Best of Living in Iowa 147


The Best of Living in Iowa
is funded in part by the Gilchrist Foundation,
founded by Jocelyn Gilchrist, furthering the
philanthropic interest of the Gilchrist family in
wildlife and conservation, the arts and public
broadcasting and disaster relief. Funding for this program
was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television
Foundation, generations of families and friends who
feel passionate about the programs they watch on
Iowa Public Television. Hello, this is
Morgan Halgren. For 16 seasons, Living in
Iowa told the tale of what it means to be
uniquely Iowan. Tonight we honor that
spirit by bringing you another glimpse into our
rich heritage with a few stories from our archives. In this episode of the
Best of Living in Iowa, we’ll see how a rose by
any other name does indeed smell as sweet, step
inside the oldest mosque in North America, and
visit with a World War II fighter pilot who spreads
the message of overcoming prejudice. ♪♪ A couple of years
ago I called a plant farm in Ohio in search of a
rose bush and mentioned I was calling
from Des Moines. Oh, said the voice on
the line, Griffith Buck territory. I said, I’m sorry, I don’t
know who Griffith Buck is. And she said, you’re
calling me from Iowa about roses and you don’t know
who Griffith Buck is? Now I know. ♪♪ (nature sounds) Someone had said that he was so mixed up in the
rose business that if he would cut himself he
would bleed roses. Ruby Buck is talking
about her late husband, Dr. Griffith Buck, whose
quest for the perfect rose can be seen in the 87
varieties of roses he single-handedly developed,
a collection that rose lovers from around the
world refer to as Buck roses. He wanted something that
you could plant and enjoy without worrying about
it being killed by the winters or bugs or
things like that. From 1949 to 1985, Iowa
State was the only university in the United
States with a sustained rose breeding program and
Buck was its unassuming star. He dug very deeply into
genetics and everything that you needed to know. In his work he was
reaching for beauty and for hardiness. Ruby says that degree of
dedication might have surprised at least a few
residents from his boyhood home of Cincinnati, Iowa. He was the first to pull
the weeds out of seed onions and instead he
pulled the onions instead of the weeds. So that was his beginning
as a horticulturist. Things might not have
progressed from there had it not been for a
requirement for his high school Spanish class. Two unsuccessful attempts
to find a Spanish speaking pen pal left Buck leafing
through books at the library. And he found this book
with pretty pictures in it, he said, on roses
and it said Pedro Dot, a Spanish hybridizer. Spain’s master hybridizer
responded to Buck’s request by sending
his niece’s address. Soon, Buck and Maria
Antoinette began to correspond. But every time she would
write to him the uncle would put in something
about roses. If you grow roses,
hybridized roses, you had something nobody
else had ever seen. Pedro Dot’s messages
must have taken root. Buck went on to get his
bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. in horticulture and
microbiology from ISU as he set up his rose
breeding program and began his teaching career. He could bring me a rose
and I would think it was nice. But he’d say well the
foliage isn’t good, black spots or it’s got a weak
neck, not enough petals. He was very critical
of his own work. And very meticulous
about it. In any given year he might
have been caring for and scrutinizing 10,000 plants
in different stages of development. But each year’s work was
carefully recorded in his own tidy script. Here is the parentage what
he used and then this is the number of pollinations
he made, crosses sometimes he called them. Buck’s single-minded
devotion to his research did have one dramatic
unforeseen consequence. In 1955, he developed an
allergy to rose pollen. His allergist
offered some advice. She had told him well
he needed to change his hobby. And he said, it’s not
my hobby, it’s my life. So they started making a
serum for him that had to come out of Iowa City. For 30 years, Griffith
Buck took allergy shots every 3 weeks in the
winter and every 2 in the summer. It’s part of the legacy
that his older daughter Mary enjoys sharing with
groups like these Midwest Master Gardeners. This one is
Country Dancer. And dad’s roses, we laugh,
he had kind of his country period and his
prairie period. He was looking for things
that went with the Midwest. A display at Reiman
Gardens in Ames dedicated to Buck’s roses reveals
his affection for the Midwest with names like
Country Song, Prairie Lass and Hi Neighbor. Mary often tells the
stories behind the rose’s names to interested
gardeners but finds that people are just as
intrigued by her father’s practical methods of
testing for hardiness. Plant them out in the
field and let them grow. If they made it that was
fine, he had something to work with. If they didn’t make
it, well too bad. Nick Howell, garden
superintendent at Reiman Gardens and one of
Griffith Buck’s former students says his favorite
professor was ahead of his time. As time progressed people
still wanted roses but they didn’t have the time
or the energy really to take care of
a hybrid rose. And so that is when
Griff’s roses really became popular. His roses aren’t
pretentious, they’re easy to care for, they’re
practical, they’re simple and they’re beautiful. When he was in the
greenhouse working with his roses he would work
quietly by himself and he would look at his roses
and take pictures of his roses. It was very interesting
watching him. You didn’t really feel
like you wanted to go up and talk to him when he
was working on his roses because he looked like
he was truly at peace. Interest in Buck and his
