FOREST CITY | Ben Neal has only been a member of the Forest City Fire Department for seven months, but he already feels like part of the family.
That family rallied around him when he was diagnosed with cancer in November.
Neal, 25, became emotional when he spoke about what they have done for him.
His fellow firefighters are not only selling T-shirts to raise money to help pay for his expenses, but also finished work on the interior of his new home while he was in the Twin Cities for two months for radiation and chemotherapy.
"I just never knew a group of people who were so willing to help out in any way they could," Neal said.
Neal was heading back to Forest City from the Minneapolis airport after going to Texas to see a Dallas Cowboys home football game in early November when he became extremely nauseous.
"I ended up vomiting blood on the side of the road," he said.
After a trip to the ER and an endoscopic procedure, he was diagnosed with stage 2 Esophageal Adenocarcinoma.
He's one of the youngest individuals on record to have this form of cancer, as the average age is 60 and older.
Neal chose to receive treatment at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis since his sister lives in the Twin Cities.
He received radiation daily, as well as chemo on a weekly basis.
Since he was in the hospital over Christmas, his whole family spent the holiday in the Twin Cities so they could be with him.
Neal was finally released from the hospital on Dec. 29.
Neal, who was raised on a farm north of Rudd and was still farming on the weekends on his own land nearby, said he was thrilled to get back to North Iowa since he's not a big-city guy.
Sometimes what you miss the most are "the little things you don't think about much until they are taken away," such as being able to see open fields all around, Neal said.
When he first got out of the car, he could tell that someone had been spreading manure.
"I never thought that I would miss that smell," he said.
When he was diagnosed with cancer, Neal's new townhouse still needed work done on the interior before he could move in.
In the meantime, he was renting an apartment in Forest City. Neal gave up the apartment when he was diagnosed and had to go to the hospital.
While he was in the Twin Cities for treatment, other Forest City firefighters worked on the flooring and cabinets, while their spouses painted the walls "so I could have a place to live when I came back," Neal said.
After seeing photos of the inside, he and his girlfriend, Madison Shreckengost, finally got to go inside on Jan. 3.
The fire department also decided to design and order shirts for its members to wear and show their support to Neal during his battle with cancer.
The shirt design includes the periwinkle ribbon for esophageal cancer, as well as the Maltese Cross, Neal's badge number, and his nickname, "Load."
After many people asked if they could by a shirt, the fire department decided to sell them, with all proceeds going to support Neal in his fight against cancer.
The shirts are being sold for $20 each. Orders are being taken through the Forest City Fire Department's Facebook page. The deadline to order a shirt is Jan. 19.
Neal is scheduled to undergo surgery on March 4 to have his tumor removed, followed by another six months of bi-monthly chemotherapy treatments.
"We take it one day at a time," Shreckengost said.
Neal, who played football at Waldorf University before transferring to the University of Northern Iowa, said he wasn't a total stranger to the Forest City community when he moved back recently.
However, he said he's overwhelmed by the level of support the town has given him in his time of need and can't thank everyone enough.
"It's really heartwarming," he said.
CLEAR LAKE | The unseasonable temperatures haven’t been favorable for one of Clear Lake’s popular outdoor events.
On Tuesday, the organizers of the Jack Helgren Memorial Race announced the event would be postponed until Feb. 8-9 on the event's Facebook page.
“It’s just too dangerous,” said Gary McVicker, one of the event’s organizers, referring to the poor ice conditions. The event was originally slated for next weekend.
The two-day event, also known as “The Jack,” draws hundreds of individuals who ride, race and show their snowmobiles at Clear Lake State Park.
McVicker said because of the event’s growth in recent years, snowmobilers — and spectators — not only race but park on the lake’s ice, which isn’t in “good shape” because of the recent high temperatures and wind.
“The wind is doing as much damage as the warm weather and the rain,” he said. “We had decent ice on that end of the lake down by the state park, but not near enough.”
This is the second time within the past three years the event has been postponed due to the weather.
“This is not anything new. That’s why we have a backup date,” McVicker said. “Hopefully, conditions will change.”
According to the National Weather Service, temperatures are forecast in the 30s with little, to no, snow next week, but the weeks after may mean something different for North Iowa.
“We can get along without the snow if we got ice, but it’d be great if we have snow,” he said.
The schedule will not change as a result of the date change.
The event — in its 10th year — was named after Jack Helgren, an area businessman, former snowmobile dealer and avid racer who died in 2009.
For more information about the event, visit www.thejackrace.com.
• Photos: The Jack 2018 at Clear Lake
HULL | Randy Feenstra watched last November as fellow Republican Steve King pulled out a narrow 3 percent win in Iowa's 4th District.
"Wow, we just about lost in the most heavily Republican district in Iowa," Feenstra, a state senator from Hull, recalled Wednesday in an exclusive interview with the Journal.
