Rural Living September 01, 2023
Darcy Maulsby tells the story of the Hawkeye State through books and speaking.
When your children or grandchildren roll their eyes when you tell a family story, share this one.
Marshall Duke, an Emory University psychologist, researched why some children mentally crumbled after seeing the carnage of 9/11 on television while others remained resilient.
"He found resilient kids knew their family history through family stories," says Darcy Maulsby, who wears the mantle of Iowa's Storyteller from her Lake City, Iowa, farm. "Their parents said 'Yes, this was terrible, but our family has been through tough times before.' These children knew just because setbacks and adversity happen doesn't mean your world has to fall apart."
Reasons like these and also telling agriculture's stories are what drives Iowa's Storyteller. Maulsby adopted the title in 2018 to better define what she does.
"Some knew me as an author, others knew me as a magazine writer, while still others knew me as a speaker at their public library," she says. "Still, it all revolved around storytelling. Since most of my stories are based in Iowa, why not become Iowa's Storyteller?"
Deep roots. Maulsby's roots run deep in Iowa agriculture, since her great-great grandfather, John Dougherty, settled in Calhoun County, Iowa, in the late 1880s. She worked six years in corporate America until she hung out her shingle in 2002.
After the 1980s farm crisis, few people advised youth to make agriculture a career, she says.
"The conventional wisdom was that if you were smart, you would get a non-farm job in the city," she says. "But, there are some of us who didn't listen!"
Mainstream media used to better spotlight rural America, she says. "Some [outside writers] still can be accurate, but we need more voices out of rural America to tell stories," she says.
One of her favorite stories was about Reinard Wulkow, a Lytton, Iowa, farmer. He was a U.S. Army officer who was part of the D-Day invasion. Wulkow also was a spy who posed as a German SS officer inside the Buchenwald concentration camp to confirm the atrocities being conducted there.
"There's a reason why World War II vets are part of the greatest generation," she says. "We can take so much away from their experiences: Grit. Never say die. Determination. They met and overcame challenges while still teenagers and in their early 20s."
Jessie Field Shambaugh is another favorite subject.
"She was a girl after my own heart," Maulsby says. "She was born on a southwestern Iowa farm in 1881. She was a daddy's girl, tagging along with him to farm meetings, so she was incredibly knowledgeable about agriculture as a teenager.
"She became a country school teacher and took things to a whole new level," adds Maulsby. "She promoted STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math] before there was STEM. She planted gardens on the school grounds and had a contest for kids about who could raise the top 10 ears of corn. Essentially, she laid a foundation for 4-H, making the best better."
Maulsby is now writing a book about Iowa's ties to the 1912 Titanic sinking. She initially tracked down the story of Quaker Oats heir Walter Douglas, an Iowan who perished that evening. Further research by Maulsby revealed at least 20 Iowa people and families with Titanic ties.
One hundred and eleven years later, Titanic memories still brightly burn.
"There was every element of human behavior that night," she says. "Heroes. Villains. Cowards. Arrogance. That human element is why this story still grips us." ‡
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