Lake Panorama: A devoted chronicle of the first 50 years


usan Thompson, a seasoned journalist with deep ties to Lake Panorama, brings a gifted eye for detail and passion for Guthrie County and its people, current and former residents, dreamers and doers, to an exhaustively reported book, “Lake Panorama: The First 50 Years.”

The book, now available for sale, brings to life what former Gov. Terry Branstad, who has maintained a residence on the lake during his service as ambassador to China, describes as one of the more inspiring places in Iowa.

The hard-bound 112-page book is compiled with skilled narrative flow, eye-catching photography, much of it shot by Thompson herself, and graphics to describe how the lake evolved from a vision of foresighted leaders to a coveted spot in Iowa, one with 1,100 homes and taxable valuation of more than a quarter billion dollars.

“Our goal was to produce the definitive history of Lake Panorama’s first 50 years and I think Susan did it,” said John Rutledge, general manager of the Lake Panorama Association.

If you love the lake, this book will make you love it more. The book answers questions readers didn’t even know they had about Lake Panorama.

Thompson knows the people and territory well. She serves as executive director of the Friends of Lake Panorama, and was the first female president of the Lake Panorama Association board.

The book starts well before World War II with early discussions about the potential for a lake, talks fueled in large part by concern over flooding from the Middle Raccoon River. The first reported talk of a lake came in 1931, Thompson writes.

Some of the early promotion of the lake matches a top calling card today: it’s an hour’s drive from Des Moines. About half of the residents of the lake maintain full-time homes, giving the area a blended appeal of a vacation atmosphere surrounded by the neighborliness and familiarity of permanence — which comes through in Thompson’s book.

The book includes a generous account of Louie Hansen, a Stuart farm kid and World War II veteran whom Thompson describes as the “visionary behind Lake Panorama.” He bought the first lot in the new development in 1967. The now 1,700-member Lake Panorama Association would incorporate a year later. (Hansen Hill is named after him.)

The book gives a sense of the national reach of interest in the lake as early advocates went beyond local newspapers and radio to highly read publications like LIFE magazine — one of the more defining periodicals in American history that, at one point, had a circulation of 8.5 million.

The book, written in divisive national times, is a celebration of cooperation.

“From the early days of Lake Panorama, public cooperatives, government officials, outside businesses and entrepreneurs have supported the community’s growth and success,” Thompson writes.

This doesn’t mean there weren’t struggles. 

The book details financing of the lake and an array of projects through the years. In its more recent chapters, “Lake Panorama” focuses on efforts to protect the lake and advance environmental initiatives.

“Take a boat ride around Lake Panorama and it’s easy to forget the lake is simply a wider version of the Middle Raccoon River,” Thompson writes.

The river is both a lifeblood and challenge.

Since 1998, Thompson notes, the Rural Improvement Zone (RIZ) has allowed land owners to use part of their property tax dollars to fund erosion control. Dredging remains a focus of the RIZ.

More recently, the Lake Panorama RIZ developed a $700,000, 26-acre Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program wetland, built near the Cory Basin. The wetlands are designed to slow drainage from field and reduce nitrate flow into rivers and streams. The project drew a personal visit from U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.

An avid golfer herself, Thompson describes the development of the 18-hole Lake Panorama National and 9-hole Lake Panorama West.

Lake advocates are bullish on the next 50 years, but understand they face more competition today than in the early years of the lake.

“Each year, new property owners arrive at Lake Panorama, excited to experience all the community has to offer,” Thompson writes. “Some choose Lake Panorama as their retirement destination. An increasing number are younger couples with children, drawn by a small community, strong school system, and a wide range of recreational opportunities. Some had parents or grandparents who owned Lake Panorama property and childhood memories bring them back.”

How to get your copy of the book

The book titled “Lake Panorama – The First 50 Years” arrived at the Lake Panorama Association office July 19. The LPA financed the book’s production. Just over 1,000 books were printed, with about 350 of those purchased online in advance. 

People who ordered online and said they would pick up their books in person can do so at the LPA office. 

Books are available for purchase at the LPA and Lake Panorama National front desks, and Panorama West Clubhouse, during regular business hours. The cost is $35, which includes tax. Purchases can be made at these locations via cash, check or credit card. 

The book also is available at the Panora Library, with purchases there cash or check only. 

To make it possible for those interested to read the book without purchasing, the LPA delivered one free copy to each library in Guthrie County, which includes those in Bagley, Bayard, Casey, Guthrie Center, Jamaica, Menlo, Panora, and Stuart, plus a copy to the Linden Library in Dallas County.

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