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HISTORIC ROOTS

Noteworthy Residents

If you don’t know where you come from, you don’t know where you are.

~ James Burke

Fran Allison | b. 1908, d. 1989

La Porte City was the hometown of comedienne and singer Frances “Fran” Allison. She starred on the long-running national radio variety show, “Don McNeil’s Breakfast Club,” and later on the popular television program, “Kukla, Fran and Ollie.” Both shows were based in Chicago.

 

“Kukla, Fran and Ollie” featured puppet characters (Kukla and Ollie), with whom Allison interacted in a completely unscripted format. The show was developed for children, but soon after its launch in 1947, it was viewed by more adults than children. After the show concluded in 1957, the three main characters (nicknamed the “Kuklapolitans”) continued to perform in other productions over several decades.   

 

Allison made her break into show business when local resident Ben Chappel (whose father built the Chappel and Young building on Main Street) heard her sing at a community alumni banquet. Chappel arranged an audition for her, which launched a highly successful radio and television career.

 

Allison Avenue in the Sweet’s Addition on the south side of town is named in honor of Fran Allison, who passed away in 1989 at age 81.

Patrick Bedard | b. 1941

Automobile racer and automotive journalist Patrick Bedard was born in La Porte City in 1941. Bedard built a storied career in auto racing, most notably competing in the 1983 and 1984 Indianapolis 500 races. The 1984 race would be his last as a professional driver, as he was involved in a colossal accident in which he hit a sidewall and flipped his car several times – but remarkably survived.

 

In addition to racing, Bedard began working as a journalist for Car and Driver Magazine in 1968. Following his retirement as a competitive driver, he continued his employment with the magazine. Bedard was issued press passes to major racing events and automobile shows nationwide. He wrote a regular column for Car and Driver in which he explored innumerable aspects of the automotive industry with and a devotion to detail and a unique, engaging writing style. He retired from the post in 2009 after nearly 42 years with the magazine.

 

In his retirement, Bedard pursued his passion for cars by collecting and restoring vintage Jaguar automobiles.

Peg Mullen | b. 1917, d. 2009

La Porte City resident Peg Mullen become an “unlikely activist” when her son, Michael, was killed in 1970 during the Vietnam War. His death was caused by shrapnel fired by U.S. artillery. Mullen refused to believe the military’s explanation of the incident in which her son died. No official report was filed, and Michael’s fellow platoon members were instructed not to talk to his family.

 

The grief-stricken farm wife and mother launched a crusade to discover the truth about her son’s death. Her quest led her to the Pentagon and to testify before the U.S. Congress. Journalist C.D.B Bryan took interest in Mullen’s story, publishing a series of articles in The New Yorker magazine, and later a book, Friendly Fire. The book was turned into a 1979 television movie by the same name, in which Mullen’s character was portrayed by Carol Burnett.

 

In subsequent years, Mullen protested the Gulf War and the Iraq War. She was active in the Democratic Party, serving as a delegate to the 1964, 1968 and 1972 Democratic National Conventions.

 

Later in life, she wrote her own memoir, UnFriendly Fire, which was published by the University of Iowa Press in 1995. Mullen was named Iowa Mother of the Year in 1972 and was inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame in 1998. She passed in 2009 at the age of 92.

Zoe Ann Ols0n | b. 1931, d. 2017

Olympic diver Zoe Ann Olson lived part of her childhood in La Porte City. Olsen was born in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and moved with her family to La Porte City in 1934 at age 3. Her family moved from La Porte City to California when she was 12 years old, as her father enlisted for military service in World War II. Her mother was a swimming instructor and is known as the “pioneer of synchronized swimming.”

 

Prior to moving to California, Olsen already had begun her swimming and diving career, winning youth competitions in Iowa and Wisconsin. She continued to hone these skills in California, and earned a silver medal in 3m springboard diving at the London Summer Olympics in 1948. After marrying and having her first baby, she competed in the Helsinki Summer Olympic games in 1952, where she earned a bronze medal in the same event.

 

Olsen was named to the Iowa Sports Hall of Fame and the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

Hester V. Cummins Berry | b. 1862, d. 1953