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To honor a legend

Posted April 02, 2014 in Adel
Nile Kinnick Jr. as a young football player at the University of Iowa.

Nile Kinnick Jr. as a young football player at the University of Iowa.

A group of Adel residents, led by the Adel Historical Museum, is making another attempt to push forward with a museum addition that would be dedicated to two of the community’s most famous residents.

The Nile Kinnick Jr. addition would house all of the museum’s artifacts about Adel’s beloved son, as well as those of former Iowa Gov. George Washington Clarke, who was Kinnick’s grandfather.

“I thought this was a really important thing,” says Jan Price, director of the Adel Historical Museum and a member of the committee that is organizing fundraising efforts for the addition. “Nile Kinnick was born July 9, 1918. In 96 years, Adel does not have anything in honor of him. I think it’s time we did.”

Adel City Councilwoman Shirley McAdon agrees and says the museum will help the community in various ways.

“It will help the community understand the heritage that it has, and I think it’ll bring people to Adel,” she says.

Members of the Clarke family have shown interest in the project and have donated both money and pledged items to it. The Adel Historical Museum currently contains dozens of photos, books, memorabilia and other artifacts that belonged to both men, including one of Clarke’s desks and his chair.

Currently, the items are crowded in a small display in the museum, but visionaries would like to see them placed into their own space that would adequately honor both men’s legacies.

“I don’t think museums should be warehouses for dusty relics,” McAdon says. “They are amenities for our community and to give them a sense of belonging and pride in the community.”

The addition would be about 840 square feet in size, would be built onto the back of the current museum and would become the new main entrance.

Men serve as two of Adel’s most famous residents
Nile Kinnick Jr. was the oldest of three boys, and the family home still stands in Adel. As a young boy, he had a newspaper route and grew up to become a fine athlete. While he excelled in baseball, basketball and football, the latter is what he is best known for playing.

Kinnick Jr. lived in Adel until his senior year of high school. He led the Adel football team to the state title as a sophomore in 1933. The Des Moines Register wrote: “Kinnick, who directed the Adel team from the quarterback position, liked the rough going, and he played fiercely in every tilt of 12-game schedule. Kinnick was versatile and carried the ball brilliantly in the open field. His passing and punting figured prominently in every game.”

Nile Kinnick Jr. was so popular that his last name became a letter in this ABC book for children.

Nile Kinnick Jr. was so popular that his last name became a letter in this ABC book for children.

However, things changed before Kinnick’s senior year of high school. The fallout from the Great Depression led to his family losing much of their wealth and having to move to Omaha, where Kinnick’s father, Nile Kinnick Sr., had received a job as a farm appraiser.

Adel has never forgotten its connection to Kinnick.

“Kinnick was a great scholar, athlete and civic leader,” Adel City Administrator Brett Klein, a member of the organizing committee, says. “Adel, his birthplace and childhood home, should have a place to honor his legacy and contributions to society, along with teaching residents, children and visitors about his many contributions in such a short life.”

Kinnick went on to play for the University of Iowa, as a halfback, where he received top honors for athletics and his performance in the classroom. He was awarded the Heisman Trophy in 1939, the only Hawkeye to receive college football’s highest honor. He also received the Maxwell Award, the Walter Camp Memorial Trophy, the Big Ten Most Valuable Player Award and the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year. He also was a First-Team All-American.

Kinnick had the opportunity to play professionally and was drafted in the second round in 1940. But he decided to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather and attend law school. He left school after one year to join the U.S. Navy Air Corps Reserve during World War II. He was training to become a fighter pilot.

Nile Kinnick Jr. is shown receiving the Heisman trophy.

Nile Kinnick Jr. is shown receiving the Heisman trophy.

In his last letter home to his parents, he wrote: “The task that lies ahead is adventure as well as duty, and I am anxious to get at it. I feel better in mind and body than I have in 10 years, and am quite certain I can meet the foe confident and unafraid.”

He was killed in a plane crash in 1943 at age 24. Kinnick was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951, and the University of Iowa named its football stadium after him in 1974. The Big Ten Network named him as the number seven most iconic athlete in Big Ten history.

“I think the connection with the scholar-athlete is a very powerful one,” McAdon says. “He was an outstanding person of character, an intellectual and also a great athlete.”

George W. Clark was a lawyer and later served four terms as a Dallas County representative before he served as lieutenant governor and later governor of Iowa. His law office was located above Adel State Bank, which was robbed in 1895 by a group of bandits who had robbed several banks.

Clarke came downstairs during the commotion of the robbery. One of the robbers whirled around with the shotgun, aimed it at Clarke’s chest and pulled the trigger, but the gun misfired. The robber reloaded the gun, but Clarke quickly headed back to his office, which is what saved his life.

Clarke’s home also still remains in Adel today.

Fundraising group reorganizes
This is the third attempt to organize efforts for the museum addition. Previous efforts fell short for various reasons, mostly because those involved lost interest or moved on to other projects.

The most recent committee formed in October and consists of Price, McAdon, Klein, former Adel-DeSoto-Minburn coach Stan Norenberg, and residents Wayne Geadelmann and Rob Burditt.

The Adel Historical Museum contains dozens of photos, piece of memorabilia and other artifacts from Nile Kinnick Jr.’s life.

The Adel Historical Museum contains dozens of photos, piece of memorabilia and other artifacts from Nile Kinnick Jr.’s life.

The committee had a successful first fundraising event in December that raised $2,180 toward the project. Price and her husband, Don, presented a life history of Kinnick to share with those who attended.

To date, about $33,000 has been raised toward the $70,000 goal for the project. The fundraising group also has written grants for the project and has received private donations. The hope, Klein and McAdon say, is the money can be raised by fall. McAdon says construction on the addition could begin next spring with project’s completion being finalized in time for Adel’s annual Sweet Corn Festival in August.

Organizers hope a large fundraising event in June will help push them toward their goal. They are working with the University of Iowa to have Kinnick’s Heisman Trophy brought to Adel for viewing. A $5 donation will be requested. The event is tentatively scheduled from noon to 2:30 p.m. on June 14 in the community room of the Adel Public Library, 303 S. 10th St.

“We’re really, really pleased to be able to support their museum, and they’re supporting ours,” McAdon says.

The committee also is selling T-shirts and accepting cash donations for the project. Donors of $25 receive a Kinnick T-shirt. Those who are interested can contact Price at 993-1032.

“We’ve had so much interest in the museum and donations,” McAdon says. “We have displays that are really crowded including the Kinnick and Clarke families, and the new additions will give us a chance to give those displays the prominence they deserve.”

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