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93-year-old volunteer flies flag for Correctionville, Iowa

November 6, 2018

CORRECTIONVILLE, Iowa -- Charlene Warren picks up a pair of Meals on Wheels boxes at City Hall in Correctionville on Thursday. She heads out for a delivery, placing the boxes in the back seat of her car, inches from eight political campaign signs she must post in yards and right-of-ways before Tuesday’s election.

“It’s getting kind of late for these signs,” Warren says.

Turning to yet another election, Warren produces a sheet of paper featuring two signatures, one of them belonging to Warren herself. The petition seeks 100 people to sign before members of an school advisory committee ask the Woodbury County Auditor if a satellite precinct may be established at the River Valley School in Correctionville on Dec. 11, when the school district votes on the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy. The measure failed earlier this fall, 143 to 111.

“I’m on the committee,” Warren says of the advisory group. “I think I’m there to represent the senior citizens.”

She could be. Warren is 93. She could pass for 73. Maybe 63. She’s got the energy of a community booster decades younger.

“I like my community and I’d like to see it continue to be strong,” says Warren, who moved with her husband, John Warren, to Correctionville in 1966 as the couple purchased the Isbell Insurance Agency in town.

“Char,” as she’s known here, grew up in Belle Plaine, Iowa, and preferred small-town life. She and John had lived and worked for a few years in Des Moines as he finished his post-World War II education at Drake University while working for Allied Insurance. The couple worked and resided in Sac City, Iowa, from 1960 to 1966 before heading west for the opportunity in Correctionville, where both their children, Janet and James, would graduate from high school, known then as Eastwood High.

When John died at the age of 56 in 1981, Char could have relocated, perhaps to Ames, Iowa, where she resided during her days studying journalism and home economics at Iowa State University. Instead, she stayed put and continues to work on behalf of her adopted hometown. For years, she was a constant presence at meetings of the Correctionville City Council, where Mayor Nathan Heilman had been known to delay the start of the meeting until Char arrived and took her seat.

“Sometimes, they’ll ask me for my thoughts on a project,” she says with a smile. “I fly the flag for the small town.”

When not delivering Meals on Wheels or stumping for a school vote, Warren can be found taking photos, making greeting cards, helping voters and exercising. She only gave up serving as a 4-H judge three years ago. “I was 90,” she says with a giggle, “it was time for some younger people to take over.”

During our interview in the council chambers on Thursday, Char opens the session by pouring coffee and serving an eclair. She spreads three burgundy leaves on the table as a seasonal centerpiece. Our talk covers the politics of polarization, photography, iPhones, economic development and more.

“This might make some TV people mad,” she says, sending caution to the November breeze, “but I haven’t watched TV in two years. I rely on newspapers and radio. I read and I listen.”

She worked for newspapers at various points during her adult life, including stints in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and in Temple, Texas, where she unknowingly contributed to a gaffe with the Daily Telegram. Warren laughs about a headline or a description of a group of three “towheaded” children she wrote about. The phrase was changed by back-room composers to a group of three “two-headed” children.

“They’d never heard the description of towheaded,” she says, noting how that’s the way blond children were often described years ago.

The voter-approved PPEL at River Valley comes on the heels of a bond being paid off by the district, one that realized the construction of the high school in Correctionville and the elementary school in Washta a couple of decades prior. This measure, which will raise $1.34 per $1,000 valuation ($2 per $1,000 valuation came off the books as the old school bond was retired) will likely see the purchase and installation of camera systems and door lock-down mechanisms. Additional projects include classroom modernization, and an upgrade to the heating-and-cooling system in an effort to reduce utility costs and more.

Parking lot, sidewalk and bus improvements have also been talked about by the committee, a group Warren cherishes for the way it includes and encourages the input of young people.

“I had no idea a bus costs $90,000 to $100,000,” Warren says. “But we need them and we need them to keep our kids safe.”

So, the 1943 high school graduate gathers her petition and her Meals on Wheels boxes and zig-zags through town, campaign signs in tow. The volunteer is ever circulating, flying the flag for a small town she hopes serves residents for generations to come.