While 2020 brought much heartache and sadness, the tri-state community did find some reasons to smile. Here are a few things that earned a smiley face from the TH Editorial Board this year.
Early in 2020, Convivium Urban Farmstead proprietors instituted a monthly Pay-What-You-Can Day, allowing customers to ignore traditional menu prices and, instead, decide what they can afford. Since the pandemic hit, Leslie Shalabi and crew and local volunteers have made and given out hundreds of free casseroles.
A federal grant of $775,000 landed at Dubuque Regional Airport, designed to help attract increased air service. Though the pandemic halted flights this fall, following their return in January, this grant could be the key to even more offerings.
A milestone years in the making was met this year when MercyOne Dubuque Cancer Center opened its doors to its first cancer patients. It was in December of 2018 that construction began on the $25 million complex, long a dream of the MercyOne team. The facility boasts a calming atmosphere that allows chemotherapy patients to look out on the wide expanse of the Mississippi River as they receive treatment. If there’s a theme to the cancer center, it’s this: It’s all about the patient.
The Dubuque community’s reaction to the killing of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police stood as a shining example of peaceful protestation. The protests did not turn destructive in Dubuque. They took many forms: marching through downtown Dubuque, lying prone in silence at Jackson Park for 8 minutes 46 seconds (the length of time the white officer pinned Floyd’s neck to the ground with his knee), walking along Grandview Avenue, a candlelight vigil and a community gathering. Participants chanted, carried signs, sang songs and listened to speakers. They involved hundreds of people, day after day. Those efforts will be even more pivotal if they are a catalyst for change.
While many people in the Dubuque area know the Rev. Eugene Kutsch from his decades as a priest and social justice advocate, most people probably didn’t know what he meant to Black students at Loras College in the late 1960s. Kutsch was a friend and advocate for students of color, and he lost his job at the college for it. But now a bust of Kutsch, honored for his work on campus during that tumultuous period, is proudly displayed on campus. “For Loras, this offers us the long-overdue opportunity to offer well-deserved recognition for Father Kutsch,” Loras President Jim Collins said.
The Dubuque Regional Airport Commission took a huge step forward in deciding to name its airport terminal in honor of Robert L. Martin, a Dubuque native and Tuskegee Airman. Those who supported this effort should be commended. Eventually, with signage on the building and the installation of a memorial in his honor, the recognition will raise the profile of the pioneering Black World War II combat pilot. This is a great way to honor the war hero who earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart and the Congressional Gold Medal among other commendations.
After more than three decades at the top of the community wish list and four years of construction, August marked a major milestone in the history of Dubuque transportation infrastructure — The Southwest Arterial opened for travel. The 6-mile, four-lane highway connecting U.S. 20 at Seippel Road to U.S. 61/151 near Tamarack Business Park has been a goal for local and state officials since the last century. The $183.6 million project came to fruition with the help of federal funding and was the culmination of efforts from the City of Dubuque, Dubuque County and Iowa Department of Transportation.
Though the closure of Flexsteel Industries’ manufacturing facility in Dubuque came as a tremendous blow, this year-end brought elation over one of the biggest economic development agreements the city has ever seen. Simmons Pet Food will purchase the Seippel Road plant, invest $80 million and create more than 270 full-time jobs. The magnitude of the impact of such a development would be impressive in any economic climate. Amid a pandemic, the weight of the announcement is all the more staggering.
After more than 20 failed attempts, Congress finally was able to right a wrong perpetrated against natives of the Marshall Islands. The coronavirus relief bill will restore federal health care benefits promised to Pacific Islanders, and later denied. This long-overdue justice is well deserved. Although the Marshallese represent less than 1% of Dubuque County’s population, they made up more than 25% of the COVID-19-related deaths in the county in the first five months of the pandemic. COVID-19 has shined a spotlight on a community that has suffered abuse at the hands of the U.S. government. It’s high time the federal officials make up for those transgressions and get this vulnerable community the help it needs.
All these smiles serve as a reminder that despite the dark clouds overhead this year, there have been bright spots. Besides, with everything terrible that happened in 2020, people have mostly forgotten about the debacle that was the Iowa caucuses.