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In the spirit: 600 enjoy Community Christmas dinner in Mason City

MASON CITY | A traditional Christmas dinner at home with family isn’t possible for everyone.

For about 600 North Iowans, their Christmas meal came through the kindness and generosity of volunteers at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Mason City.

“To me it’s part of the Christmas spirit. It’s giving to others,” said Ron Rachut, a church member who spent his holiday ladling gravy.

The Mason City Ecumenical Christmas Dinner has jumped from congregation to congregation for decades.

The meal, which is free to the public, is made possible thanks to area businesses, organizations and individuals who make monetary and in-kind donations.

North Iowa Area Community College Food Service prepared the turkey and ham. 

Our Saviour’s teamed with Galilean Lutheran in Clear Lake and St. Paul’s Lutheran in Mason City to coordinate and staff this year's dinner.

“This is Our Saviour’s first go at this,” said Rachut, “You can only do so much planning, and the rest is kind of by the seat of your pants.”

All appeared to be running smoothly. Families and friends sat and talked. People shook hands with people they knew. 

Volunteers busily worked the floor handing out slices of pie and refilling drinks.

Pat Harnack, of Manly, had just finished his meal of turkey, ham and all the fixings. He enjoyed the food, but for him it was more about spending time with others.

“It’s a real joy to come out and enjoy the camaraderie and the festivities of the Christmas season,” he said.

Photos: Tuba Christmas 2017

Photos: TubaChristmas 2017

Months after winning ‘The Amazing Race’ bring marriage, baby for Lake Mills native

LAKE MILLS | The adventure continues for the Lake Mills native who won “The Amazing Race” in February.

Cody Nickson, 33, a Lake Mills High School graduate who now lives in Texas, and his wife, Jessica Graf, 27, are expecting their first child together in April.

“Every day, Jessica and I thank the Lord for all the blessings He gives us. And now we are blessed with the greatest gift ... a child. We are beyond pleased,” he said on Instagram in September. “Thank you for all who have stood with us in support … and thank you to those who have opposed us to make all the victories worth it. I’m looking forward to Jessica being my wife and the matriarch of the Nickson establishment in Texas. What an incredible year.”

The couple met in 2017 when they competed in the 19th season of “Big Brother,” a CBS show that follows a group of people living together in a house outfitted with high-definition cameras and microphones recording their every move.

In February, Nickson and Graf competed — and won a $1 million prize — in “The Amazing Race,” a CBS show in which 11 teams of two travel around the world competing in mental and physical challenges at various destinations.

After the challenges are completed, the teams are given their next destination. Teams that lag the farthest behind are gradually eliminated, and the first team to arrive at the final destination wins the prize.

The couple, who competed as Team Big Brother, were among four teams to race through Hong Kong and San Francisco. They crossed the finish line first during the finale.

After 10 countries, 21 cities and more than 29,000 miles, “The Amazing Race” host Phil Keoghan crowned the couple the winners of the 30th race around the world.

On Feb. 15, Nickson, who served in the U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps, posted a video on Instagram of him proposing to Graf at Runyon Canyon Park in Los Angeles.

“I found my true love, I got the ring, only one thing left to do,” he wrote.

The couple wed on Oct. 14 in an outdoor ceremony at Saddlerock Ranch Winery in Malibu, and the next day, they found out they were having a baby girl. She’s due April 11.

“It’s actually 3.5 months left and boy has time flown by! Baby M is as active as ever in the womb. She loves staying up late and waking up early so pray for us!” Graf wrote in a Dec. 20 Instagram post. “We can’t wait to meet her and tell her all about how Mommy and Daddy met and fell in love.”

• Photos: Lake Mills native wins Season 30 of 'The Amazing Race'

Lake Mills native wins Season 30 of 'The Amazing Race'

Iowa governor’s salary unchanged for over a decade, falls in rankings

CEDAR RAPIDS — Throughout her campaign for a four-year term, Gov. Kim Reynolds often touted paycheck growth as evidence that her administration’s policies were benefiting Iowans.

On the campaign trail, she cited reports that Iowans “have seen three straight quarters of wage growth.”

