Iowa's MVP: Jack Lashier
By BRANDON HURLEY
*** For a slideshow on Jack Lashier, head over here. ****
A road trip spanning more 37,000 miles and three months sparked the evolution of one of Iowa’s most enthusiastic historians.
Jack Lashier, a 1966 Jefferson High graduate and 2017 Bell Tower Hall of Fame inductee is the state’s encyclopedia. No, seriously. Try to slip something by him or ask him about a key play of a state championship game, Lashier more than likely will break down the moment for you. He’s charismatic, smooth and well-groomed. He’s a sports nerd minus the untucked shirt, the crinkled notepad and the broken bifocals. Lashier looks the part of a pristine banker, dressed to the nines in a clean-pressed suit with slicked back white hair but he also retains information like an average stubble-haired teenager.
The long-time Iowa Hall of Pride director exudes everything an Iowan stands for and helped immortalize some of the state’s most legendary stories.
Lashier has interviewed more than 330 Iowa legends, including the NBA’s Harrison Barnes and Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg. He’s also chatted with legendary Olympian and wrestling coach Dan Gable and even opera singer Simon Estes. All those lengthy conversations yet he still found time to attend hundreds of high school tournaments throughout the last two decades.
The 69-year old is nearing the end of a storied career after spending 19 years at the helm of the Des Moines-based organization. Though he’s turning the page into retirement, the legacy he’s established will most likely live on forever.
The Iowa Hall of Pride, established in 2005, has blossomed into an interactive museum in downtown Des Moines adjacent to HyVee Hall. It depicts the stories of Iowa athletes, students and professionals through exhibits, video clips, game worn jerseys, memorabilia, interactive games and even trivia questions.
The roller coaster ride of the late 1990s that ensued during the initial stages of the Iowa Hall of Pride ignited Lashier’s epic road trip – onto Iowa’s highways, interstates and county roads, visiting each of the 403 schools Iowa had at the time. It took nine years for the Iowa Hall of Pride to completely come to life as the organization struggled with funding, general excitement and a permanent location for quite some time.
The concept – which would become more than just a typical museum – eventually caught on thanks to Lashier’s never-say-die attitude.
“In a lot of ways, Jack was the perfect guy for that,” long-time friend and Greene County Historical Society board member Chuck Offenburger said. “He already knew a lot of people because of his own experience in schools and sports and his dad’s experience. He was well connected to the high school scene. He’s always been a great sales man and energetic.”
Lashier’s journey across the state was rooted deep within one of those rural Iowa communities – a true love for the midwestern state sprouted right in Jefferson.
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Lashier braced himself for culture shock as a naive fourth grader in the summer of 1958.
His family had decided to move from Lytton to Jefferson. The youngster was a bit weary of the relocation, expecting the hustle and bustle to be a little too fast paced for his liking. A welcoming community would put his doubts to bed for good.
“I remember thinking how scared I was to go to Jefferson because it was such a big town,” Lashier said. “How I would fit in, would people like me?”
He quickly fell in love with Jefferson, crediting the town for shaping his morals.
He thrived off the community togetherness. The elementary student rode his bike everywhere. He played all sorts of pick up games with his friends and even christened the new Little League field. Lashier also played football, basketball and baseball at Jefferson High, but it was his work from the sidelines that would ultimately get him recognized.
Though he hasn’t lived permanently in Jefferson since his high school days, Lashier holds the town in high regards. The community reciprocates the love as well, honoring him with a Bell Tower Hall of Fame induction on June 9. A ceremony that Lashier graciously attended along with several family members.
“When I look back on it, I couldn’t have grown up in a better, more loving community,” Lashier said. “I got to do everything. Growing up in small town Iowa is the best way to grow up. I am so honored that I was selected [as a hall of fame member]. I relish it.”
Lashier graduated from the University of Northern Iowa and later taught in Marshalltown. He married his high school sweetheart, Kathy and the two are enjoying their 46th year of marriage. Together, the pair raised two sons, Andy and Jackson.
