Random Thoughts

Traffic safety, honoring officers, tenderloins and being neighborly

If you’re ever lucky enough to sit down for a conversation with Ben Veren, you’ll discover a great energy — a real devotion — for keeping Marshall County residents safe on the roadways.

His zeal is evident even when he sends out a press release about traffic safety initiatives going on in the county. It’s more personal and heartfelt and not just some canned copy that he picked up from the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau.

Sgt. Veren, a member of Marshall County Sheriff’s Office, was honored two years ago with the Iowa Department of Public Safety Commissioner’s Special Award for Excellence in Traffic Safety. His endeavors, through educational initiatives and other programming, are changing lives, and yes, saving lives.

So when we spoke earlier this month about statewide numbers related to distracted and impaired driving for a story we published May 6, it should not have come as a surprise that he continued to speak with the same intensity and passion that many in Marshall County have come to expect from this 12-year veteran of the sheriff’s office.

The numbers, offered by the Iowa Department of Transportation, reflect a dramatic increase in the numbers of injuries and fatalities related to distracted driving (primarily cell phone usage) over the past 15 years.

In 2001, 518 total crashes on Iowa roadways were because of drivers being distracted by the use of a cell phone or other electronic device. In 2016, that number jumped to 1,230.

Total injuries — 357 in 2001 (one fatality); 603 in 2016 (13 fatalities).

“Those aren’t just numbers,” Veren said. “Those are people, someone’s family member, someone’s friend.”

And it’s that resolve and Ben’s dedication, that we all need to follow if we want to make a difference in keeping people safe on the road and keeping the ones we love safe.

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Another law enforcement officer deserving of some praise is State Center Police Chief Jeff Bunn, as well as his entire department.

Bunn, along with Mark Patterson, Shannon Bowers, Glenn Goode, Mark Mills and Dan Quigley, are wearing commemorative badges during the month of May, to honor those law enforcement officers from across the country who died while in the line of duty.

During this past week — National Police Week — we honored those men and women who died while protecting the communities they serve. Sadly, the number of officers killed doing their jobs, continues to grow as more names are added to the National Police Memorial in Washington, D.C. and at the state memorial in Des Moines.

Despite the dangers associated with being a law enforcement officer, Jeff and his staff, as well as members of the Marshalltown and Melbourne police departments, and the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office, never hesitate to do their jobs. And for that, we will be forever grateful.

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You might say tenderloins are helping to unite State Center residents.

An ongoing effort every Friday now through June 2 has rallied the community behind a local pastor and his wife, both of whom are battling cancer.

Last weekend, T-R reporter Adam Sodders featured a story on members of the Trinity Lutheran Church who are raising money to help “Pray it Forward for the Maddicks.”

Rev. Mike Maddick and his wife, Melanie, have been diagnosed with esophageal and breast cancer, respectively.

So church members and the entire community gather each Friday to cook up an Iowa favorite — the breaded tenderloin — and serve it with chips, two cookies and a beverage. A $10 donation for one of these “Brown Bag Blessings” is helping to defer the Maddicks’ medical costs, while feeding hungry State Center residents.

Kudos to the creators of this heartfelt undertaking — Denise Berrey and Stephanie Phelps — who are leading this effort because they understand the importance of feeding both the stomach and the soul.

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The efforts in State Center are not unique. Good people coming together to do the right thing. Fundraisers, community projects, public events — it happens all the time in Marshall County. The results are usually positive and it brings us closer together.

But why do we need a cause to come together?

Perhaps we need to reignite local neighborhood associations or organize block parties where people come together simply just to meet and visit. No agenda, no fundraiser, just getting together over food and conversation.

We live in a society where we can communicate with someone halfway around the globe with just a few keystrokes on our computers or even our smart phones.

But how many of us know our neighbors? We might wave politely as we see each other mowing our lawns, but sometimes that’s it.

So here’s an idea, and I think we can all make this effort — Say “hello” to your neighbor, get to know them, ask questions, invite them over for an iced tea, have a conversation.

Marshalltown Regional Partnership CEO David Barajas and his wife, Tammy, did that just the other day, as they delivered some cookies to some of their neighbors. The result was positive and it opened up communication lines.

You don’t need a cause or a crisis to be friendly, rather you just need a little bit of bravery, some good will and an open heart.

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Contact Jeff Hutton at 641-753-6611 or jhutton@timesrepublican.com