They said that the town was named after a bull — probably a bull buffalo that roamed the English River valley many moons before the white man arrived. Then came the age of the iron horse and, because of its location near the river, the tracks were laid and Kalona became a prosperous stop on the network of the steel and steam that stretched across the Midwest and helped to make it the bread basket of the world.
Kalona was great town to grow up in. There were only about 900 people who lived there, and several hundred more on the numerous farms in the surrounding Iowa countryside. The most unique aspect about Kalona that I remember was the Amish community. If there is an “ideal” segment of Christianity, the Amish have the corner on it. They live simply: without electricity, without phones, without credit — those things you and I would call the bare necessities of life. And they bear the persecution of those who can’t understand their righteous simplicity by turning the other cheek, returning good for evil. Yet theirs is not the limp-wrist, passive piety of a Dr. of divinity in flowing robes. No, he who worketh not, eateth not and that hard work shows in their immaculate farms, that produce abundant crops without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Following Biblical guidelines, they rotate their crops each year and, on the seventh year, allow a field to rest fallow.
I remember that they would drive their plain black horse-drawn carriages many miles to do their business in town. My dad was the town chiropractor and most of his patients were Amish. His office was the lower floor of the house we lived in and I as I was playing in the yard, I would watch them as they emerged from their forboding black buggies. The men always wore black, but the women wore plain dresses of pretty pastel linens. And they always smiled. Sometimes they couldn’t pay their bills in cash but would, instead, bring in produce from their farms: corn, tomatoes, bologna, steaks. We ate like royalty — I guess that’s why I’m king-sized to this day. Once this barter system got our house re-roofed.
One of the kids in my class in public elementary school was Amish — yet you could tell early on that he wouldn’t remain so. I remember everyone (including my stupid self) would mock him because of the clothes he wore or if he came to school in bare feet. We were so cool. When he got into high school, he left home and went to work for a horse breeder in Kentucky – I wish him the best, wherever he is.
The Iowa State Government bit of more than they could chew when they attempted to close Amish schools because their teachers, although college educated, lacked state-issued teaching credentials. With the tenacity of Ghandi, these civil disobediants refused to close their schools, despite police blocking classroom doors, arrests, and imprisonments. Finally, the public opinion of the people of Iowa came to their aid, and the state backed off — a real victory for the second clause of the First Amendment.
Today Kalona is a bedroom community for Iowa City, 17 miles to the north. University of Iowa workers and students live there and commute. The highway has special lanes on the shoulders for “Horse-Drawn Vehicles”, but the Amish are still there living simply and simply living.