Feenstra, who has served in the Senate since 2009, said King's close call led him to consider a challenge to the nine-term congressional incumbent in the 2020 GOP primary. After getting his family's blessing over the Thanksgiving holiday, Feenstra said he spent the month of December speaking with a host of Republicans across the 4th District, which covers 39 northwest and North Iowa counties, including Cerro Gordo, Winnebago, Hancock, Wright, Franklin, Butler and Floyd.
Those conversations, Feenstra said, confirmed he would have the electoral and financial support for a successful campaign, which he publicly announced Wednesday.
"This isn't a whim," Feenstra told the Journal. "We weren't going to do this unless there was a true passion for change in the 4th District. From the farming community to business people, people said, 'It is time. We just need a fresh face.' "
In his official campaign announcement, Feenstra did not mention King by name but alluded to the many controversies surrounding the Republican congressman, an outspoken conservative whose staunch views on illegal immigration and support for politicians and parties with white supremacist ties, has drawn widespread criticism.
"Today, Iowa's 4th District doesn't have a voice in Washington because our current representative's caustic nature has left us without a seat at the table," Feenstra said. "We don't need any more sideshows or distractions. We need to start winning for Iowa families."
King's campaign responded forcefully to Feenstra's primary challenge just hours after he announced his campaign.
King's son, Jeff, who serves as his father's campaign chairman, said Feenstra told him in late December, 'I love your dad and I would never run against him.'
"Today, misguided political opportunism, fueled by establishment puppeteers, has revealed that Mr. Feenstra is easily swayed by the lies of the Left," King said in a statement. "From his statements, it appears that Mr. Feenstra offers Republican voters nothing but warmed over talking points from liberal blogs and failed Democratic candidates.”
By launching his campaign 17 months ahead of the June 2020 primary, Feenstra said he increased the chances of a one-on-one matchup with King. Feenstra said "multiple" prospective GOP candidates, after learning of his campaign in recent days, told him they would not run.
Still, former Sioux County Republican Party Chairman Mark Lundberg, of Orange City, said, as a few days ago, he knew of "strong interest from more than one" prospective GOP candidate, whom he did not identify.
Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said the state party would remain neutral in a King-Feenstra race, and Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds and Republican U.S. Sens. Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst also would stay on the sidelines. King served as one of the co-chairs for Reynolds' gubernatorial campaign last year.
“As we are in all legitimate primary contests, the Republican Party of Iowa will remain neutral in this race," Kaufmann said. "The good people of the 4th District will have the ultimate say."
Senate District 2, which Feenstra has represented for 10 years, includes Sioux County, Iowa's most Republican county, and two other ruby red Northwest Iowa counties, O'Brien and Cherokee.
Feenstra, who turns 50 Monday, has risen in his caucus to become assistant majority leader and chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax policy. Last session, Feenstra was a key architect of legislation that overhauled the state's individual income tax system and produced the largest tax cut in the state's history, according to GOP backers.
In his 4th District campaign web site launched Wednesday -- feenstraforcongress.com -- Fenstra also describes himself as a "leading voice defending life" and protecting Iowa's 2nd Amendment rights, as well as his role in passing the state's Voter ID law. He also cited his support for the state's ag-based economy, renewable fuels and main street businesses.
Feenstra, who has an undergraduate degree from Dordt College in Sioux Center and a MBA from Iowa State University, worked as a sales manager for the Foreign Candy Co. in Hull for seven years, and served as the city administrator in Hull for seven years before his election as Sioux County Treasurer in 2006. Two years later, he won his first term in the Senate.
Feenstra, who has won each of three terms unopposed, acknowledged Wednesday he is up to the task of a waging a highly-contested campaign for the first time in his political career.
King's controversial statements are well known to 4th District voters, Feenstra said, so he doesn't plan to spend time rehashing them in his campaign. Instead, he will continue to make the case he would be a more effective leader.
"I am not running against King. I am showing that a difference can be made," he said.
In his announcement, Feenstra cited his support for President Trump and the need for more "effective conservative leaders in Congress who will not only support his agenda, but actually get things done."
"What we've seen this past week from the new Democratic majority in Congress is appalling," Feenstra said. "They've made it clear that they want nothing less than to raise taxes to historic levels, ignore the rule of law and undue the successes made by President Trump."
Jeff King described Feenstra's campaign as "an obvious attempt to undermine an effective and leading congressional ally of the president." King noted Trump has referred to Steve King as "the world’s most conservative human being."
King said Feenstra's announcement Wednesday represents "the third attempt by the establishment in as many primary cycles to take the 4th District out of the hands of grassroots Republicans."
In 2014, one of Feenstra's former colleagues in the Senate, Rick Bertrand of Sioux City, mounted a late primary challenge to King, but lost 65 percent to 35 percent. King brushed off a challenge from another Sioux City Republican, Cyndi Hanson, 74 percent to 27 percent in the June 2018 primary.
In last fall's general election, King survived the closest race of of his career, 51 percent to 48 percent over Democrat J.D. Scholten, a former professional baseball player making his first run for public office.
Earlier this month, King announced plans to hold town hall meetings in each of the 39 counties in the 4th District, where registered Republican voters outnumber Democrats by more than 50,000.