Category: Simply Put

Simply Put – February 20, 2019

By Mike Whittlesey
It’s a simple question with an answer that is more complex than you might think:Upon serving the sentence received for committing a crime, has an offender served his/her debt to society upon release from an Iowa prison?
In an ideal world, the answer is a no-brainer. Why, yes, of course. In a land where we esteem our criminal justice system, despite its flaws, to be the finest in the world, how could it not?
This week, The Progress Review publishes the first installment of a series entitled “Second Chances.” This series was inspired by correspondence with a subscriber who has spent time in the Iowa prison system. Over the course of several years, the letters we’ve exchanged have prompted a desire to learn more about Iowa’s response to crime and its treatment of convicted criminals.
I do believe our country’s criminal justice system is the fairest one in existence. But there are flaws. Innocent until proven guilty? The case of the Duke University men’s lacrosse team members, falsely accused of rape in 2006, is one example where the accused were convicted in the court of public opinion long before their rightful legal exoneration was acknowledged.
Recently, the topic of restoring the voting rights of convicted felons in Iowa has been in the news. If the successful completion of a prison sentence truly settles the debt an offender owes to society, restoration of voting rights should not be an issue. That it remains one is an indicator of the many challenges those exiting prison face.
Why should we care about the problems of convicted felons when they get out of jail? They created their own problems when they committed a crime, some will argue. It’s a sentiment I understand completely.
We should care because there are very real costs, emotional and financial, that crime imposes on society. First and foremost, it’s important that we get criminal justice “right” to keep our communities safe. A reduction in crime means fewer victims who suffer needlessly.
A reduction in crime also means a lower price to pay to incarcerate the convicts. Consider this: At $90 a day, the average cost to house an inmate in Iowa, multiplied by the more than 8,500 individuals currently in prison, is a price tag of over $765,000 each and every day that must be paid. You can probably guess where the bulk of that money is coming from- Iowa taxpayers. Add more than three times the number of offenders being served by community-based corrections in the state and it’s not hard to understand why the Iowa Department of Corrections needs $400 million a year to operate.
We should care about helping offenders successfully make the transition to productive members of society because, like it or not, 95% of those locked up in Iowa prisons will be getting out some day. Sadly, too many of them, nearly 40%, are returning to jail, repeating the same destructive cycle of unnecessary victims and the use of financial resources that could be better spent elsewhere.
There are no easy answers to complex issues like the ones facing the Iowa Department of Corrections and the policymakers who make the rules the system must follow. It is my hope that “Second Chances” will help stimulate public discourse on how to achieve justice for law-abiding citizens while successfully rehabilitating those who commit crimes. Only then will our communities truly be safe.

Simply Put – December 19, 2018

By Mike Whittlesey
As the story goes, Joseph Mohr, a young priest preparing for Mass on Christmas Eve, went for a walk that afternoon, taking with him a poem he had written two years earlier. Consisting of six stanzas, the priest hoped his dear friend, a musician-schoolteacher living in a nearby town, could compose a melody and guitar arrangement for his original work, to fulfill his intention of singing it during midnight Mass that evening. His friend, Franz Gruber, obliged, not knowing that the notes he created in a matter of minutes would eventually become one of the most recorded Christmas hymns of all time.
The story of how “Silent Night,” or “Stille Nacht” as it was written in German at the time, is a remarkable one. This year, as that simple, yet incredible story celebrates its 200th anniversary, consider this: According to Music Reports, the world’s most advanced rights administration platform, has verified that, as of November 2017, 137,315 different versions of “Silent Night” have been recorded!
In honor of the bicentennial of “Silent Night,” we have chosen to publish a stylized image depicting the scene on the front page of this edition of The Progress Review, which is filled with a few holiday traditions of our own making.
As you explore the pages of this special holiday edition, we hope you’ll enjoy the “Message of Peace and Hope” composed by area pastors and the thoughts area fifth graders have to offer in their essays “What Christmas Means to Me.” We very much appreciate the time and effort the clergy, young people and their teachers have invested in these compositions that offer a more modern appreciation of the holiday season.
We also thank the area businesses who help make this special publication possible with the expression of their holiday greetings you will find sprinkled throughout these 16 pages.
If you have not already done so, we invite you to enjoy another holiday tradition, this one made possible by the residents of La Porte City who have adorned their homes with festive lights and decorations. The Progress Review’s “The Lights of La Porte City” slideshow set to music offers a reminder of what the holiday season looks like in our little corner of the world and often draws comments from those with special connections to La Porte City who find themselves far away from their hometown at Christmas. You can find it posted on our Facebook page and website ( for your viewing pleasure.
As the holiday season draws near, please accept our best wishes for a happy time spent with family and friends. Along the way, we do hope there will be some time for sleep (in heavenly peace).

