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Backroads North Iowa: They love living in Woden

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WODEN --- Paul Gerdes refers to a company letterhead when describing his hometown:

"Woden Lumber Company, Inc. Your friendly lumber company."

"It's just a real friendly atmosphere in town all the time," said Gerdes, an 80-something retiree who once ran the company.

"Maybe I just say that because I like it," he said.

Fellow Wodenites, some 242 strong, feel likewise.

"They all kind of look out for each other," said Carmen Fjetland, who offers groceries and consignment items at Carm's Country Store.

"It's kind of a nice feeling," she said. "I couldn't make it in the big city."

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They say it sounded like war - like Woden, the supreme Anglo-Saxon/Teutonic god himself - when workers used dynamite to break through frozen ground and build a railroad from Garner to Titonka in 1898.

Thus, a city was named.

In Woden the old "Klondike" train skirted a haystack and a house on a hill, winding "in and out, up and down, here and there, wherever a level place shows up," at up to 5 mph, according to a city history published for the centennial in 1999.

Most Wodenites claim German or Norwegian heritage.

They're hardworking, moving by a shrill whistle that blows at 7 a.m., noon and 6 p.m. daily except for Sundays.

"You don't even need a watch," said Mayor Kathy Brown, 50.

As a girl she rode her bike and played around Lindsey Creek, east of Woden.

"We had the run of the town," she said. "You came home when the whistle blew at 6, or in the summer when the street lights came on. And we knew which was the last one to come on."

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Gerdes said Wubben's Bar & Grill is "the best thing that ever happened to Woden."

"They serve excellent meals. Everything works out super-good that way," he said. "Boy, without a café in town, things are pretty bare."

Bruce Wubben, who owns the downtown spot with his wife, Robin, lives nearby in his beloved countryside.

"I don't like big towns," he said. "I've been to Los Angeles and I've been to San Diego and a number of big cities, and it never impressed me."

Retired lumberyard owner Beryl Buffington and his wife, Sharon, lived in Britt before returning to her hometown of Woden.

"This is home," said Buffington, a member of the first Woden-Crystal Lake High School graduating class, in 1960. "We've lost a few of our amenities, but we're still a viable community."

He laments the 2009 closure of Woden Elementary School. The preschool, kindergarten and first grade now operate in Crystal Lake.

"I hate to see the small schools disband like that, but somebody's got to draw that line in the sand," Buffington said. "It's a tough pill to swallow. But what are you going to do?"

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You can find clothes, books, videos, groceries, knick-knacks and smiles at Carm's.

The coffee's always on.

"I like this better than Wal-Mart," Kathy Brown said. "If you can't find it here, you don't need it."

Fjetland and Marge Squier have spent years in the grocery/consignment business.

"It's in our blood," Fjetland said. "It is kind of interesting when you get somebody in here from Osage or Clear Lake. They say, ‘We'll be back.'

"You find a lot of things in a consignment shop, I'll tell ya."

Carm's provides "the basics" to residents and visitors, Paul Gerdes said.

"She has a lot of business there, too," he said. "I hope we can keep that."

 

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