Mention the name "Garst" and I immediately think of the white-haired, bellicose onetime premier of the former Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev.
I was 5 years old when Khrushchev made international news by visiting the western Iowa farm of Roswell Garst, a pioneer in the development and promotion of hybrid seed corn. The event marked the first time a Soviet leader had come to the United States, and he was coming to Iowa.
Not only Iowa, but to a farm just miles from where I was living!
For people who weren't alive during the height of the Cold War, it's difficult to explain what a big deal this was. Paranoia about Russia was intense. We didn't laugh when our teachers told us to seek shelter under our desks in the event of an atomic attack. Khrushchev, once a close adviser to Stalin, was indeed the evil emperor. Iowa came under a crush of news media attention.
All these memories came bubbling back when I read that Roswell Garst's granddaughter, Liz, will speak at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 8, at the Hurstville Interpretive Center near Maquoketa, Iowa.
Her topic is "Peace through Corn," and it opens a new traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History titled "Listening to the Prairie."
Garst will talk about the history of agriculture in Iowa — from prairie to corn — as well as Khrushchev's visit and the ability of an individual to make a difference.
The individual in this case is her grandfather. Not only did he make a substantial difference in agriculture, but he also furthered world peace. Through his friendship with Khrushchev, he helped promote "an early thaw in the Cold War," Liz Garst said.
The two men became acquainted when Khrushchev began promoting corn as a crop for the Ukraine.
Liz was 8 years old during the historic visit. She remembers being allowed out of school for a whole day and wearing a dress as opposed to her normal tomboy trousers attire.
"I remember strolling back and forth in front of the cameras, dreaming of being a movie star," she said. She sat on Mrs. Khrushchev's lap and Khrushchev himself kissed her.
"He was sort of loud, like my grandad was," she said. "He was a little bit scary."
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Indeed, her granddad was loud, and the visit had its heated moments, as reported in the Morning Democrat, a predecessor of the Quad-City Times, by the late Jim Arpy.
The headline for Sept. 24, 1959, was "Nikita's Farm Tour Turns Into Bedlam: Garst Is Angry At Newsmen."
In the opening paragraph, Arpy explained that "Farmer Roswell Garst threw handfuls of ground silage, kicked at newsmen and threatened to get a club as they engulfed Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev on his visit to one of Garst's farms Wednesday morning."
The reason for his reaction was a breakdown in security when the car carrying Khrushchev and Garst came in a back way instead of where the larger group of security personnel was stationed, and newsmen enveloped the premier.
"A small force of security men and highway patrolmen on hand at the farm were unable to cope with about 300 newsmen and photographers who swarmed around Khrushchev the minute his car pulled to a stop in the farm yard," Arpy wrote.
"Newsmen who have been on the tour since its beginning termed it the worst breakdown in security they had witnessed ...
"The cornstalks swayed and bent as newsmen jockeyed for position."
It was, indeed, an exciting day down on the farm.