Highpointers celebrate convention, remember Kirk Grau
SIBLEY, Iowa -- As the Highpointers Club descended upon Hawkeye Point to celebrate the group's annual convention, those assembled took a moment to reflect upon and remember the man who started the vision of what Hawkeye Point has become today.
SIBLEY, Iowa - As the Highpointers Club descended upon Hawkeye Point to celebrate the group’s annual convention, those assembled took a moment to reflect upon and remember the man who started the vision of what Hawkeye Point has become today.
Kirk Grau was the Osceola County Economic Development Director for many years before losing his last battle with cancer in 2013. Mike Earll, chairman of the Hawkeye Point Foundation and the current economic development director, joined Highpointers Club co-chair Don Holmes in remembering Grau during a Saturday dedication ceremony of the new Kirk Grau memorial at Iowa’s highest point.
“None of this would have been possible without the gentleman that you see’s name inscribed in the stone here,” Earll said. “Kirk Grau was a longtime economic developer here in Osceola County ... Most of what you see is part of his vision for this area. To keep it open for the public, to keep it open for highpointers and to make it something unique and special for Osceola County.”
Continued Earll: “Unfortunately, Kirk battled cancer several times and he bounced back umpteen many times. And we just assumed that he would always bounce back because that was the type of individual that he was. However, on Dec. 23, 2013 Kirk lost his valiant fight with cancer.”
As a memorial for Grau, the family and a few other local groups came together to move an engraved stone with his name.
“The one thing I’d like to tell you about it (the memorial), it doesn’t look like a lot of your other monument stones,” Earll said. “Those who knew Kirk and those who loved him knew that he did not like the limelight. He didn’t want to be in the public display, and he wanted things very plain.
“When we looked at the rock, we felt that this definitely is what Kirk would want. It wasn’t anything extremely flashy but it was common, it was solid, and it was something we could say, ‘Yes, this is Kirk Grau.’”
Grau’s fiancee, Pamela Janssen, expressed how important Hawkeye Point was to Kirk and - likewise - how special the memorial is to her and his family.
“It was one of his major projects of the last projects he was on. I know he worked on it,” Janssen said. “They had meetings and he was busy with it all the time. It was really important to him.
“I think it (the memorial) is really special,” an emotional Janssen added.
A quick survey of the parking area at Hawkeye Point gave an insight into the lengths many of the highpointers travelled to meet with friends and mark another highpoint off of the list. Members from Oklahoma, Virginia, Massachusetts, Idaho and even Mississippi gathered for three days of fun and tourism that culminated in the organization’s annual banquet Saturday night at the Worthington Event Center.
“It’s been a really unique experience. ... What we find that’s neat about highpointers is the fact that once you meet them, and even before you meet them, you’re lifelong friends,” Earll said. “They very much enjoy visiting. They enjoy seeing what’s out here in northwest Iowa and southwest Minnesota.”
Holmes also had positive comments about the event.
“The convention has been absolutely outstanding,” he said. “The people here in Sibley and the people in Worthington have bent over backwards to take care of us. It is probably one of the best conventions we’ve ever had.”
Holmes was moved to nominate Iowa as the host for the 2015 meeting to recognize the hard work volunteers have put in to the high point.
“(The group chose Iowa) to honor what they have done here, the Hawkeye Point Foundation, and the folks who have put in - the FFA and the 4-H Club have done work here. It’s just remarkable,” Holmes said.
Over the past two decades, Kenny Pokora of Wisconsin has traveled the country to see the sights from the top of America’s highest points. Kenny has reached the summit in all 50 states twice and is now on his third time around. Kenny’s wife, Donna, has reached 44 summits and is done, saying the remaining six are more of a technical climb than she’s interested in.
The beauty of the highpointers club is it welcomes more experienced mountaineers like Kenny as well as others who may only be interested in a social aspect. Donna said joining the club and travelling the country with her husband has afforded the couple an opportunity to travel to many places they might not otherwise have gone.
For Terri Rowe of Idaho, the decision to become a highpointer was a self-described midlife crisis. Since the initial inspiration, she and daughter Fallon have become the first mother-daughter team to summit the lower 48 states.
“In the summer of 2011 we started off on our first trip,” Rowe said. “We did 33 state highpoints in five and a half weeks. I drove 12,580 miles and we car camped and had a great time. .. She was only 14 that summer. Now, she completed the 49 at age 17 and she’s seen more of the country than most people see in a lifetime, so it’s been pretty fun for her.”
Rowe was 52 when she completed her 49-summit mark. Rowe said Fallon is the second-youngest woman to complete the task.
Rowe and Fallon aren’t the only two who are record-holders in the family. Rowe’s black Labrador, Luna, holds the record for most summits completed by a dog with 42.