In late 2004, my wife and I moved our family and business from Oregon, Wis., to a small property in the countryside east of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. We set up our office in the large finished basement of our new home, converted about two-thirds of our four-car garage into an order fulfillment area and installed shelving in a pole building to serve as a small warehouse.
We operated comfortably in those digs, expanding the list of book and video titles we carried in our catalog and working hard to offer the level of quality and service our customers had come to expect. In 2007, we bought and began publishing Rural Heritage magazine and producing the weekly television show on RFD-TV.
Six months after moving the magazine from Tennessee to our Cedar Rapids home, a rainstorm of almost biblical proportions sat over the Cedar River watershed in southern Minnesota and north central Iowa. The Cedar River swelled, burst its banks and began flooding the surrounding area.
Before 2008, the record for the highest crest of the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was 20 feet, recorded in March 1929, tying the previous record of 20 feet set in 1851. On June 13, 2008, the river crested at a little over 31 feet, flooding much of downtown Cedar Rapids as well as farmland and rural homes along the river. Our home, about a mile from the Cedar, had more than 3 feet of water on the first floor, and it was about nine months before we were able to move back, having torn out and replaced the carpet and flooring, drywall and insulation, appliances, heating and cooling equipment and a lot more.
We couldn't afford to rebuild both the office and warehouse space as well as our home, so we leased office and warehouse space downtown for the next eight years. We planned to move it back to our home once we had paid off the debt incurred in restoring our home and could afford to rebuild the basement office space, as well as the damaged outbuildings.
We were planning to make that happen in 2017 or 2018. Then a few things happened in short succession. First, the City of Cedar Rapids decided to purchase property near the river downtown to convert to floodplain and compelled our landlord to sell. We had about nine months to find another place and move out. We decided to accelerate our plans to restore our basement and outbuildings to be able to move back in March, 2017. Then last September, a rainstorm similar to the one that fed the flood of 2008 hung over north central Iowa for the better part of two days.
Once again, the forecast was for serious flooding. When the forecast climbed to 23 feet, we sprang into action. Within two days, we had emptied our office and warehouse and moved them to areas well away from the river. And, to protect the house, we constructed a flood wall to hold back up to three feet of water.
We built the wall using T-Fenceposts, pallets, 2-by-4s, reinforced plastic sheeting and hundreds of sandbags. The house stayed dry. We are operating from our temporary digs until we move everything back home and construct a permanent earthen levee to keep future potential flooding at bay.
In many ways, this past flood was very different from the one eight years earlier when we lost nearly everything. This time, we lost little in the way of possessions, never had to leave our home and were up and running our business again in a few days.
One thing that is precisely the same, however, is the amount of gratitude Susan and I have for the outpouring of support we were blessed to receive. Grace is defined as an undeserved gift; we have been twice graced with the loving sacrifice of friends, family, neighbors, fellow parishioners, and complete strangers.
If you have an event or activity you'd like to talk to Joe about, shoot him an email at
or give him a ring. 319-362-3027