Back to Herring, Iowa

On Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, the fighting from World War I ceased at 11 am. Around the world people celebrated the end to the final and greatest war the world had witnessed up to that point in history. The small town of Herring, Iowa joined in the jubilation. The town’s people and area farmers gathered at the bottom of the Herring Hill near the center of town. They took two long poles and spliced them together with wire. Later that night the Herring folk celebrated the end of the Great War by hoisting the towering flagpole and proudly flying Old Glory in the town center.

Dorothy and Shirley Dean (r to l) on a sunny day atop the hill in Herring, Iowa in 1928.

Many years had passed when Ralph Dean, my grandfather and one of the children there on that 1918 Armistice Day celebration in Herring, took over the Herring general store in 1931 and brought his family there to live. Herring at that time had a country store complete with post office, a grain elevator, a Northwestern Railroad Depot, a lumber yard, and a dance hall. The country school was down the hill by the train tracks. Herring was established as a trading town and at one time previously had a pool hall, a blacksmith shop, and a livestock yard for the railroad. But that was before Ralph and Alice Dean moved there to raise their 3 girls, Dorothy, Shirley and Betty and run the country store.

In 2005, the Dean girls returned to Herring, Iowa. There was no longer a train depot in the town. The country store burned down in the 1950’s. The dance hall was torn down after World War II by returning veterans to use the needed lumber in building homes for their families. The houses were no longer standing there.

(l to r) Shirley, Dorothy and Betty, “The Dean Girls” returned to Herring in 2005. The Herring flag pole stands tall in the background.

It’s been more than 80 years since Armistice Day, in 1918. A lot of water has trickled down that stream at the bottom of the Herring hill since that time. The Dean girls moved on from Herring and raised their families and lived their lives. Ralph and Alice have since passed away. Dorothy, the eldest daughter, passed away in 2009.

It is the same hill, but, Herring has changed. It is not the same country Iowa town.

In fact if you were driving west of Wall Lake, Iowa and didn’t know when or where to stop, you would drive right past Herring, Iowa. The only remnant of Herring left standing was put up on an Armistice Day nearly a century ago. The flag pole,… the one that was spliced together to celebrate the end of World War I, still stands tall in the town center, now a meadow.

Yesterday, I returned to Herring, Iowa with my sister Becky, my Aunt Betty and Catherine.

I met with farmer Leroy who owns this piece of farmland.
And I bought the Herring Hill.

(If you look close you can see the Herring flagpole behind my head.)

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  • n.a palm

    A very touching story, American history actually…..thank you for it.

  • Texascat

    Good for you!!!!Way to go. Keep our history alive. Schools don’t do it. In the 4th grade all Texas school teach Texas independence & Texas history. Trips r made to the Alamo. Keep it up Texas!!!

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  • bigL

    Now, THAT obama is America, and American!~ What a great story

  • mazeltov.

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  • cecildildine

    So will schools be sending students to Kenya in the future to study our history?

  • Mahdi Al-Dajjal

    You bought just the hill or the entire farm?

  • Bill Mitchell


    In 2008, Gallup switched to their likely voter model on October 6th, one month from the election. Assuming they will do the same this year, we should see A MIGHTY SURGE to Romney over the next few days in that poll.

    Not only will Romney enjoy the post-debate bounce, he will get the likely voter screen bounce.

    Rasmussen has Romney surging 4 points today with only 2 days of post-debate polling in the can out of 3 day sample. Good good news.

  • Joscefi

    mazel tov v2.0

  • Very nice story of the past and congratulations Jim, I hope you have many happy years of home ownership there!

  • dc

    Very neat.
    A show to go with this PRO AMERICA & PRO AMERICAN view: “COME HOME AMERICA”
    Thanks Jim.

  • anti-bho

    Great story jim Hoft but I can’t picture you in a cornfield in Iowa.

  • Name Change?

    So, is this now the Herring Pundit?

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  • SoLongSong

    I LOVED that story! I never thought I could live in a tiny town – EVER – but my sister found a house on ebay in Iowa and asked me to come look at it with her since I lived in St. Louis. I’d never been to Iowa, but the MOMENT I crossed over the border I fell in love.

    My sister bought her house, I found a great 1913 Sears House with all the original woodwork for $45,000, and now I live in this town of six hundred give or take (depending on who has died and who was born any given day) near my best friend and sister and I LOVE my adopted state.

    Good purchase and thank you for sharing this wonderful story!

  • PamelaOfThePoconos

    Marvelous turn of events! Best of luck. Glad you were able to share it with us.

  • ebayer

    It’s in good hands.

  • Marty

    Jim…loved the story. Mom is from Villisca IA. She met Dad at Aurora College, IL after WWII and returned to Avalon MS in the MS Delta. So I’d ride the Greyhound to IA with Mom to visit Grandma and Grandpa Peters. I made a trip to Villisca from the Air Force Academy in the early ’70s for Grandma’s funeral and I declare there were US flags waving all over the town. It was coincidental but I have always considered IA ground zero for the real America…rock solid, hand shake deal, look you in the eye, and give you the shirt off their backs. Cheers Marty

  • lizzy84

    We are the folks of Herring Hill. Every single one of us.
    Thanks for sharing the story, Jim.

    God bless America.

  • Kathteach

    Congrats Jim! Like Lizzy84 said – we’re part of Herring Hill too. Your story inspires – so do you!

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  • bg


    you didn’t buy that hill!! 😀

    a seriously nice story, thanks for sharing,
    and congrats on your newest endeavor..


  • dba_vagabond_trader

    Love your story Jim.

    G-d bless Herring Hills everywhere!

  • Adi

    Congratulations Mr. Hoft and thank you for sharing this story.

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  • Big Mo

    Fantastic, Jim.

    If I recall, the last living Great War vet died a year or two ago.

    Last week my step-dad and I paid a visit to the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensecola Fla. First time I ever got to see actual planes flown during and after the Great War. Could have stayed there for days!

  • Flintstone F.

    Great story. Resuscitation. You saved the flag pole, now pour a foundation for a general store. Well of course you have to wait for the government to build a road or two…

    Sounds like a nice site for a little Archaeology. Historic preservation is a good thing.

  • Blacque Jacques Shellacque

    Having grown up in a major metro area in California, as a kid I always savored our occasional journeys to visit relatives living in the Central Valley, which looks a lot like the rural plains/midwest in many places.

    Even now, during spring and autumn when it’s not too hot over there, I’ll hop on my motorcycle when time permits and go out that way and just motor along on some paved country road, in no hurry at all, with no particular destination in mind.

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  • Dave-O

    Keep history alive!!

    Congrats on the purchase!

    I think your Mom is smiling down on you and is, once again, very proud of her son.

    Keep it going!!

  • Mo

    This is one of the best posts EVER on this blog, Jim. I was truly touched by it.

  • Congratulations! Iowa is a beautiful state!

  • Well, congratulations! What do you plan to do with your new piece of the American Dream?

  • Betty Oswald

    You’ll be able to dance on the site of the old dance hall. Bring on the dancing girls!