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IC, UI remember last year’s flood

BY CHRIS CURTLAND | JUNE 16, 2009 7:11 AM

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Sporting a “We Care” button on his lapel, 85-year-old Frank Cheng — a professor emeritus in radiology and a member of the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce — said he worked tirelessly to “help the community remain intact” through the 2008 flood, though there were certain limits.

“I stayed away from sandbagging — I am an old man,” he said, smiling.

Featuring a pianist and cellist, appearances by state officials, and multimedia displays of flood images, the event drew a crowd that wrapped around the Old Capitol to celebrate the motto: “Remember. Reimagine. Rebuild.”

UI President Sally Mason gave a short introduction, with politicians clustered in pristine white chairs at her feet.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, sent a letter and an employee to read it. The flood showed “nature at its worst but Iowans at their best,” he wrote.

A photo collection illustrated both points. One image showed an Amish man — in suspenders and a straw hat — filling sandbags in a crowd of volunteers. Another featured Mason working on renovations in Cedar Rapids. Water lapped at the top of “students crossing” signs. A keg floated by the IMU.

Eric Rossow, a recent UI graduate who studied political science, tugged a laugh from the mostly subdued crowd by recounting the ups and downs of disaster prevention; some highlights were frequent free snacks, a “great workout,” and teaching Mason how to fill a sandbag.

“I got to throw sand at a university president,” he quipped.

UI senior Sean Schminkey, who attended the ceremony, had his own flood stories. He participated in flood cleanup at the IMU last year, noting the “resilience” of those who showed up as early as 6 a.m. to work.

“I was glad to help anyway I could,” the English major said. “Plus, I basically got paid to take a sledgehammer to the whole place.”

Though he sat out the physical labor, Cheng, a Renaissance man of sorts with his diverse work in the community, said most of his endeavors were dedicated to the Small Business Flood Assistance Program.

The City Councils of Iowa City and Coralville and the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce created the program to distribute funds from each community to eligible businesses in the area.

“I tried to tell the small businesses: ‘Come back.’ If not, it would affect the vigor of the whole community,” he said.

State officials applauded the UI’s role in recovery. A poster exhibit detailed the dozen federally funded studies UI researchers are conducting to learn more about flood-related phenomena.

Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, lauded the development of the Iowa Flood Center, an organization dedicated to flood research, prediction, and mitigation.

Rounding out the day of remembrance, Mason encouraged the crowd to stay for a musical program featuring piano, cello, and snacks for the audience.

“What a difference a year makes,” she said, with Iowa Avenue stretching down to the Iowa River as a backdrop.

Considering that some of the street was under water a year ago, what a difference indeed.


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