roses has grown steadily since his death in 1991
and Reiman Gardens is making every effort to
find the missing roses for their collection and to
propagate more of the plants they already have. The short walk from Mary’s
back yard to her mother’s adjoining property in Ames
makes it convenient as they go about the business
of preserving Buck’s legacy. Mom has done most of the
correspondence when people write wanting information
and things like that. Me I’m on the propagation
end you might say. I go out and find the
plant material and get it ready and send it off. But both women wish people
knew more about the man than just his roses. They wish people
understood that he had weathered his share of
setbacks, like the time a foreign visitor ate some
seed pods Buck had spent several years working for,
or the more devastating experience of discovering
after his retirement that valuable plants he thought
the university would save had been destroyed. He went out and everything
had been bulldozed out. He came home and that’s
probably the lowest that I ever saw him. They mention his success
developing geraniums that tolerate hot Iowa nights,
his flair for teaching floral design and his
willingness to judge at rose competitions
around the country. But more than anything
they remember a sensitive man who picked red roses
to go around his own wedding cake, delighted in
making pies for his family and marveled at
his grandson. And they remember his
light-hearted explanation for his lifetime’s work. Somebody asked him why
he was in horticulture. And he said, well, he
said, everybody said the world was going to pot
and I figured if I was a horticulturist I could
raise something to put in the pot. Since the tragedies of
9/11, curiosity about our Muslim neighbors and their
faith has steadily grown. Unfortunately, according
to an FBI report, hate crimes targeting people,
institutions and businesses identified with
the Islamic faith have also increased. Producer Sara Frasher
traveled to Cedar Rapids’ Islamic Center and
Mosque to gain a better understanding of Iowa’s
Muslim community. (leaf blower) Hassan Igram
is a businessman, husband, father and first
generation Iowa born Muslim of Lebanese decent. It starts with the belief
in God, a belief in hereafter, a belief in
one God, a belief that Muhammad is his messenger,
is a pretty simple concept. But all the things that
come along with that are really what builds the
character of a Muslim and gives us a routine that
we follow that keeps our spirituality in check. Shadia Igram, Hassan’s
daughter, is a political science major at the
University of Iowa. Shadia: To me Islam is
built of these very basic parts, humbleness,
modesty, generosity, just more or less to be, just
to make your life very, very simple and to use
what God has given you. God has given you a mind,
therefore if you take away all outside influences and
just use your common sense you’re going to pick more
or less the right choice. That’s to me what it
is to be a Muslim. And then you have your
community which has helped you further that. Miriam Amer, wife
and mother and media specialist is a fourth
generation Arab-American Muslim. Our reward comes
in the hereafter. So the Koran tells us that
we have to not partake in certain things and we have
to practice our religion by doing our prayers five
times a day and giving to the poor and fasting
during Ramadan. These are all forms of
getting closer to God and that is the practice
of Islam basically. Writer Carly Caris was
raised a Catholic. She converted to
Islam in October 2001. In the Bible you read the
Old Testament and God is vengeful and you don’t
mess with him, you do something wrong you’re
going to pay for it. You go to the New
Testament and you could do something and ask for
forgiveness and everything is fine. So it was like there’s two
extremes and there wasn’t directions on how your
life should be, what you should do, what you should
eat, what you shouldn’t eat, what you should
drink, not drink, wear, who you talk to,
things like that. And then in Islam it’s
all spelled out for you. You just follow the book. We spoke with Hassan,
Shadia, Carly and Miriam at the Cedar Rapids
Islamic Center and Mosque. (chanting) There has been
a congregation in Cedar Rapids since the 1930s. Today its members
represent about 30 different nationalities. We attended a Friday
prayer service in the summer, then returned in
November for an evening meal during the holy month
of Ramadan when Muslims break their daily fast. We went to learn about
what it means to be a Muslim in America. What comes first, being
a Muslim or being an American? The answer from all
was being Muslim. Make no bones about
that because you’re not answerable, ultimately
you’re not answerable to President Bush or
President Clinton or whoever came before or
whoever is going to come after, you’re
answerable to God. That doesn’t mean you
don’t follow the laws of the United States, you do,
but if they, as long as those laws can coexist
with the laws of Islam. What if they conflict? The only way they could
conflict is if something is outlawed, for example,
we’re forced to do something, we’re forced to
eat pork, we’re forced to drink alcohol. There may be no religious
conflicts for American Muslims. Still, this country is
grounded in the separation of church and state. There are Muslim countries
governed by Islamic law and those laws seem harsh
by Western standards. But Hassan Igram says his
religion embraces basic human rights and the same
moral values embodied in the American Constitution. A lot of Muslim scholars,
people that know the Koran by heart, that understand
Islamic law, will tell you that the United States in
many ways is more of a Muslim country than
