Most everyone who lives in Adel knows who Nile Kinnick is and why a park and street are named after the Heisman trophy winner.
But have you ever wondered how Greene Street received its name? Or about the Walt Flinn for whom the gazebo in one of the city parks is named?
We talked to several residents from Mayor Jim Peters to local historian Jan Price to learn about the people behind some of these familiar landmarks and street signs. Here’s what we learned, starting with Adel’s most well-known native son.
Kinnick-Feller Park, the city’s oldest park, is named in honor of two of central Iowa’s most famous athletes. Nile Kinnick spent most of his childhood in Adel. He was a shining athlete from a young age and played football where the park is now located, and played on a youth baseball team with famed player Bob Feller, who hailed from Van Meter. Kinnick led the Adel High School football team to an undefeated season and scored 485 points for the basketball team, leading them to the district finals during his sophomore year.
His family then moved to Omaha, but Kinnick returned to Iowa to attend the University of Iowa and play several sports including football. He won the 1939 Heisman Trophy and was an All-American. After college, Kinnick enlisted in the U.S. Navy and trained to be an aviator in World War II. He died in a training mission in 1943 when he attempted an emergency water landing with the aircraft he was piloting.
Kinnick also receives the distinction of having a street in town named after him, Nile Kinnick Drive.
Feller, known as “The Heater from Van Meter,” was a Major League Baseball pitcher from 1936 to 1956. He began playing baseball in Adel at the age of 12.
The brick archway that leads into Kinnick-Feller Park reads “Macy Field: In memory of C.S. Macy.” The Macy behind the name was Clarence Spencer Macy, who went by Spencer, and was a 1940 graduate of Adel High School. His father, L.M. Macy, put in an electric light plant at the site of a flour mill in town. Spencer also had an interest in the light plant, which burned in 1914. A new one was built later that year.
The arch was constructed in 1934, with a keystone placed that reads “1933 undefeated team,” in honor of the year Kinnick led the team to an undefeated season.
The Macy family contributed $100, the largest amount of money toward the arch project.
Greene Street is named for Benjamin Greene, the man who gave Adel its name. The community had previously been known as Penoach. Greene came to Adel from Keokuk.
He had a big part in much of the initial development in the town. He formed a partnership in a general store and had a team that traveled between Keokuk and Adel that hauled goods. The store is located where the jail now stands. He was also an early promoter of the railroad in Adel. The first public hall in Adel was known as B. Greene Hall, and he served as the town’s mayor. Greene organized a night school in Adel, and later served a year in the state legislature from 1857 to 1858.
One of Greene’s daughters, Arlette, married Gov. George Washington Clarke, the state’s 21st governor. They were the grandparents of Nile Kinnick.
Penoach Vineyard and Winery, located north of Adel, received its name because the community’s original name was Penoach.
Adel was incorporated in 1847. Its name, which came mostly likely from American Indians in the area, was changed to Adel sometime in 1849, though there is no information in city records about how or why it happened. Benjamin Greene was responsible, in part, for the name change.
“We liked the history of the community,” says Joanie Olson, who owns Penoach Winery along with her husband, Stan. “We think it’s important to keep it in front of people, and we just think it’s an interesting story. It just seemed logical. We wanted something to connect with the community.”
While there is some debate over how to pronounce the name, the Olsons and others say “pin oak.”
“We get a lot of people who don’t know how it’s pronounced, and even people native say it differently,” Joanie Olson says.
Two granite benches near Adel-DeSoto-Minburn Middle School bear the name of Loyd “Grovey” Grove. Grove, who died in 2005, had been a lifelong Adel resident and sports enthusiast. He played football for Adel High School in the 1950s, as did his father and brother.
“He was always involved with Adel sports,” says his wife, Donna. “It didn’t matter if it was baseball, football or wrestling. He following the kids and grandkids and even when they weren’t playing, he was still there watching practices and all.”
Grove’s funeral was held at the A-D-M football field, and when the funeral was over, the football team all made an arch for the hearse to drive through.
“I’ll just never forget this,” Donna recalls.
She says the family decided to take some of the memorial money it received to purchase benches for the school so students would have a place to sit while waiting for a ride. Each bench has a plaque with Grovey’s name on it.
Grove Street in Adel is also rumored to be named for Loyd Grove’s family. “I was always told when I got married into this family that that street was named after my husband’s granddad because he lived at the end of the street,” Donna Grove says.
The gazebo at the swimming pool park is named in honor of Walt Flinn. Flinn graduated from Adel High School in 1948. He lived in the Adel area his entire life and served in the U.S. Army in World War II. Flinn also served as a city councilman and as mayor of Adel for three terms.
While it currently serves as the city’s history museum, the building at 1129 Main St. has had several names since it was built and even once served as a school.
The children’s area at the Adel Public Library bears the name of an important individual who very quietly donated money behind the scenes to help get a new library built in town.
The Roy A. Hicks Children’s Story Room is named for the former pharmacist who from 1999 to 2006 made financial contributions each month toward construction of the new library.
“He literally just put us on his monthly payroll for years and years and years,” says Cheryl Semerad, who was president of the Adel Public Library Foundation when the fundraising began for a new library and still serves on the foundation. “In my opinion, he was an unsung hero.”
The decision was made to name the children’s story room in honor of Hicks without his knowledge. He was then surprised with it at the library’s opening in 2006.
“I did it in honor of my wife,” Hicks says. “She always liked the library and wanted to do something for it. I thought this would be a nice way to do something, and when they decided to (build a new library), I thought this is my chance.”
Marcia Hicks died 18 years ago. She loved the library and children.
Leroy Lambert was an early Dallas County pioneer. He was a state legislator and banker in Adel for 17 years. He helped start the Christian Church in town. His family owned the home at 1129 Main St. from 1872 to 1898.
The home then became known as the Thornton’s Boarding House. Lea Thornton was a general store operator who also served as Adel’s mayor. He owned the house from 1898 to 1943. In the later years, his family rented out rooms, which is how the home became known as a boarding house.
Nonie Bowles owned the house from 1949 to 1973 until it was purchased by the Adel Historical Society and turned into the city’s museum.
The water fountain at Kinnick-Feller Park was dedicated in honor of Jack Smith. Smith was a 1936 graduate of Adel High School. He was part of the Adel men’s fast-pitch team that defeated “The King and his Court,” a well-known four-man fast-pitch softball team that traveled the country to play games.
Van Fossen Lane is possibly named for Ezra Van Fossen, a former pioneer physician and legislator. He moved to Adel in 1852. As a physician, he traveled to the homes of many of the early settlers in the Adel area. He served in the legislature from 1854 to 1856. The city’s cemetery also has Van Fossen’s name, though it also goes by three other names — Old Adel Cemetery, Rodenbaugh Cemetery and Gibson Cemetery.
The Witmer building, located on South Ninth Street, was named for Dr. Arthur Witmer, who moved to Adel in 1930. He built a house and his dental office next door, but there’s not much else known about him.
The former baseball field at Kinnick-Feller Park, where the A-D-M baseball team used to play is named after Chick and Betty Schwarzkopf. They were longtime business owners and supporters of youth athletics. Chick also served as a fast-pitch umpire.
“He has been a tireless supporter of youth athletics,” Peters says.