Simply Put – November 7, 2018

In a world where common names for newspapers usually include Times or Tribune, La Porte City’s newspaper name stands alone. It shouldn’t be surprising to learn that the city’s founder, Dr. Jesse Wasson, played an important role in how The Progress Review came to be. Did you know that this unusual name was created by combining the names of two rival publications that merged in the late 1800s?
Whether deliberate or by accident, the choice to combine “progress” with “review,” two words that initially seem like opposites, actually serves to describe two important functions that newspapers perform. The “progress” portion, or current news, looks forward and seeks to inform area residents of the important events of the day. The “review” aspect, equally important, performs the role of community archive. Years from now, local citizens will be able, if we’ve done our job well, to learn about what the important issues and events were in La Porte City in 2018, just by perusing the pages of The Progress Review.
The earliest editions of The Progress Review date back to the 1870s and copies of those newspapers can still be read today at Hawkins Memorial Library. Thanks to the State Historical Society, whose diligent efforts archive dozens of Iowa periodicals to microfilm, the local library has a collection of The Progress Review that is considered to be a more permanent than even digital records. When stored properly, microfilm can last indefinitely and is not subject to hard drive failures that can wreak havoc with digital data. Unfortunately, state budget cuts some 15 years ago eliminated the service that had provided microfilm archives of The Progress Review to the local library, leaving a gap in its historical record of La Porte City.
Even if the library’s historical collection of The Progress Review was complete, microfilm, while permanent, is not multi-user friendly, nor is it easily searchable. A digital record, if available, could allow many people to search and access The Progress Review’s archives simultaneously, much like allows visitors to search and view news from the past five years. If only a website with the complete archives of the local newspaper could be constructed…
That day will soon be here, thanks to Advantage Preservation, a company that specializes in such work, along with the contributions from a variety of sources, including a recent grant from the Max and Helen Guernsey Foundation, grants from Aureon (with support from LPC Connect), a donation made in memory of George and Faye Abel, along with donations from the La Porte City Women’s Club and other individuals. Working with Hawkins Memorial Library Director Jolene Kronschnabel, The Progress Review has jump-started the local history website project with the donation of archives dating back to 2009. At an estimated cost of $10,000 to digitize and microfilm a complete, searchable record of The Progress Review, a website has been created where you can explore La Porte City’s history free of charge. While still in the early stages of development, you can begin your search by logging onto Links to the site can also be found on The Progress Review and Hawkins Memorial Library websites.
As you browse, you will notice there are still a number of gaps in the local historical record. To help fill in those gaps with a donation, we encourage you to contact Hawkins Memorial Library (342-3025) to see which years of LPC history are still available to sponsor. It’s an easy and surprisingly affordable way to share a portion of your community’s history with the entire World Wide Web.

Simply Put – October 31, 2018

“The views and opinions expressed in this program are those of the host and callers and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this station.” While it’s a standard disclaimer often heard on the radio at the beginning of a news talk program, a similar statement could be made about a feature that debuts on page eight in this week’s edition of The Progress Review, a student publication entitled Uniquely Union News.
Earlier this month, we had the pleasure of hosting Alison Leytem, Union High School English instructor and nine of her Journalism students for a tour of The Progress Review’s office. The visit gave them a behind-the-scenes look at how their local newspaper is produced, and included a discussion about the benefits and responsibilities that accompany the work of a journalist.
Thanks to a partnership with The Progress Review, the introductory journalism class at the high school will offer students the opportunity to compile and report local news stories for a real-life audience. What does this mean? As these students learn and hone their craft, their homework, so to speak, will be on display for your reading pleasure. It has been nearly ten years since a student publication has graced the pages of The Progress Review and we are excited to see what stories and issues these bright, articulate teens are interested in exploring.
Make no mistake. The stories submitted for publication on the Uniquely Union News feature page are unfiltered by The Progress Review. Our sponsorship of the Uniquely Union News comes with a pledge to each student journalist: All of the credit for a well-written composition belongs rightfully to the author, not the editor. Of course, the flip-side of that promise means that any obvious (or not so obvious) errors are also the responsibility of the author. To their credit, this capable group of student reporters have eagerly accepted this challenge and are hard at work preparing stories that will be published in the coming weeks.
It’s important to note that the issues students choose to report and the opinions they express will also be of their own making. If we truly believe in a free press, as we at The Progress Review most definitely do, student journalists must be allowed free expression if they are to learn what responsible journalism looks and sounds like. While the safety net of an early deadline will allow school staff, students and their publisher to address any concerns that may arise prior to publication, such a scenario is highly unlikely, given the shared commitment that exists to produce a high quality student publication, one our community can be proud of.
Bryant H. McGill once said, “Where wise actions are the fruit of life, wise discourse is the pollination.” As student journalists at Union High School make like busy bees in an effort to produce an outstanding student publication, we hope you enjoy and appreciate their efforts to inform you of all that is uniquely Union.

