Around the Bend

By Aaron Putze

Curiosity is a good thing.

“What’s for dinner?” “Do I really have to be home at 10?” and the ol’ standby, “But why?” were popular questions for me as a youth.

As I’ve matured, so have the queries. That’s probably a good thing given I’m 25 years into a career in ag communications, the last nine as communications director of the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA).

Questions are useful and powerful. They’re a tool to gather information. I use them to acquire insights from those in the know on topics as varied as global oilseed and meat demand, current affairs, food science, international diplomacy and trade. Some questions are directed at peers and colleagues, others to people I admire and respect. Many more get served up to my children, Garrett, Grant and Jaelyn.

Asking questions can take you on journeys and open doors. For me, questions combined with a love of writing in high school led to authoring a weekly column titled “My Thoughts” in the West Bend Journal. These opportunities quickly evolved to three years on the staff of the University of Northern Iowa’s student newspaper staff (including the role of editor my junior year) and subsequent “real-world” employment in ag communications and public relations with respected farm organizations.

Most importantly (and rewarding), asking questions has brought me closer to people – farmers weathering good times and bad, governors and state legislators, university presidents, sports stars and heroes, business and association leaders, reporters and fellow authors.

Launching a blog was never in my plans. Neither was authoring a book (or two). But once again, all the credit goes to asking questions.

Like the one posed to Iowa Hawkeyes’ great Chuck Long shortly after he was named executive director of the Iowa Sports Foundation (ISF) in late 2014. Representing ISA as an ISF sponsor, I found myself at Chuck’s welcoming reception held on a cold, dreary December evening in downtown Des Moines.

A fan of Chuck’s but never having the opportunity to meet, I was thrilled with the opportunity to spend time with him.

Not long into the conversation, I was instantly intrigued to learn of his humble upbringing in Wheaton, Illinois, playing for the run-dominant Wheaton North High School Falcons and receiving just three scholarship offers to play Division I college football (one from Iowa; the others from Northern Illinois and Northwestern).

Then came details of proceeding to take snaps in five college bowl games, setting every Iowa passing record, finishing runner up for the 1985 Heisman trophy runner-up and being selected in the 1st-round of the ‘86 NFL Draft pick (pick No. 12 by the Detroit Lions.

As the crowd thinned (I was one of the last to make an appearance… not a surprising admission to those who know me well!) and the hour devours grew cold, I wrapped our conversation with an off-the-cuff question: “Chuck, where’s your book?” Much to my surprise, he admitted one didn’t exist and didn’t entirely dismiss the idea, albeit a random one.

The west branch of the Des Moines River, just a stone’s throw from West Bend and a popular fishing destination during my youth.

The west branch of the Des Moines River, just a stone’s throw from West Bend and a popular fishing destination during my youth.

Several months and a few conversations later, his biography was in the works and in November 2017, “Destined for Greatness – The Story of Chuck Long and Resurgence of Iowa Hawkeyes’ Football” was published. For nearly two years now, Chuck and I have crisscrossed the state and country participating in nearly 150 programs and book signings. That first book led to a second – “YOU Are Destined for Greatness” featuring stories of inspiration and empowerment as shared by more than two dozen icons of agriculture, business, education, sports, non-profits, law enforcement and media.

Questions. Did I say they’re powerful? The answer is a resounding, “Yes!”

Which brings me to Around the Bend.

The blog title is rooted in my years growing up on a soybean, pig and corn farm just a stone’s throw from West Bend (pardon the pun, but the town’s best known for the remarkable Grotto that can be found there).

Not far away from our pig pens and feedlot was the west fork of the Des Moines River. I spent a lot of time there as a youth, traversing its banks and channels with best friend Robert Cast (now a teacher at Manning High School in Manning, Iowa).

Our luck with the rod and reel was never the best, but eternal optimism ruled the day. We always believed our fortunes would change if we’d only navigate the next bend. We reasoned that certainly, with just a bit more exploration, we’d find schools of catfish and northern with big appetites.

Strangely, such prized fishing pools never materialized, but that didn’t stop us from always wondering what opportunity – and monster fish – lurked around the next bend.

While much has changed since those simpler times 35 years ago, most things haven’t. I still love the outdoors, travel to West Bend as often as I can, reminisce about those slower, simpler times and relish the chance to have my line in the water.

I’m also still curious and optimistic that what lies ahead hold enormous potential if only we’re willing to ask questions, proceed with a positive attitude and put forth effort.

Around the Bend embodies my background and frame of mind.

Most importantly, the stories to be found here will be about us. I’m a simple person trying to live a simple yet rewarding life in Waukee, Iowa, with my beautiful wife Crystal and our children. Perhaps you can relate. I have good days and not so good days. I’m balancing work life and home life; parenting children while assisting with aging loved ones. I have lots of room for improvement – as a husband, father, son, brother, uncle, cousin and co-worker. I need to volunteer more, give more, pray more and ask for forgiveness more. I have doubts about where this world is going yet I’m enthusiastically grateful to be alive on a planet right now, at this time.

My intent through writing is to pose questions that challenge us to be more, live more and give more. How do the simple things we encounter each day call us to be better in service to our families, neighbors, co-workers, friends and strangers? Authoring Around the Bend will motivate me to prioritize and think bigger; to give more of myself and be in the moment more often as life continually tugs at us to move faster.

Glad you’re here and curious, too. Welcome to Around the Bend. Let the journey begin.

Aaron Putze