The Lashier’s lived for more than 20 years in Marshalltown when Bernie Saggau came calling, the brain child of the Iowa Hall of Pride.
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The Iowa Hall of Pride was an idea kept in captivity by legendary Iowa High School Athletic Association executive director Bernie Saggau. The 38-year veteran and public speaker, who created the football playoff system and basketball classification, conceived the idea in 1995.
Saggau wanted a way to encapsulate all the wonderful things Iowans have done over the years. His curiosity had piqued over the years with the IHSAA – he wanted to know why these kids remained so humble. So he tapped Lashier to join him on the journey in 1996 while speaking in Marshalltown. The former NFHS president wanted to key in on the work ethic of young Iowans, their values and why they turn out to be successful, generation after generation.
Lashier’s father, Richard, a former Jefferson superintendent, introduced the pair several years prior, was intrigued by Saggau’s proposal. The excitement quickly grew within and it didn’t take much to convince Lashier to hop aboard.
The duo was off and running, creating the perfect partnership, striving to detail the stories they both loved so dearly.
Lashier’s commitment to the project was sparked by a infatuation for his home state.
“I always had this love affair with Iowa and never knew why,” Lashier said. “I had several chances to leave the state and wanted to stay. I loved my time in Jefferson.”
Lashier’s strenuous road trip spawned from a failed attempt to generate interest in the yet-to-be-formed organization.
The initial response to the infantile Iowa Hall of Pride was quite discouraging, to say the least. Saggau and Lashier wanted to create information points for each of the schools in Iowa inside the yet-to-be established building and sent out informational brochures to each state high school. But there seemed to be little interest – only three of the 400 plus schools even bothered to respond. It was time to ramp up awareness.
Lashier felt the schools didn’t fully understand what they wanted to accomplish, but he had to show them what they would be missing. So in October 2001, Lashier embarked on a journey that would change his life forever. He visited all the state’s schools in just 87 days, sharing the dream of the Iowa Hall of Pride.
The road trip created tremendous momentum.
‘I’m sure no one else has ever done it,” Offenburger said. “Not [former IHSAA director] Rick Wulkow, [current IHSAA executive director] Alan Beste or any of those guys Jack just got out there and did it. He got the whole state excited about the project.”
Lashier knew the role high school sports played in the fabric of a given community. It’s a notion that continues to resonate across the state today and he wanted to capture that within the Iowa Hall of Pride.
“I’ve always been a believer, and this is right out of Jack Lashier’s playbook, high school activities, I’m certainly including music and the arts in addition to sports, are more important in Iowa than any other state,” Offenburger said. “In at least two-thirds of our communities, high school school is the entertainment, cultural and educational center of our communities and they tie our towns together. That’s why I think we have more coverage of high school sports.”
Iowa Hall of Pride staff members embarked on their own road trip as well. They visited the Professional Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, the Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio and the NCAA Hall of Champions in Kansas City looking for ideas.
Today, the Iowa Hall of Pride hosts more than 400 field trips for students all over the state. Lashier and his colleagues put on a 90-minute presentation chock full of video clips and interactive activities, jam packed with game worn jerseys, pictures, statues, trivia questions and games. It’s more of an informational playhouse then a museum.
“There’s nothing else like that around the country,” Offenburger said. “Which I think is appropriate.”
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An Iowan embodies the true athlete. The careers celebrated inside the Iowa Hall of Pride each tell a captivating story of success.
“The thing that is most impressive to me, is none of these people believe they are special,” Lashier said. “They are just hard workers, they have these gifts. They share a common thread – they are Iowans who have gone on to be successful in all walks of life.”
Former All-American tight end, NFL Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion, Dallas Clark is one of Iowa’s most iconic success stories. A person who leaps off the page in Lashier’s book.
“He was on a 2-8 team in high school as QB in Zearing, Iowa. He goes to play tight end at the University of Iowa, a position he had never played, and plays in the NFL and catches passes from Peyton Manning,” Lashier beamed. “After his career, instead of going to New York or LA or some where like that, he comes back to Livermore.”
