MASON CITY — Algona native Dennis Waller knows what life was like in America’s heartland in 1954.
It was a happy time when fathers were working and mothers were busy on the homefront with the kids, where everyone in town knew each other and there was a general feeling of safety and security.
Then “Walkin’ Joe” emerged, a mysterious man who plodded around aimlessly and was considered by most townspeople to be a public nuisance.
A group of five youngsters — paperboys old enough to be curious, young enough to be fearless — decided to find out more about the strange man. In their zest, they wound up tormenting him, says Waller, who was one of the newspaper boys.
Sixteen years later, when Walkin’ Joe died, Waller was a newspaper reporter and was assigned to write the man’s obituary.
He said that experience gave him the opportunity to reflect back on how he and his friends had mistreated the man.
He decided to learn as much as he could about Walkin’ Joe, interviewing people who knew him, from farmers’ fields to pool halls.
Waller combines his experiences and reflections on Walkin’ Joe with a memoir of looking back on his growing-up days in Algona as the basis for his first book, “Walkin’ Joe and the Midnight Marauders,” which is self-published.
Waller grew up in a newspaper family and worked for Look magazine in New York after graduating from Drake University.
He then returned to Algona and served as publisher simultaneously of newspapers in Algona and Worthington, Minn.
After a stint at the Ames Tribune, he went to the state of Washington as publisher of the newspaper in Centralia/Chehalis for 20 years until his retirement in August.
He still lives there but will be back in Iowa this week to promote his book.