However, that doesn’t apply to her paycheck. The salary for Iowa’s governor — $130,000 a year — hasn’t changed since 2005.

Back then, after Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack approved a 17.3 percent increase as part of a boost for all state-level elected officials, Iowa’s governor salary was the 27th highest in the nation. That was down from 16th a decade earlier.

In 2008, his Democratic successor, Gov. Chet Culver, vetoed legislation to boost the governor’s salary by 9.7 percent to $142,570 and provided double-digit pay increases for other statewide elected officials.

Today, unchanged for 13 years, the salary Reynolds is paid is 32nd out of 50.

Despite that, don’t look for the governor or other statewide constitutional officers to get a raise anytime soon.

“I did not hear that concern at the doors” during the campaign, said House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, take a laissez faire approach to the issue.

“We all get into public service knowing what the salary is,” he said. “It’s more about service than it is a career. The governor and lieutenant governor ran for office knowing what that salary would be. They’re here to serve, not just to collect a paycheck.”

Upmeyer agrees, but said salaries shouldn’t be ignored.

“I never want these jobs to be something people do for the money,” she said, but neither does she want the governor nor other elected officials to have to take a financial hit to serve. “We want people to keep stepping up to do these things.”

California, the nation’s most populous state, the governor’s salary tops the field at $195,806, and Pennsylvania is less than $1,000 behind at $194,850, according to the Council of State Government’s annual Book of the States.

Maine has the lowest gubernatorial salary — at $70,000, it is one of five states where the governor earns less than $100,000.

The average salary for a governor is nearly $140,000, according to the Council of State Government.

The Iowa governor also is in the middle of the pack when compared to neighboring states. In Illinois, where multimillionaire Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner will be succeeded by billionaire Democrat J.B. Pritzker, the governor’s salary is $177,412. That’s tops in a seven-state survey by the nonpartisan Iowa Legislative Services Agency.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, who is a part-owner of the Chicago Cubs and has a reported net worth of nearly $50 million, is the lowest paid governor in the Midwest, earning $105,000.

The survey found that Iowa’s lieutenant governor’s salary of $103,212 is second-highest among the seven states. The attorney general’s salary of $123,669 is third-highest. Like the lieutenant governor, the other statewide elected officials are paid $103,212. That makes the secretary of state third-highest, treasurer fourth-highest and secretary of agriculture seventh of seven.

About 2,750 state employees earn more than that governor’s $130,000 salary.

Once technologically illiterate, Tom Vilsack learns email and more

CEDAR RAPIDS — Maybe an old dog can learn new tricks.

Fifteen years ago, then-Gov. Tom Vilsack admitted he didn’t send or receive emails.

“I’m 52 years old, and I don’t know much about technology,” the two-term Democrat said in 2003 when it was discovered Vilsack’s lack of computer skills probably contributed to his office’s incomplete response to a request for emails about a controversial pay plan for one of his department heads.

“I don’t even know how to send a response to an email, that’s how technologically deficient I am,” he said at the time.

Fast-forward to 2018, and the former USDA secretary who is president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Dairy Export Council recently was at Google’s Chicago offices earlier this month promoting greater use of technology for food production, processing and distribution.

And he has apps — close to 100 on his phone, Vilsack said while being interviewed as part of the discussion of artificial-intelligence applications in food systems.

“Too many,” he said, explaining that they “basically blur the picture of my two grandkids.”

It’s one thing to have the apps, it’s another thing to use them, Vilsack said, “but I use most of them.”

That includes some “really interesting” weather apps and those for his favorite sports teams.

“I’m a news junkie, so I have virtually all of the political apps and publications that you would expect,” he said.

He and his wife, Christie, “are constantly playing each other in Scrabble.”

“I win once a month,” he said.

He also has podcast apps for listening while exercising.

For the most part, Vilsack said, he uses apps, such as games and puzzles, in a personal way

“For those of you who have small children or for those of you who are grandparents, it is a lifesaver to have these games that kids can play,” Vilsack told the audience.

He has boundaries, however. Vilsack tried Facebook, “but I didn’t think anyone would be particularly interested in what I was doing every day.”

It appears his last Facebook post was in June 2016.