Simply Put – September 5, 2018

By Mike Whittlesey
Thank you, Chris.
Thank you, Tony.
As the public faces of the investigation into the disappearance of 16 year old Jake Wilson, La Porte City Police Chief Chris Brecher and Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson each had unique circumstances that challenged the work and the departments they led during the search for Jake over the past four months.
Appointed as the City’s first new Chief of Police in more than 30 years on March 26, Brecher had no way of knowing his first month on the job would include a missing person’s case that would quickly become headline news throughout the state. The mystery was equally challenging for Sheriff Thompson, as Jake’s case drew comparisons, fair or not, to the still unsolved abduction and murders of Elizabeth Collins and Lyric Cook from Evansdale in 2011.
Throughout the search for Jake and the investigation that accompanied it, Brecher and Thompson responded to the pressures of the situation exactly as we would hope all law enforcement professionals would- in an honest, forthright and compassionate way.
Both men would be the first to say how much help they have had from others along the way. And beginning on that fateful Sunday morning, when more than 800 volunteers turned out to look for Jake, what an incredible response it has been. The call to action from professional agencies and the contributions from individuals and businesses, near and far, was simply staggering.
At a time in our nation’s history when the actions of police officers are so often called into question, the La Porte City community and greater Black Hawk County can be thankful that law enforcement in our little corner of the world is synonymous with determination, integrity and character of the highest order.
The search for Jake certainly did not result in the outcome we wanted. But it did teach us a valuable lesson about what can be accomplished when communities come together for all the right reasons. Thank you, Jake.
“What a neat young man,” Sheriff Thompson said, reflecting on the special person whose life has touched so many others.
“And if the legacy is that if he, in a really unfortunate set of circumstances, has done a tremendous job of bringing this community together, then that’s a lasting legacy of something to be proud of, too,” he added.
Editor’s Note: In response to a request, Black Hawk County Emergency Management provided the following list of contributors who generously participated in some way during the effort to bring Jake home. While it cannot represent a comprehensive accounting of everyone who invested their time and energy to search for Jake, it nonetheless illustrates the vast, determined effort from so many to bring him home to his family.
Teams: American Red Cross, Iowa Task Force One, State Incident Management Team – Iowa Homeland Security, Christian Aid Ministries- Illinois, Dubuque Dive Team, Johnson County Dive Team, Search Dogs, Center for Missing and Exploited Children
Emergency Managers: Lorie Glover, Black Hawk County; Kip Ladage, Bremer County; Sean Snyder, Winneshiek County; Darrell Knecht, Howard County; AJ Seeley, Chickasaw County; Brenda Leonard, Jones County; Scott Hansen, Benton County; Lisa Roberts, Fayette County; Mindy Benson, Tama County; Brad Ransford, Linn County; Tom Ulrich, Linn County; Maureen Mehmen, Black Hawk County; Tom Berger, Dubuque County; Dave Wilson, Johnson County; Travis Beckman, Johnson County; Steve O’Koneck, Linn County; Jason Wickhizer, Shelby County; Josh Humphrey, Iowa County.
Fire Departments: La Porte City, Evansdale, Fayette, Cedar Falls, Dubuque, Raymond, Decorah, Gilbertville, Asbury, Dunkerton, Garrison, Hudson, Vinton, Decorah, Shellsburg
Law Enforcement: La Porte City, Black Hawk County Sheriff Dept., Cedar Falls, Evansdale, Hudson, Dunkerton, Waterloo, Iowa State Patrol, FBI
Donations: Black Hawk County Road Dept., Casey’s, Cavalier Car Wash, Chick-Fil-A, Coca Cola, Famous Daves, ECI Co-op (La Porte City), Hy-Vee #3, Kramer Sausage, La Porte City Golf Club, La Porte City Specialty Care, Olive Garden, Panera, Perkins, Pizza Palace, Randall’s Stop n Shop, Rocket’s Bakery, Royce Rottinghaus (Tables and Chairs), Scheels Cedar Falls, Scratch Cupcakes, Spahn and Rose – Jesup, Subway, Texas Roadhouse, Thriftway, Tootsies Ice Cream and More, Tysons, USS Polaris, Verizon.
All donations that were anonymous and private citizens.


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