Des Moines County Republicans

Richard’s Ritings – one-hundred eighteen

It hurts a lot, and takes time to get over it, but I will eventually. What’s that you ask, it is the death of one of those special folks you don’t meet a lot of during your lifetime, and they stick out like a sore thumb because they are so fantastic. This person is Clay Fulknier, one of my heroes.

Clay came to Burlington in the early 1980’s as the new director of the Chamber of Commerce. One of the first things he did was organize a membership campaign and I decided to join, even though my business was in Mediapolis.

Soon after joining, Clay made a call on me, in my office and just visited for a while and we discussed problems with the present Chamber and how it should be fixed, and just general visiting about the condition of Southeast Iowa, etc.

Next thing you know, I get a call from one of the folks who was helping Clay with the “reorganization” plan and asked me if I would like to be on one of their committees. I finally said yes, and I gotta tell you that started a ten-year ride of volunteerism, the likes of which I did not know existed. It was a great ten years.

Clay was a “genius” in the field of growing areas, positioning communities and all the other stuff you need to know about Chamberism.

It has been so many years ago as I look back on it now, and on top of that a brain aneurism in my case will cause some of the facts here to be inaccurate, but I hope not too bad.

Clay rolled up his sleeves and dug in, with his band of volunteers almost immediately.

Seems to me like one of the first propositions was to stop the destruction of the Port of Burlington building on the river front.

Clay had the foresight to see it was a sturdy building and could be used for a number of events. I remember Lowell Bauer, mayor of Burlington at the time, giving a speech at the dedication of the building as a “welcome center”.

Last year the Port of Burlington Welcome Center had 10,615 visitors which included folks from 48 states and 23 countries around the world, as well as 175,016 pageviews  on their website. I NEVER invisioned anything like that – but Clay did.

During this period in the development of Southeast Iowa, the folks in Mt. Pleasant were running away with everything. They had a really ambitious guy by the name of Ernie Hayes and he was moving in businesses and manufacturing plants, the final one being the Wal-Mart distribution center. In fact, he was so successful it looked to us like Mt. Pleasant was going to be THE shining light in Southeast Iowa and Burlington (including West Burlington) was going to be running behind, but Clay didn’t.

He was looking at the 300 acres or so that Caterpillar Tractor Co., had purchased, supposedly to erect a manufacturing plant here, but canned that idea as the Illinois legislature backtracked on their tax package and Caterpillar agreed to stay in Illinois.

Now there was a project – one which lasted several years as Clay and his band of volunteers worked day and some nights to get everything put together.

Since the property was in Burlington and West Burlington both, there were meetings with the West Burlington council and their legal representatives and then the Burlington council and their legal representatives and then on to Caterpillar and their stable of legal representatives, which were never in much of a hurry to get the job done.

But Clay was persistent and would not let anyone quit or give up on such an important project as an industrial park.

I don’t remember for sure, but seems like it took about three years from the original meeting where Clay said “I’ve got a dream”, until the dedication of the property by Governor Branstad.

And that was a problem also. We had set the date for the dedication ceremonies, had rented the tent and it was erected on the site (which was planted in corn or beans) near the windshield factory.

It had rained and rained, but determined to keep the date and the show on the road, Clay had wood chips hauled in by the truck loads so visitors could mingle inside the tent and around the outside without sinking into the mud.

But it kept raining.

At the last minute it was obvious we had to do something different so we asked the folks at the windshied factory, at that time being run by Mel Schwartz, if there was any way we could use his building for the Governor’s visit.

Mel told us we could use the south end of the building where the cafeteria was, but we would have to move out the equipment (vending machines, tables, etc.) to make room.

Volunteers worked most of the night getting everything moved out, cleaned up, stage built, PA system up and working and decorations put up for the visit from Gov. Branstad.

I am running out of space, but the event went off under clear skies, the only decent day we had experienced in weeks.

There are tons of other things that were born and are still up and running, all due to Clay’s knowledge and experience.

Some of those (and I am forgetting more, I am sure) included the Main Steet program, Grade-A plus, Convention and Tourism Bureau, lobbying trips to Washington, D. C., trips to the Capitol building in Des Moines to lobby for this program or that and a helping hand with any other project that needed a boost.

No, there will never be another Clay Fulknier, because God threw away the pattern, but the folks who live in this area of our state, even twenty-five years later are enjoying the fruits of Clay’s labor and the work of his able assistants who were volunteers in the truest sense of the word, never getting paid or reimbursed for gasoline, hotel or motel bills, wear and tear on vehicles, etc.

Rest in peace Clay.

Write me at if you wish.

(This article is the product of the author and is not associated with or submitted by the Des Moines County Republican Central Committee nor any other organization)