She was kind, she was feisty, she loved to laugh and she loved her home town — which was the same as my home town.
The city of Oelwein lost an important voice last week, as a little Italian girl named Kaye Frazer passed away at the age of 92.
Outside of Oelwein, that name probably doesn’t mean too much. In Oelwein, however, getting your name dropped into one of Kaye’s newspaper columns might mean everything.
Kaye started writing for the Oelwein Daily Register right out of high school. She was the community and lifestyle editor for the newspaper for more than 50 years, and continued to write her local events column, “Bits, Bats and Bouquets” from her home computer all the way up to her passing. According to my friends at the Register office, her last column was published on April 22 — just a few weeks ago.
Every little town needs someone like Kaye. The expression is “institutional knowledge.” Kaye knew everything, she knew everyone. As she left us, she took a metric ton of irreplaceable Oelwein history with her. It’s gone now, erased.
I was fortunate enough to call Kaye a friend. I grew up in Oelwein and read her column every week, and it gave me one more reason to want to write for a community newspaper as an adult. Years later, I returned to Oelwein to work as the paper’s sports editor for a few years. My desk was right next to Kaye’s, and we talked every day.
I’d tell her the probable starters on the football team, for example, and she’d tell me who their parents were and what they did for a living. She might have even gone to school with some of their grandparents. Old stories were soon to follow. I learned much about my home town from Kaye.
As an elder writer, she would encourage me, instruct me, compliment me and sometimes scold me. Her advice was priceless.
She covered every major event in the community’s history. Thanks to the Iowa Caucus, she personally met every single person who ever ran for president in her lifetime. From the Iowa visit of Pope John Paul II to the devastating 1968 F5 tornado — the tornado that demolished Oelwein at the exact same time another F5 was demolishing Charles City — Kaye knew all the details and had an uncanny knack for recall.
If you had a question about Oelwein, you asked Kaye. She was Oelwein Google before there was Google.
My favorite Kaye Frazer story was her coverage of Iowa’s Woodstock — the Wadena Rock Festival.
Yes, in 1970, there was a rock music festival near the tiny little town of Wadena in northeast Iowa. At the time, a little over 200 people lived in Wadena. About 40,000 people came to a 220-acre farm — the Schmitt Farm — two miles west of town for the three-day (July 31-Aug. 2) event, which featured 30 musical acts.
Some were regional favorites. Others were nationally known. A few were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame decades later.
Day one featured Hot Tuna, Johnny Winter, Mason Proffit, Poco and The Flying Burrito Brothers. Day two included Chicken Shack, Joan Baez, Leon Russell, Little Richard, Terry Reid, The Chambers Brothers and The Everly Brothers. Day three included Albert King, Luther Allison, REO Speedwagon and The Sons of Champlin.
The audience included about 39,998 hippies, who gathered for three days of peace, music and drug culture. It also included Iowa Gov. Robert Ray — not a hippie — who told the crowd to have a good time and to play it safe.
When I think of Kaye — also not a hippie — and the governor together at that concert, the only two normal-looking people wading through a stoned sea of counter-culture, it always makes me laugh.
I was sad to hear she passed away, but am happy to say that she led a good life, full of love. She shared information with the community. Sometimes what she wrote was important, sometimes it wasn’t, but always it was the truth, kindly expressed.
From floods to fires to Fourth of July parades, from tornados to tea parties, from jailbreaks to jugglers, Kaye covered it all.
And over all those years, Kaye always ended her column with the same words.
“Keep the sick, the shut-ins and the bereaved in your thoughts and prayers,” she’d write.
Indeed. That was Kaye. I will miss her.
I just thought you should know that.