Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

Previous Posts


January 2, 2010

Sullivan’s Salvos 1/5/10

I have been experiencing some very trying difficulties with my Mediacom E-mail. For all I know, no one is getting this! Please forgive my inability to communicate with you. And feel free to stick another pin in your Mediacom voodoo doll!

Unfortunately, this edition of Salvos is going to address the losses of several notable folks.

Eliot Keller was a local broadcaster and businessman who ran several successful radio stations. I got to know Eliot through the Chamber of Commerce, for whom he was an outstanding volunteer. Eliot was a real civic booster, a very good guy, and he will be missed.

Johnson County lost a legend with the passing of Mary Jo Small. As a UI administrator, Mary Jo was central in the creation of a more humane workplace, with equal rights for women and minorities, decent benefits, fair hiring practices, and available childcare.

I had the distinct pleasure of serving with Mary Jo on the Executive Committee of the Democratic Party. I recall a time when a colleague used the word “gravitas”, and was jokingly asked to define it. Without missing a beat, he said, “Mary Jo has it; the rest of us do not.” We all knew what he meant.

Mary Jo forgot more than I’ll ever know; I’m just honored to have had the opportunity to learn from someone so smart and dedicated. Rest in peace, Mary Jo.

Of all the recent losses, the most important to me is the passing of Marian Sullivan, my paternal Grandmother. When I think of my Grandma, a single word keeps coming up: selfless. Everything she ever did, she did for others.

Marian (Pint) Sullivan had a big family. They were extremely poor; her father moved around Northeast Iowa working odd jobs and renting small farms. Young Marian always got something for Christmas, but to say the gifts were modest is an understatement. One year she received a doll handmade from cornhusks; another year it was a small hand carved wooden cross; yet another year it was a couple pieces of citrus fruit. She never complained. Selfless.

Even though she was a good student, Marian was forced to quit high school and go to work to help support the family. Her labors even helped allow a younger brother to attend college. Selfless.

Marian made a ridiculously low wage; I seem to recall her mentioning making less than a dollar a day. She was working in a general store when she met Tom Sullivan, who had a second job cutting and delivering ice.

Tom and Marian were married, and tried to begin a life on the farm. Farming during the Depression was simply not working out; Tom and Marian could not afford to buy any land, so rents ate up all their income. When their first child (my father) was born, they had neither electricity nor running water. Life was hard for the Sullivans, but not any more difficult than it was for tens of millions of Americans of the day. But Marian gave her kids the things they needed. Selfless.

Finally, they had had enough. A couple hours to the south, Cedar Rapids offered a new beginning. World War II had just begun, and industry was taking off in Cedar Rapids. Anybody who was willing to work, regardless of race or gender, could join a labor union. Tom joined Carpenter’s Local 308; Marian united with many other women in the workforce and joined the United Food and Commercial Worker’s Local at Wilson’s Meatpacking.

I recently spoke to my Grandma about her 30 years in the meatpacking plant. She said she liked a lot of the people, but she looked me right in the eye and said, “I never enjoyed a single day there. I just did what I had to do.” Selfless.

Soon the War ended, and prosperity arrived. Hard work was paying off. The Sullivans were able to buy a house, a car, and put their kids through Catholic school. They didn’t get a television right away, but because Tom was willing to put an antenna on the roof next door, he got to go to the neighbors to watch pro wrestling. Marian’s wants always took a backseat. Selfless.

Despite decades of newfound wealth, not everything was perfect. Years of hard work caused Tom’s body to break down. His last years were spent using a wheelchair. Marian retired and served as his caregiver. Selfless.

Because of her years of factory work, Marian suffered from repetitive motion injuries the rest of her life. The UFCW union was busted at Wilson’s, and Marian’s pension and health insurance never quite lived up to their promises. But Marian knew the union protected her. Being a union member fit her profile: Selfless.

So, what is her legacy? Marian pulled her family from poverty to the middle class. They lived the American Dream. Every one of her grandkids had healthcare coverage. Every one of her grandkids had the opportunity to get a college education. Every one of her grandkids had the kinds of opportunities many Americans have come to expect, but much of the world can only dream about.

Marian Sullivan was selfless. She was also a great Grandma. I love you, Grandma, and I miss you.

Go Hawks! Best of luck in the Orange Bowl! You have given us a very memorable season – one of the best I can recall. The success of the football team has helped me deal with a tough year. Thanks, and good luck!

DID YOU KNOW? Johnson County is bordered by seven other counties – more than any other county in Iowa.

Anyone interested in learning more about County government should take a look at the County website-

"Sullivan’s Salvos" is sent once per week to any interested party. It will give a brief update on issues of interest to Johnson County residents.

These messages come solely from Rod Sullivan, and neither represents the viewpoints of the whole Board of Supervisors nor those of groups or individuals otherwise mentioned.

If you do NOT want the weekly E-mail, simply reply to this message, and type "unsubscribe" in the subject line.

If you know anyone else who might be interested, just forward this message. They can E-mail me at with "subscribe" in the subject line.

As always, feel free to contact me at 354-7199 or I look forward to serving you!



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home