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On June 15, the birthday of Independence, community members gathered to mark the milestone of their native town, despite the rain.

It was a momentous occasion, long awaited as the town was founded 175 years ago. But there was another reason which made the event even more special.

The town’s former mayor, Bob Hill, one of the planners of the event, was looking forward to giving the celebratory speech, but passed away unexpectedly on April 21.

When the event rolled around on Wednesday, Mayor pro tem John Kurtz stepped into the role and addressed the approximately 100 community members who had gathered on Main Street in front of the Allerton Brewing Co. and in front of the Chamber of Commerce stretching all the way across the bridge.

While toasting the community, Kurtz paid tribute to Hill, who had served on the City Council for 14 years before becoming the mayor.

“I know how excited Bob was to offer the community toast for the 175th celebration,” Kurtz said.

“Here is to our first mayor, Daniel Lee,” he continued. “The long list of past mayors and councils, Mayor Robert Hill and the residents of Independence on this milestone of 175 years.”

Kurtz also acknowledged the untimely passing of Mayor Bob Hill and paid tribute to his community pride and the journey through life that brought him to the helm of city government.

Kurtz listed the city’s accomplishments and projects Mayor Hill spearheaded, including, the new library, the new Aquatic Center and the Independence Bark Park, among others.

Kurtz also encouraged all community members to vote in the upcoming mayoral special election on July 19.

“Despite the weather, I thought it was really successful,” said Molly Hocken, the communications manager at the Chamber of Commerce. “It felt like a community-centered celebration, it felt good to be a part of the celebration.”

John Kurtz gave this speech during the celebration:

I am John Kurtz, Independence City Council Member and Mayor Pro-Tem due to the unfortunate passing of Mayor Robert Hill in April of this year. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you on this memorable occasion. Nikki at the Chamber told me I had 20 minutes!!! I will not need that much as you will no doubt thank me!

Our first Mayor was Capt. Daniel Lee whose former residence is on the National Registry of Historic buildings and sits next to the Independence Public Library. It has had wonderful renovation work over the past several years and is amazing to visit. On-going work will hopefully restore it to the grand home that it once was. Our thanks to all the very dedicated volunteers and donations in this effort.

Mayor Lee was a dedicated leader, the first resident from Buchanan County to volunteer for service in the Civil War, a successful lawyer and later State Representative. He was born in New York state, lived for a time in Ohio then moved to Iowa.

Fast forward to 2022 Mayor Robert Hill was proud of his adopted home of Independence. Like Capt. Lee, he was not a native Iowan but was raised in Wisconsin. He attended and graduated from Luther College where he met and married Audrey. They moved to Independence where he taught High School History. Later he became an investigator for a law firm in Waterloo then joined Wapsie Valley Creamery retiring after 29 years as Human Resources Director. Through out his time here he was an active volunteer, proud Church supporter, and devoted husband and father to three outstanding girls.

Bob served 14 years on the Independence City Council before his election to Mayor in November of 2021. He took office in January 2022. His professional embrace of his duties was immediately felt throughout the community. He was dedicated to communicating to the Citizens and driving a spirit of strong, professional leadership. Sadly we lost Bob unexpectedly on April 21st

I would like to recap some of the accomplishments that have occurred during Mayor Hills time as a City Council Member.

- Downtown sidewalk replacement

- New Library

- New Aquatic Center

- Independence Bark Park

- Handicap ramp accessibility at City Hall

- Walking trail development throughout the city

- First Street East reconstruction and infrastructure replacements

- Well Houses rehabilitated to extend their lifespan

- Wastewater treatment plant valve and piping rehabs.

- Housing expansions: Jackson Green, Steve Gee condos, Skogman Housing near Aquatic Center, Echo Development Apartments near Prairie Hills.

- Downtown grants for building facade upgrades and second story housing.

- LED lighting upgrades to City buildings to improve efficiency and reduce operating costs.

- Enterprise Drive expansion and relocation of Rydel Auto

- Use of incentives to assist local business and industry expansions to keep them viable, growing and provide employment.

- Highway 150 Reconstruction

I know how excited Bob was to offer the Community Toast for the 175th Celebration. When Bob was elected, he asked if I could serve as Mayor Pro-tem. I agreed, expecting too perhaps fill in once or twice during the year if he was absent.

I am honored to speak to you today. I want to encourage all to vote in the upcoming special election July 19th to determine who will lead our city forward as Mayor.

Here is to our First Mayor Daniel Lee, the long list of pasts Mayors and Councils, Mayor Robert Hill, and the residents of Independence on this milestone of 175 years!

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