up during an ESPN broadcast. Offenburger, who resigned from the Register in 1998 to protest treatment of other veteran reporters, said in his view the paper “handled the story appropriately,” but Offenburger is hoping the RAGBRAI staff who resigned and The Register’s management can meet and resolve the dispute.
“Visit about this and see if they can put it back together and move forward,” Offenburger said.
Offenburger was the newspaper’s “co-host” of RAGBRAI for 16 years. He said the annual, week-long ride is one the most important tourism events in the state.
“In some ways, it’s more important than the State Fair from the standpoint that it brings people from all over the nation and all over the world into Iowa and shows them our towns, our small towns and cities all the way across the state,” Offenburger said, “so we take the crowd to these communities.”
The RAGBRAI’s now-former manager says the newspaper’s executives blocked him from responding the way he wished to RAGBRAI enthusiasts who had questions about the paper’s Carson King story.
The Iowa Bicycle Coalition, like Offenburger, is expressing concern about the situation and has released the following written statement this evening: “The Iowa Bicycle Coalition was surprised to hear about the resignation of TJ Juskiewicz and his team at RAGBRAI. We are extremely concerned because the iconic Iowa bicycle ride has been culturally and economically important for Iowa, especially in rural communities.
“We are extremely proud of the contributions RAGBRAI has made to Iowa since 1973 and we also acknowledge that Juskiewicz and his team are the heart and soul of the event. The successful production of this event is built upon relationships with Iowa communities. It is our hope that a cross-state bike continues — whatever version that may be — in a fashion that elevates bicycling and promotes safety.”
(This story was updated at 8:10 p.m. with additional information)