The tale of two-time PGA Tour major champion, Zach Johnson also represents Iowa extremely well. As a golfer on the rise, Johnson never held the top spot on his Iowa City Regina High School team or for the Drake Bulldogs. He even had to fight for a spot on the tour. Yet, he defied the long odds and became a star on the PGA Tour.
“He’s just a kid who is a grinder. He’s a fantastic ambassador for Iowa and he’s not a showboat,” Lashier said. “There are so many stories like that, I’ve loved getting to meet all these people and [see] the way they’ve handled themselves.”
Lashier is a success story himself, brushing off many dead ends, set backs and outright rejections. But here he is, nearing the age of 70, finally receiving well due recognition from his peers and colleagues.
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Lashier’s induction into the Bell Tower Hall of Fame during the annual festival could also represent a lifetime achievement award as well.
His 93-year old mother, his sisters from Denver and North Dakota and the rest of his family and friends greeted Lashier on a hot, muggy Friday evening.
“It was surreal. I’ve never been honored by a hall of fame in anything,” Lashier said. “The high point for me was sitting on the plaza stage. How hard Carole Custer has worked to keep it thriving, as I looked out, my whole family was sitting in front of me.”
Emotions and memories came flooding back to him.
“These were all people that I had grown up with,” Lashier said. “[It was] such a heart-warming, amazing feeling.”
The thrill of high school athletics won’t stray too far beyond Lashier’s reach in retirement. He’s teamed up with his brother Bob and son Andy at LRI, a company that creates large format graphics for high schools. He’ll stay in touch with superintendents, athletic directors and sports programs to help create logos and enhance the presentation of gyms, football fields and even buses.
It’s a flexible schedule compared to what he’s used to. While with the Iowa Hall of Pride, he’d often work days that were long beyond the usual 8 to 5 realm. The organization hosts 65 after hour events each year and Lashier attends Saturday tournaments, state events and everything between. The state’s ambassador would have to attend most, if not all those happenings.
You’d think the decades spent hustling would make Lashier want to hang it all up for good and relax. Nope. He’s still giving tours to the hundreds of Iowans that visit the facility each day with as much bravado and passion as day one. He’ll continue his role until his official retirement at the end of July.
“I’m more of a guy that enjoys the rhythm of life,” the grandfather of six said. “I like having a schedule, I wouldn’t be great playing golf, this is what I need to do.”
Staying busy fits his personality. He never takes much time to worry about himself. There’s no long to-do list waiting for him in retirement. Lashier’s driving force comes back to one thing – collaborating with others.
“I’ve had this amazing energy and passion for work. I don’t have a great desire to travel all over,” Lashier said. “My motor has [always] been that I love people. I want them to be proud of what I’ve done.”
The trials and tribulations of seeing the Iowa Hall of Pride through is what Lashier will treasure the most. The journey made the finish even that much sweeter.
“He’s an MVP citizen in Iowa,” Offenburger said. “Simply because of his knowledge and commitment to Iowa kids. He really understands what the state of Iowa means to it’s young people.”
Taylor Anderson, a teacher and coach out of Zearing, Iowa is set to succeed Lashier as Iowa Hall of Pride director. The former Ankeny coach studied at Wartburg College and has a passion for his state’s history, not unlike his predecessor.
He even established his own history of Iowa curriculum.
“He’s a guy that we had our eye on because, as a teacher, he created those classes ‘Why Iowa,’” Lashier said. “He talks about Iowa history and everything that kids should know about Iowa.”
Anderson fits the mold Lashier was in search of. A knowledgeable, yet extremely passionate Iowan.
“As I was thinking about leaving, we needed a person that can talk to kids from second grade to high school,” Lashier said. “This is a guy that people know is a genuine Iowan.”
Anderson is a story teller, in the same vein as Lashier. He’s got the pedigree and the passion.
“He’s a son in law of Rick Wulkow,” Offenburger said. “He’s got a zillion stories.”
Anderson is set to lead one of the world’s most unique organizations into the future once Lashier steps to the side at the end of July.