Ihm is Stars & Stripes Super Senior

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Guttenberg native Joe Ihm will be the Super Senior honored in this year's Stars and Stripes parade. (Photo submitted)

By Molly Moser

The Guttenberg Chamber of Commerce has selected 87-year-old native Joe Ihm as the Super Senior for the June 30 Stars and Stripes parade. “Retiring this year from leading the Lockmaster’s House Heritage Museum after 25 years, Joe Ihm exemplifies the spirit of volunteerism. His wealth of river knowledge and stories have delighted thousands of museum visitors each year,” said Chamber Director Mandy Ludovissy.

Ihm and his late wife, June, were with the Guttenberg Heritage Society from its start in 1992. The group established the Lockmaster’s House Heritage Museum and together, Joe and June handled weekend museum duty until June’s death in 2002. He continued sharing his wisdom with visitors there until last fall, when he retired from the group. 

Ihm was born Feb. 18, 1931, in Guttenberg, to Herman and Lenchen Ihm. The Ihm family has lived in Guttenberg since 1853, starting with Joe’s great-grandfather Herman Ihm and now extending through his sons, John and Jim, daughter Caroline, and grandson, Joe Rosacker. Ihm graduated from St. Mary’s in 1948 and attended the Iowa State Teacher’s College, earning his master’s degree from the University of Iowa. After teaching junior high physical education in Riverside, Ill., for 19 years, he moved his family back to Guttenberg in 1974. 

“That’s almost 165 years of Ihms here,” Joe calculates. His great-grandfather had dry goods and grocery store on River Park Drive, and a grain elevator on the railroad for shipping. The Ihm Brothers Store operated till 1948. Ihm often wondered whether his own children were going to stay in town, and all three did. “It’s a great place. We came every year on summer and Easter vacations, so they had good friends here before they ever moved back,” he said.

After returning to his childhood home, Ihm worked in maintenance at the Guttenberg Hospital and was a rural letter carrier. With encouragement from hospital administrator Andy Huff, he helped start the Guttenberg Ambulance Service. “Ronnie Thein and I, and several other people in town, took the EMT course. We started the Guttenberg ambulance service and we were the daytime crew.” Ihm served as an EMT from 1975 to 1983, assisting with 830 runs, but never encountered a baby or a gunshot wound. He also taught an EMT certification course.

Ihm’s interest in community betterment extends beyond Guttenberg’s city limits to the conservation and environmental issues of the area. He served for 10 years as a member of the Clayton County Conservation Board and several years on the Clayton County Historic Preservation Commission. He was a charter member of Friends of Pool 10, a small group of people that did river cleanups. “We had three in Guttenberg that I helped sponsor. It was a small group but we filled a dump truck each time we had one of those river cleanups,” Joe recalls. 

He was a charter member of the Clayton County Conservation Awareness Network, a group of naturalists promoting the natural area of Clayton County. He is a longtime member of the Audubon Society, and volunteered many years at Hawk Watch at Effigy Mounds. He is also a member of the Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club, Iowa Natural Heritage Society, Natural Wildlife Federation and a life member of Trout Unlimited. 

For 44 years, Ihm has enjoyed a home on a three-acre wooded property near Acre Street and when not volunteering, he appends his time fishing, gardening, and observing the array of birds and wildlife that surround him. When his children were growing up, Ihm also participated in dog shows throughout the Midwest with his Weimaraners – German hunting dogs known as the ‘gray ghost.’ “I had good dogs –  four bench champions and some that had a lot of points,” said Ihm. “I sent one of my dogs to Westminster in New York with a handler and he got reserve, which is second place.”

The super senior is a combat veteran of the Korean war, serving for 15 months with the last field Artillery Observation Battalion. He is a lifetime member of the V.F.W. and for more than a decade has helped judge the American Legion Patriotic essay contest for seventh and eighth grade students. Ihm has also represented Guttenberg for the past 30 years at the monthly meetings of the Clayton County Democrats.

Ihm retired from the postal service in 1992. He has stayed physically active as a competitive runner, hockey player, and yogi. “I have my yoga matt on the floor of my living room,” he told The Press. As a competitive runner, he has won many awards at the seven-mile Bix7 Road Race in Davenport. “When I turned 80 I won first place; I have two second place and three third places, and I will run it again this year.” 2018 will mark Ihm’s 13th Bix7, which now takes him about an hour and 35 minutes to complete. He has enjoyed twice-weekly hockey games for the past 25 years with his son, Jim, and son-in-law Steve Rosacker. The men play in the over-30 league in Dubuque, and have participated in an estimated 1,500 games. 

Three days a week, Ihm runs three miles on his own lane before breakfast. He maintains a garden, keeps his three acres free of garlic mustard, and enjoys fishing. Last year, he and his friend Jean Marie Hall traveled with a group to Italy. They just returned from three weeks at Yellowstone, and in the fall, they will make their fourth journey to Ireland – where Ihm found a love of Guiness beer. 

“I pretty much have fun,” Ihm said, frankly describing his retirement. But his commitment to community, health and environment have shaped his long life – and thanks to his motivation and work ethic, he has helped shape his neighbors’ lives as well.

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