Ken Becker is Hall of Fame
Wed, 05/03/2017 - 10:59am admin
Marcie Klomp News Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
CRESCO - There’s always that one person.
Something needs to be done and that person is right there to spearhead a project or help in any way possible.
That person is there through thick and thin being a cheerleader for anything and everything.
For Cresco, that person has been Ken Becker, and he was recognized for his can-do spirit with the Hall of Fame Award given by the Times Plain Dealer, his old employer!
From 1976 when he was hired, until 2011, when he retired, Becker had his finger on the pulse of Cresco and Howard County. He jokes with the guys at coffee, and they still ask him what is happening around town!
And why shouldn’t they? For over 35 years, he was the man in the know because he was pretty much involved with everything taking place.
Shortly after moving to Cresco, Becker helped start Cresco Community Theatre. He directed 9-11 plays at the Theatre and directed at the high school for three years.
His passion started during his school days, when the newsman played the lead in several productions, including “Man who came to Dinner” and “Oklahoma!”
Becker was very involved with the Theatre, which was near and dear to his heart. Three of his four brothers were involved with the theatre in some way, and all five boys have been singers.
Working at the Theatre was very convenient for Becker. “My job and my number one interest are just a half-block apart out the back door!”
He was also with the Theatre Commission and was instrumental in the first renovation of the Theatre/Opera House in 1979. Iowa Gov. Robert Ray and Lt. Gov. Terry Branstad attended the grand opening. “I wore a tux, and we had a big meal for the event.”
During the grand opening, Becker and a few others sang “Little Mary Sunshine.” It was such a hit he was approached to start a music group.
“Let’s do it!” he said.
And Elm Street Singers was born. “We asked Don Davis to direct it. We went all over the area.”
Unfortunately, Elm Street Singers was disbanded about two years ago.
Back in 1982, when Nancy Atkinson ran the Coast-to-Coast store, she came to Becker and said, “We need to do something before Christmas.” She knew of a town that had a parade the Friday after Thanksgiving.
“Let’s do it!” he said.
They got help from Ronda Jensen (now Hughes) and Santa’s Holiday Parade was born. “We went with a storybook character theme. We had 75 floats and 7,000 people who came to see the parade. It didn’t hurt it was 35o, sunshine and no wind,” Becker added.
Besides being in charge of the parade, he helped make floats for the theatre, which were built in his garage. When they were too big for the door, they had to be disassembled before they could be displayed!
“One year, we did a Chinese dragon with 20 bed sheets tied together.” It wove down the streets of Cresco to the delight of the crowd.
If all that isn’t enough, Becker chaired the RAGBRAI® XXI pass-through in July 1993. He did so well, he was co-chair for RAGBRAI® XXV’s overnight stay in Cresco in 1996.
Becker was president of First Lutheran Church during the construction of the new addition.
He was on the Chamber Board during its move to the present location in 2004.
He was a member of the morning Kiwanis Club and active in its tree-planting project. Staying with the tree theme, Becker is a long-standing member of the Cresco Tree Committee.
He was one of the individuals who started the Master Gardeners program. He said he has had to let that interest go as it is harder to get down to pick weeds.
In 1999 he walked out of the initial meeting of the Norman Borlaug Heritage Foundation as a charter member and secretary. “Working with the Borlaug Foundation is a labor of love,” he says. Eighteen years later, he is still secretary.
Although neither he nor his wife, Gretchen, are from Cresco, the couple was destined to make Cresco their home.
He had an interview with Bruce Turvold in 1976 at the Times Plain Dealer and was offered the job. At the time there was a pay phone in the parking lot near Ace Hardware. “I called my wife and said, ‘I just took a job in Cresco, Iowa.’ She said, ‘That’s good. I just sold the house!’”
After learning the newspaper business while serving in the Marine Corps at San Diego, Ken went on to graduate from Westmar College in LeMars, Iowa in 1968. That same year he and Gretchen married. “It was by luck and by golly that I got into [the newspaper business] in the Marine Corps,” he said.
Ken enjoyed his employment with the Times Plain Dealer. Before the advent of cell phones and digital cameras, he was the second person called after an accident.
He took evidence photos, including skid marks and sometimes the inside of the vehicles if needed. He would be called at all hours of the night.
He gave the photos to the police and sheriff’s departments, but charged the insurance companies for the copies.
Some of his favorite stories were dairy farms, interviews and features such as the home improvement section. He was also able to drive the train in Beadle Park about 20 feet. Not many people can make that claim!
When he retired in 2011, he was surprised to learn his name was submitted into the Congressional record. Rep. Tom Latham wrote to Ken, “After recently learning of your retirement from the Cresco Times Plain Dealer, I felt that a special Congressional recognition of your accomplishments there was in order.”
Although his dedication to the newspaper business, the City of Cresco and Howard County are being honored, Ken being Ken, he wanted to make sure it was never all about him. “I had a very understanding family.” After his retirement he enjoys spending his time with them, including Gretchen; his daughter, Kimberly Lehmkuhl of Cresco, with her two children, Gabe and Isabella; and son, Todd and Holly Becker, with their children Chloe and Finnley of Iowa City.
Also, there are many, many people who stood side-by-side with him as he worked to make the area a better place to live.
As a person can see, there were very few, if any, projects Ken said “no” to. That must make him a “yes” man in the best possible circumstances.