City Notes: Rating RAGBRAI – Overnight stay boosts community

By Trudy O'Donnell, Charles City City Clerk

With my turn at City Notes this week, I am going to focus on the recent RAGBRAI event that was held in Charles City. As a member of the executive committee again this time around, I get firsthand knowledge of all of the hours put in by many volunteers to pull this event off.

Trudy O'Donnell, Charles City city clerk
Trudy O’Donnell, Charles City city clerk

It starts in late January when we find out that we are one of the overnight towns on this year’s route. We then attend a meeting in Des Moines in March with the previous year’s overnight cities and get a rundown of how their events turned out and good advice on what worked and what didn’t.

Of course, every town is different, so what worked well for one city might not necessarily go over so well with another one. But it sure gives us good ideas and someone to bounce things off if we just aren’t sure.

And trust me, there is a lot of second-guessing going on when we start putting our event together. It’s just one of those things that you have to make the decision and then do everything you can to make sure it’s a success.

We met monthly with the main RAGBRAI people and had countless other meetings in between with the local committees to be sure they were on top of their part of this event.

I feel this year’s RAGBRAI event was a huge success all the way around. We had expenses of approximately $110,000 and brought in approximately $138,000. The executive committee has voted to keep back $5,000 to $6,000 of the profits as seed money for the next time RAGBRAI comes through, which will be kept in a bank account separate from all other city funds.

With the remaining balance, they are refunding a portion of the local nonprofit vendors’ fees to show their appreciation for their dedication and hard work in providing the many meals and other amenities that are needed for those 20,000-plus guests.

The exciting news is that, with $20,000 of the profits, the committee will sponsor a local grant program. The grant awards must be used for a city project that is tangible, something the citizens and visitors can enjoy for many years to come.

As an example, we did the same thing in 2010 with our profits and that money went toward Victory Park, specifically the sculpture there.

The executive committee is accepting applications for these grants until Oct. 6. A date and time will then be determined for each applicant to meet with the committee to review their project and answer any questions the committee may have.

The maximum amount any project can receive is $5,000, so we have the opportunity to award funds to at least four worthy projects to help make them a reality. Applications can be picked up at either city hall or the Chamber office.

The committee felt it was important that the people responsible for making RAGBRAI such a success, the local residents and volunteers, were able to enjoy the fruits of their labor through these local projects. So please encourage anyone you know, that may be working on the type of project we are looking for, to apply for some funding.

We are looking forward to seeing all of the great things planned for Charles City!

I want to share one story with you from this year’s RAGBRAI.

A couple of weeks before the event, a gal named Joann and her friend stopped in to my office at City Hall. Joann is from Texas and this was her first time riding RAGBRAI at the young age of 80 years.

She has been a widow for several years and RAGBRAI had always been on her bucket list, so she decided now was the time to do it. She shared with me the story of how she met her husband and it sounds like they had a wonderful life together.

She had heard back from every overnight city except Charles City on which private residence she was going to be staying in for each night of the ride. Her friend she was visiting in Wisconsin decided to drive her to Charles City to see what could be done to secure her a place to stay on that Wednesday of the ride.

With a phone call, I found out she had just been placed with Norma Breitbach and when I called Norma, I got her answering machine. I offered to drive this gal by Norma’s house so she could at least know where she was going to be staying when she came to town.

As we walked out of my office, who should walk in the front door of City Hall but Norma herself! It was like it was meant to be. So, Norma got to visit with her future guest and they hit it off immediately.

I received a call from Joann the day RAGBRAI was in Charles City but I was busy helping a lady try to find her lost wallet and unfortunately was unable to meet with her to see how the ride had been so far.

She did tell me she was having the time of her life, so I have no doubt she finished the ride and made some great memories and friends.

I just wanted to give you all a glimpse at one of the types of people who do this ride every year. I know there are some duds that do the ride ,also, but they are far outnumbered by the people like Joann.

And the idea that Charles City gets the opportunity to host these wonderful people and personally show everyone what a great place Charles City is, well, it’s just beyond words.

The pride and satisfaction of seeing all of the volunteers in action to make this event a success is the best feeling in the world. And the fact that we can now help fund some local projects with the profits from RAGBRAI is just the icing on the cake.

We had some local businesses that donated toward our activities and many residents who opened their homes to riders for the night, and for that I am forever grateful.

For the volunteers who spent hours and hours prior and then working all day on July 26, there is not enough appreciation and gratitude to be shown for their hard work. Just suffice it to say that the Charles City area has the best people and the most beautiful scenery around!

Who knows, maybe one of those riders has been looking for a new place to call home and after staying here, may decide that Charles City is that place.

Or better yet, a business owner looking to expand may just decide that we have what it takes for them to open a new business here.

All I know is that I can’t expound enough on all of the positive things going on here in Charles City. But sometimes you need to physically show people what Charles City is all about and RAGBRAI did that in high fashion.

Thank you to everyone who had a part in this success.We couldn’t have done it without each and every one of you!