Hiawatha was created 70 years ago because of the vision of one man, but it was the hard work and dedication that makes the city what it is today.
Hiawatha was officially incorporated June 12, 1950. Earlier that year, 49 people signed a petition that would make it a town. At that time, there were only 108 residents; today, there are over 7,400.
Hiawatha's founder and first mayor, Fay Clark, had a vision of a highway running through the cornfield, with houses lined along either side. That vision inspired him and others to create the town of Hiawatha, named for the mobile home trailers Fay sold.
Those who knew Fay have commented that the town's founder never wanted to take credit for its beginning. Fay once told a Cedar Rapids Gazette reporter that he may have had a hand in it, but it was the residents of Hiawatha who worked together to make the town function. The first year, expenses for the town were only $25, because Fay and the rest of the residents did a lot of the work themselves.
“I just wanted a town we wouldn’t be ashamed of,” he joked, in the 1984 article.
During World War II, Fay did contract work for the government. Once the war ended, he knew he would have to do something else. After he had the vision, he told his employee, Jim Faas that they were going to build houses for the returning soldiers, according to his third wife, Marvel.
“He started a lumber company, so he could build houses,” she said. “I think he built around 200 houses.” Fay also started the water department, which he sold to the city for $1.
Bev Daws, who worked for the City of Hiawatha for several years, said Fay helped start the first fire department, as well as the first post office, with his first wife, Adeline.
“Fay had a welding business,” said Bev. “One night it caught fire and burned to the ground, because Cedar Rapids fire department said it wasn’t in their jurisdiction. So, Fay and Marion mayor, Henry Katz, decided to start the Linn County Fire Association to help the rural areas that didn’t have fire protection. Fay was always doing something. And Adeline was always there, right beside Fay. They were partners in every sense of the word."
Bev went on to say that Fay believed that being a good neighbor meant you looked after one another. "This town is built on that. We helped each other and got things done."
Fay eventually sold the lumber company to the Cook brothers, Bob and Norm. “He was always helping young folks get their start,” said Bev. “He helped a lot of people.”
Fay Marvin Clark was born July 12, 1907, in De Soto, Wisconsin. He was not only a business owner and entrepreneur, he was also a published author, and chronicled much of his life in three books: "Into the Light," "You Will Take It with You," and "Beyond the Light."
In his book, "You Will Take it With You," Fay tells a story about when he was 13 years old. He went berry-picking with his brother and a friend in Black River Falls, about 80 miles from their hometown. As they were building a fire, three Winnebago Indians came by and asked them to be careful of their campfire, because it was so dry. The Indians showed the boys where to pick the best berries. At night around the campfire, the chief, Mitchell Red Cloud Sr., told the boys stories about the Indians and their beliefs.
Fay stated that he was so intrigued by the Indians, he didn't want to go home. When it came time to go, he decided he was going to stay with Chief Red Cloud and his family to pick more berries and learn more about the Winnebago tribe.
When the season was over, however, he did go home, but returned the next summer. Fay said he did this for a few years before he got into trouble and was sent to a Baptist Academy by his parents. The school was very strict, and when he was mistreated, he ran away. Fay said he stayed with a family, who helped him out. He finished high school and went on to college, where he studied architectural engineering.
Fay met Adeline when he was 23 and moved to Cedar Rapids in 1931. In 1935, a friend had a vision that either he or Fay would die in a fall. He said the other one would be hurt in a car accident. A few weeks later, his friend died when he slipped on an oil slick in his garage. Soon after, Fay was in a near-fatal car accident.
The doctors told Fay later that by all rights, he never should have walked out of that hospital, but he did. While he was laying in the emergency room, he had an out-of-body experience. Fay wrote about that experience and how it changed his life. He began exploring the paranormal, including the possibility of life after death. His quest took him to all corners of the world, Australia and the Yucatan, where he learned about the natives, particularly the Mayans and Aborigines. The road eventually led him to Hiawatha:
"During the years of World War II, I owned and operated a small factory at what is now Hiawatha, just north of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. We were doing defense work and I had several outstanding employees. Our operation consisted mostly of steel fabricating, assembly and welding. When the war ended, my employees and I were aware that our operation would come to a stop and many adjustments would have to be made.
"My most valuable employee, James Faas, came to me one afternoon and said he should be looking for a job as he knew our work contract had not been renewed. He felt it might be impossible for me to keep him on the payroll. I was momentarily unable to formulate an answer. My mind was in a turmoil trying to find a suitable answer for him.
"As I stood looking in the direction of the railroad, the tracks faded out and became a divided highway with cars and heavy traffic moving on it. The fields on both sides of the highway were filled in with houses. Then the scene faded away, and I said, 'Jim, we will have work to do. We will build houses.'
"He replied, 'I am no carpenter. I am a welder.' As I reflected upon my vision of the fields full of houses and the automobiles where the railroad tracks had been, I said, 'We will build houses.'"
And that is what they did.
Fay bought plots of land to build the houses on and soon there were more than 200 residents. Twenty years later, Hiawatha became known as the "Fastest growing town in Iowa." And today, with more than 7,400 residents, it's still growing.
Fay wore many hats during his life. He was a photographer for National Geographic magazine, author, publisher, business owner, a welder, and the builder of a town.
Fay and Adeline had two sons, Patrick and Jerry. Pat became a Hiawatha police officer and both of the boys served in the military. After Adeline died in 1961, Fay moved to Perry, Iowa with his second wife, where he started the Hiawatha Publishing Company. After she died, he met his third wife, Marvel.
Fay returned to Hiawatha in 1972 for the dedication of the new fire station, where he was honored with a portrait, which still hangs in the fire station today.
Fay died in 1991 at the age of 84, but his legacy of determination, perseverance and being a good neighbor is what has shaped Hiawatha into the community it is today.