Muslim countries are. Absolutely. My husband is a new
American, he became a citizen about five years
ago after having lived here for quite a
number of years. He carries a copy of the
Constitution in his pocket because he feels that it
is the only document of all the nations that
allow him to practice his religion more freely and
that is one of the things that he loves about
America, he is able to practice his religion
here without any kind of constraint. It guarantees
him that right. Political institutions
are one thing. America’s social
culture is another. The believers sharing this
Ramadan potluck can find themselves challenged by
America’s popular culture, its permissiveness,
its sexual ethics, its materialism. If Muslims perceive Islam
as spiritually richer and for lack of a better term
the West or the modern world as superficial
decadent, you’re Muslims, how can you be comfortable
living in this culture? That is our jihad. Explain that please. Personally I think jihad
is a very important part of a Muslim’s life and it
does not mean that I think that we should all be
waging holy war against the infidels or
anything of that sort. But I do feel that I am
fighting a jihad with America living here. For instance, the things
that this society takes for granted, that they
deem as normal behavior, is un-Islamic and for me
to overcome that, that would be a jihad. For instance, the style
of dress, the style of clothing that women wear
in this country, it’s very hard for me to go shopping
and find clothes that are Islamically correct. Muslims want to be part
of society but it is difficult for somebody
that is growing up as a high school or college
student that can’t date, that can’t go to prom,
that can participate in some activities and can’t
participate in other activities. It’s tough, it’s tough. Christians say the same
thing about this society. American culture also
seems at odds with Islamic culture when it comes
to women’s roles. Many Western women believe
Islam subjugates women, an oppression exemplified
in the way Muslim women dress. But it is important to
note not all Muslim women in the world
dress the same. Culture plays a large part
and there is individual choice. For example, Shadia Igram
does not wear a scarf outside the mosque. But for modesty’s sake she
does not wear things like shorts either. Modesty is the Islamic
issue and it is a matter of self-respect,
not subjugation. Islam was the first
women’s movement 1,500 years ago before feminism,
before suffrage, before any of that
Islam was there. Explain that
a little more. Well, if you look at the
way women were treated prior to the rise of Islam
you had a lot of times families would have a baby
and it was a girl they would kill it, they would
bury it alive because that was just another
burden on the family. Women had no rights, they
had no say, they had no education, they were sold
off to their husband or to another family as slaves,
they were just an extra burden. Islam came in and
totally changed that. Men and women in
Islam are equal. We just have
different roles. It’s the man’s job to get
out there and work and earn the money to take
care of the family. It’s the woman’s job to
stay home and nurture the children and take
care of them. We can have our own money,
we can have a job, it’s encouraged for us to have
an education, our own property. What’s wrong with that? Though it sometime seemed
this group was surprised at some of our questions,
they also understood that there is considerable
misunderstanding between Islam and the West and the
ignorance goes both ways. So with all the
misconceptions, what did they want us to
know about them? I would say that I’m the
same as you, I just choose to live my life a little
bit differently and that’s is, that’s the
only difference. I would say that yeah, we
share a lot of the same beliefs and goals and
fears and happiness and all that. I was born and raised in
Iowa of course and I’ve had the opportunity or I
have the opportunity to live anywhere I want and
I choose to live here because I love this state,
I love this city, I love the people. I love driving through
the cornfields in the afternoon. We have families, we have
homes, we have jobs, we’re good neighbors, we’re good
citizens, we vote, we take care of each other. We’re the same. Our religion is different
but we share the same wants and likes and
dislikes and pain that they feel. When 9/11 happened we
cried, it broke our hearts. We still grieve for all
those people that died and we’d like to see
justice done. But just because we’re
Muslim, don’t take it out on us. Over 50 years have passed
since the end of World War II and now each month
30,000 veterans of that war pass away taking with
them the dramatic accounts of their wartime
experiences. Jerry Yellin of Fairfield
hopes that doesn’t happen to his story. It’s one with a surprise
ending that has sent him on a mission armed with
the powerful message that it’s possible to
love your enemy. Be advised that some of
the images in this feature are graphic
depictions of war. ♪♪ (airplane engines) When a young Jerry Yellin was bombing Japan during
World War II he felt justified and sometimes
almost elated. He couldn’t have known
then that he was bombing the future homeland of his
very own grandchildren. It is an unusual
experience to speak to your enemy. I feel fortunate
because of my children. My children opened this
opportunity up for me. I would have been one
of those closed-minded persons all of my life
about the Japanese people. I truly hated them for
what they did and what I thought that
they stood for. Growing up, Jerry was the
product of a society where hatred for the Japanese
was commonplace, emotions he explains to these
Fairfield 8th graders. My personal dislike for
the Japanese began when I was in the 8th grade —
