A time, a place and lots of help

Nov. 13—There is going to be a day, maybe 50 years from now, or sooner, when someone will read about the life and contributions John Walters made to Creston.

People in the future will know what Creston was like decades prior.

John Walters is the 2023 Creston Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year. He will be honored during the chamber's annual banquet 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Eagles Club.

Walters was born and raised in Creston to Helen and Willard, another branch in the family tree that goes back to his great-grandparents who settled in Creston in the 1800s. Walters was one of nine children in his family. The number of children and timeframe had at least one of the kids in school from 1963 to 1980.

John's dad was a part of Creston's history as having been employed by the railroad.

"Dad had every position even at the roundhouse," he said. His dad also worked the mail that was delivered by train. What is now the senior center meal site in the Restored Depot was the mailroom for the trains. Willard also was manned in the tower to watch for incoming trains so the crossing guards could be activated.

"At night you watched for the engine's light," he said. The watcher tower used is located the Creston Historical Society.

That kind of information is what gets him motivated to find out more about the town — including the railroad.

"I love the history of Creston," he said. "My parents grew up here and I have lots of stories about the history of Creston."

Walters is also interested another part of Creston that seems to create its own history every winter — high school wrestling. During the 1980s he was a Creston teacher and had coached. After he was finished coaching, he became a wrestling officials and worked many meets and tournaments across southwest Iowa.

Walters and others wanted Creston wrestling to have its own recognition event.

"John and others from the local wrestling community such as Chuck Hulett, Dannie Stephens and John Schiltz formed a Creston wrestling hall of fame committee in 2017 that has inducted members through John's tireless research and sense of the history of the program since its inception when he was a young boy," according to the person of the year nomination form by Larry Peterson who has covered wrestling for the Creston News Advertiser for decades.

Creston Wrestling Hall of Fame inductions are held in the fall.

Peterson was not the only person who saw Walters' interest in wrestling.

"The thing that gets Walters recognition is the wrestling. That's the biggest, especially on radio," said Chad Rieck from Creston KSIB Radio. Rieck said Walters and Cody Downing provided broadcasts of Creston wrestling and Walters was a perfect fit and during some memorable times in Panther wrestling history.

"The 2007 and 2008 teams were great teams. You want to cover that stuff, but it was them together and they were very good at it," Rieck said.

Rieck laughed saying he was convinced by listening to Walters it sounded like he knew every single high school wrestler in Southwest Iowa.

Walters put those words and names on paper writing a book "Southwest Iowa Wrestling State Placewinners and More." The 2019 book features Creston and 65 other schools and has been updated since.

"It's a vast amount of information. Wrestling around here wouldn't be the same without it," Peterson said.

His history hobby overlaps subject material. Walters said while researching Creston wrestling, his dad told him Creston had four movie theaters. His goal was to find the location for each one.

"I couldn't confirm there were four at the same time," John said. "But I still found lots of neat information and advertisements for the movies."

Walters claims one of the theaters was in a location that no longer exists. The Willard Theatre's address was 119 N. Maple, which has since been absorbed by Coen Furniture.

Hearing about and trying to find and confirm those bits of information create the excitement. Walters also found out about the Trailer Inn, a small restaurant that was south of the railroad tracks on Elm Street.

"It was just a small, family-owned place," he said. "There are so many more like that."

Walters' research has been used in creative ways. He said he designed a scavenger hunt game that used 50 locations in town. The locations were the answer to trivia questions. Participants would find the location.

"We have played it at various gatherings of people," he said. "Most knew of Creston, but not the history."

This fall, Walters and others have worked to preserve the concrete cornerstone with Creston etched in it from the former high school building that was a Irving and Maple streets. He is also designing a display of the old basketball court from the nicknamed Panther Pit gymnasium.

"He's been very loyal to his hometown school to preserve the memories," Peterson wrote.

John and wife Shari, a retired Creston teacher turned real estate agent, have daughter Taylor and son Maxx, both living in California.

"He's always willing to help with everything and anything. I've heard of him helping someone with their back deck. He's been down the VFW ball field. If you ask John to do it, and he has the time, it will get done. He has helped neighbors with fences. He's very handy and always willing to give his time and the shirt off his back."