In Iowa town, the Duke is king

May 25, 2007 at 9:39 AM
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WINTERSET, Iowa, May 25 (UPI) -- A town in the Middle River Valley area of Iowa annually celebrates its covered bridge and one of its famous residents: John Wayne.

Officials of Winterset expect thousands of people to stroll its streets this weekend in a bash marking the Duke's 100th birthday, the Chicago Tribune reported. Wayne was born in Winterset May 26, 1907, and left at age 3.

The Winterset celebration is one many Iowa communities off the beaten path undertake to boost their coffers and identity, observers said.

Denison promotes its ties to Iowan and actress Donna Reed, who starred in "It's a Wonderful Life." Wall Lake croons about singer Andy Williams, Clarinda swings over its link to bandleader Glenn Miller and Mason City wheels and deals Meredith Willson of "The Music Man" fame.

"While tourist dollars are important, I think these efforts give a community identity," said Paul Lasley, Iowa State University Sociology Department chairman. "These celebrities give communities an identity at a time when they are asking, 'What is our future?'"

In Winterset, polls show Wayne still enjoys remarkable, but qualified, popularity.

"I've got two girls, 27 and 23," Lasley said, "and I'm not sure they know who John Wayne is."

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