He faced this enemy in war and then one day in peace. His journey started in
1942 shortly after his 18th birthday. Who was the Jerry Yellin
who in 1944 went off to Iwo Jima? He was a young man who was
very much an American. In 1941 the dislike that
I had for the Japanese turned to deep anger as
everyone in the United States became angry and I
couldn’t wait to get in to fight for my country. Jerry lives with images
that will forever haunt him. The Japanese bodies and
the smell and the sight and the maggots, the
American Marine mortuary, seeing my friends as I
see them as young men and flying alongside of you
and then they’re gone. When World War II came to
an end Jerry never spoke a word of the war and
amazingly no one ever asked about it. The silence was finally
broken in 1981 when Jerry went to the movie Platoon,
a devastating story about ground soldiers
in Vietnam. Oddly enough, this war
film was the beginning of Jerry’s healing. I have never cried about
the war, I never thought about the Japanese or
the Vietnamese as human beings. And when I saw them being
bulldozed into this mass grave it gave me time to
slow down and to think for the first time really
about what the war was and how it affected me. Shortly thereafter he was
asked to go to Japan for business and
reluctantly he went. The journey provided him
an opportunity to make new friends and engage in soul
searching conversations with people from a
country he had loathed. He recalls talking with
one man by the name of Yash Takasui. He opened my eyes to what
we had done and what other human beings have done in
war and it seems at that point that everything that
I hated about the Japanese I could find something
that we did in America that was equally as
devastating to another group of people. And I found for me that if
war is to kill then the pure purpose of life for
me is to connect and to connect to all human
beings and to everything in nature. I’ve done it as we have
had the experiences. While in Japan Jerry’s
wife Helene felt intuitively that their
youngest son Robert would appreciate the Japanese
connection to nature and their tranquil lifestyle,
things that Jerry and Helene would also
incorporate into their own lives. When Robert graduated from
college their gift to him was a trip to Japan. Robert liked the country
so much that 15 years later he is still there. In 1987 we went for a
visit and on that visit he told us that he was going
to get married and I was stunned, it never occurred
to me that he would marry a Japanese woman. And the thoughts that went
through my mind was it’s his life, it’s not my
life, I fought the war, I wouldn’t object but I
couldn’t give him an answer at that moment. And so what I said to him
was, what kind of support are you going to get
from Takako’s father? That’s Takako’s father,
that’s his only picture that he has in
the military. Takako feared they would
never get her father Taro’s permission because
he fought in the war for Japan and hated
the Americans. When he spoke to Robert
he spoke only of Robert’s father and what
he did in the war. However, it was for that
very reason that Taro finally agreed
to the marriage. Mr. Yamakawa said to
himself that any man who flew a P51 against the
Japanese and lived must be a brave man and he wanted
the blood of that man to flow through the veins
of his grandchildren. And he didn’t say anything
to Robert and Takako but he went home and he told
his wife to take Takako and make arrangements
for the wedding. Well, he hated the
Americans and I hated the Japanese. And today we have three
grandchildren in Japan. The only difference is
that he responds to the grandchildren when they
say ojichan and I respond when they say grandpa and
he’s as gleeful about it as I am. After returning from
the wedding, something inspired Jerry to start
writing about his life. It compelled him to write
a book called Of War and Weddings and to share his
story with schools around the world. I woke up early on in
Robert’s marriage with a nightmare that his
children in Japan would one day have to fly and
fight against my other grandchildren in America
and I could see the planes passing in the sky, one
coming from one direction and one coming from
another direction. And I said to myself, I
can’t let that happen. ♪♪ As Jerry talks to
the students they may not understand at first why
they’re getting a lesson on humanity, but it
doesn’t take long for them to realize that this
veteran sitting among them is living proof of how
we must all face our own prejudice. We have images and
stereotypes of what people are but they are all
people if we can meet them as people. At age 75, Jerry has found
peace, peace in knowing that he’s making a
difference in the lives of young people so that
maybe, just maybe the young men and women of
tomorrow won’t be forced to fight in a war they
don’t understand against a people they don’t know. The one letter that means
more to me than any is from a young man who said,
Dear Mr. Yellin, thank you for coming to my class. He said, it took you 50
years to learn that all people were the same and
you taught that to me in one class and I’ll never
have to worry about that again in my life and
that moved me deeply. ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ The Best of Living in Iowa is funded in part by the
Gilchrist Foundation, founded by Jocelyn
Gilchrist, furthering the philanthropic interest of
the Gilchrist family in wildlife and conservation,
the arts and public broadcasting and
disaster relief. Funding for this program
was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television
Foundation, generations of families and friends who
feel passionate about the programs they watch on
Iowa Public Television.

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