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Turning back time

Whiterock celebrates 60th anniversary of Khrushchev visit

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On a crisp fall day, Liz Garst stood in the shade of the same trees that towered over her 60 years ago.

Although many years have passed since Garst stood on her family’s farm anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, the same energy and excitement buzzed through her the way it did when she was 8 years old.

Time had changed so much, but that day, so much felt the same.

Garst, a granddaughter of agriculture pioneer Roswell Garst, celebrated the 60th anniversary of Khrushchev’s historic visit to her family farm in Coon Rapids last Saturday.

During the day, people toured the Garst Historic Farmhouse, which after recent renovations earned the “Best Rural Preservation Project” from Preservation Iowa, listened to keynote speaker Timothy Naftali, CNN presidential historian and co-author of the award-winning book “Khrushchev’s Cold War,” and also watched the dedication of the 1957 sculpture “Let Us Beat Swords Into Ploughshares.”

More than 100 people from all around Iowa as well as neighboring states South Dakota and Nebraska attended the anniversary, said Barbra Jotzke-Torrier, development and communications director at Whiterock Conservancy.

Jotzke-Torrier said the day was wonderful. It gave people the opportunity to come out and learn about the history of the Garst Historic Farmhouse and how much it has meant to people not just in Coon Rapids but all over the world.

“I think it’s important in a time when we have difficult relationships around the world,” she said. “It’s important to remember that individual people make a difference.”

Roswell Garst, who co-founded the Garst and Thomas Hi-Bred Corn Company, cultivated a relationship with Khrushchev during the height of the Cold War and hosted both Khrushchev and his wife Nina Khrushchev at his home Sept. 23, 1959. They had connected through a shared interest in efficiently producing food, agriculture technology and feeding as many people as possible that also resulted in several Garst trips to the Soviet Union, according to a news release from Whiterock Conservancy.

Although the war has long passed, Liz Garst said, her grandfather’s message about the importance of working with others both near and far remains strong today.

“If you don’t remember, history it will repeat itself,” she said. “I also think this particular story is important. I think it’s a wonderful story to remember, because it illustrated the importance of food in the world today. Iowa is about agriculture and food. It is such an important thing today.”

Ivan Ponomarev, the agricultural counselor for the Embassy of the Russian Federation in the U.S., spoke during the event about the relationship Roswell Garst forged with Russia and how the tie helped strengthen agriculture in his nation.

“Mr. Garst’s experience in cultivating corn in the United States was the beginning of the successful growth of the ‘queen of the fields’ (how Khrushchev referred to corn) in our homeland,” he said. “Even though we can not compare the volume of its production here in the United Slates with the Russian Federation, we systematically continue to increase our crop production.”

Following the speeches at the farmhouse, guests loaded on a bus for an agricultural tour of Whiterock Conservancy.

Without such wonderful weather, a day filled with so many outdoor festivities would have been difficult, Whiterock Executive Director Daniel Gudahl said.

Gudahl said the day really taught him how much of an impact Roswell Garst had in the community.

“For me, it really has brought home what a risk-taker Garst was to visit (the Soviet Union) during the height of the Cold War,” he said. “He had to say ‘I don’t care what people are saying about me.’ ”

Now, he wants the rest of the world to see how remarkable Coon Rapids and Whiterock Conservancy are, he said.

“We really do have something here in Coon Rapids that’s unique to the United States,” Gudahl said. “We should be trying to get more people from all over.”

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