Starcrossed Lovers, Swan Potatoes, and a Run to Remember

Words and photos by Ben Osborn, creator of Totally Brain Dad.

In this edition of Route for Change with Totally Brain Dad, I bring you to Independence, IA – that’s I-O-W-A!


I was there to run the Believe 5K, a memorial race that honors my cousin Audrey Fitzgerald. Audrey died unexpectedly in 2008 at the age 19 from bacterial meningitis. She had an ever-present smile and exuded positivity. Her high school friends have been organizing the Believe Race for the last 9 years in her honor. Each May we gather to remember, celebrate her life and raise some money to benefit the community. You’ve probably been to an event like it in your town.

Independence is small river town of about 5,500 people. Its the county seat for Buchanan County. It’s a pretty special place. If you don’t believe me just ask my grandmother, she lives there.

One of the most notable features of the town is the Wapsipinicon River. Local legend holds that the river was named for a Native American couple, Wapsie and Pinicon. They were deeply in love, but it was a forbidden romance because they were from opposing tribes. They tried to elope to be together, but they were pursued and tragically drowned in the river during their attempted escape.

The other less harrowing theory is that Wapsipinicon is the anglicized version of the Ojibwe name for the river, Waabizipinikaan-ziibi. That means “river abundant in swan potatoes”

But what’s in a name? Heartbreaking romantic tragedy or swan potatoes. A river by any other name would be just as…. wet?

ANYHOOO…….After the Believe race, I used FASTZach to create a 4-mile route through town to give you a little taste of the place my mother grew up. It starts and ends at the Dairy Queen like pretty much every run should. Along the way, you’ll see the bustling traffic on Highway 150 and quiet small-town neighborhoods. There will be great views of the river and the historic mill where the farmers market now sets up shop.


You’ll see Main Street, including the storefront that used to house my grandparents’ painting and decorating business. You’ll see the first Presbyterian Church. You’ll pass the Caseys general store that is required to be in all Iowa towns and the Checkered Flag Bar, the site of my first legally purchased beer. You’ll see Veterans Park, the Riverwalk, the American Legion, the Buchanan County Courthouse and the Fire Station where my grandfather served as fire chief for almost three decades.


You’ll also pass a unique little establishment that aims to restore the reputation of Canada’s greatest rock band…..or maybe it is something about recycling….not 100% sure.


Now, this might all sound a bit mundane to some. I’m sure many folks could cruise through town on Highway 150 without giving it much thought, but for me, Independence has deep family memories. If you run this route, you’ll pass by the house where my grandparents raised 8 kids, welcomed 19 grandkids and more than a dozen great-grandkids. It’s a house with a lot of stories, endless belly laughs, and some solemn tears of shared heartache. Just south of the Dairy Queen across the River, you’ll find Mt Hope Cemetery. My great-grandparents and my grandfather, Charles Conklin lie there. And my cousin Audrey rests there as well. We like to believe they are all still with us. It is always good to come to Independence to remember and to celebrate family. Thanks for letting me share it with you.

I hope you #seemoreinyourmiles with those you love this summer. #Getoutandroute #RuntoRemember


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