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Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016

The Castle Keeper

Monday, July 11, 2005

A monumental tribute is complete for NW Iowa King of Invention, Imagination

Corn and wheat fields blanket northwestern Iowa for hundreds of miles. Pass through the city of Ida Grove (pop., 2000), a short drive southwest of Storm Lake, however, and a fantastic medieval landscape crops up.

The city marker is a castle tower standing 30 feet high. Farther toward downtown is Ida Grove's Skate Palace/Convention Center, an imposing white castle with red, cone-roofed towers. It is probably the most unique roller-skating rink in the country. Another castle structure with a silo-sized tower serves as a mini-mall. A Gothic suspension bridge, with twin towers at each end, spans a river on a golf course nearby. Not too far from town is eight-acre Lake LaJune, harboring a half-scale replica of the H.M.S. Bounty. The only missing figures on the ship are Captain William Bligh and his mutinous English crew. By the lake stands a replica of Cape Hatteras, the country's tallest lighthouse in North Carolina. Then there is Lake LaJune Estates, a residential area with a medieval entrance consisting of a castle tower at each end of an expansive arch.

The scope and scale of these structures are exceeded only by the imagination and legacy of their designer and developer, Byron L. Godbersen, the legendary entrepreneur who founded a multi-million-dollar enterprise in Ida Grove from scratch. As a writer once put it, "If Ida Grove is the Camelot of Iowa, than this man [Godbersen] must be King Arthur."

Godbersen was raised on a farm during the Great Depression. Following a stint as a World War II paratrooper in the Pacific, he worked from dawn to dusk on his father's farm, where he then lived with his wife, LaJune. But Godbersen had more than a mechanical bent. He was an inventor and realized his future would not be on the farm when he invented a hydraulic hoist that could raise loaded wagons and unload farmers' harvests in a snap.

Godbersen's fortunes changed overnight with the Godbersen POWR-LINK. The machine turned Godbersen's Midwest Industries Inc. into a thriving operation. On the back of additional products that Godbersen invented and patented, including farm tillage equipment, a boat hoist that made it easy for people to store boats out of water, and a line of boat and utility trailers, Midwest Industries had sales outlets in 41 states, Canada, Latin America and Europe by the 1970s. Godbersen held patents on more than 50 inventions, more than any other person in Iowa.

Everything Godbersen did or made seemed larger than life. He built an authentic chalet on an artificial lake named after his wife. He built Godbersen Field, which later became Ida Grove Municipal Airport. He built and donated Godbersen Athletic Field, comprising the Ida Grove High School football stadium and baseball field. He later built the Ida Grove Country Club House, which he sold to the Club for a fraction of its development cost.

When Godbersen took to a task or hobby, he was consumed by it. After founding Byron Originals, Inc., a manufacturer of one-fourth and larger scale high-performance model airplanes, Godbersen held annual air shows in which realistic mock battles were staged between radio-controlled model war planes screeching over bomb blasts set off at "enemy positions," including model oil refineries and railway stations. One Ida Grove model plane Aviation Expo drew more than 50,000 enthusiasts.

When Ida Grove's most famous citizen died from heart failure last year, his family knew exactly what kind of memorial they wanted. In typical Godbersen fashion, they drew a design reflecting the grand patriarch's favorite motif, a gigantic castle tower. It is said that Godbersen's fascination with castles was kindled during a trip he took with LaJune to Europe - so much that the design of his next house was based on an advertisement picturing a castle tower that Godbersen tore out of a magazine in France. "I never had a set of plans, but I wanted to live in that building and now it is my home," a magazine quoted him as saying. "I just let my imagination build this house."

The Godbersen family handed over the design to Larry Tejral, manager of Hall Monument Co. in Sioux City. "This was one of the biggest, most ambitious projects I came across in my 28 years in the monument industry," said Tejral. Kallin-Johnson commissioned Royal Melrose Granites, based in Cold Spring, Minn., to fabricate the design.

The recently completed Godbersen companion monument stands six feet tall and is nine feet in length. The centerpiece is a castle tower topped with crenels. Above an arch featuring an inscribed eulogy to both Byron and LaJune is an etched Jet Black granite portrait of the couple. "Byron would have approved of this," said LaJune, who is a hale 78 years old. "As he always used to tell people when he had completed a building project that he was proud of, 'it's done about right.'"

The wings of the monument are flanked by polished knights, carved in relief, standing under arches at each end of the three-ton structure. "The attention to detail is impressive," said Tejral. "The feet of the knights actually jut out of the surface and stand on a pitched plinth on a polished base." The plinth and the base are made of marbled Rockville white granite. The main structure is made of Blue Pearl, a Norwegian granite that shimmers with crystalline structures and features light and deep blue patterns. Of Norwegian descent, LaJune chose the Blue Pearl.

As Gary Gertken of Royal Melrose Granites, explains it, "We drilled and attached seven different Blue Pearl pieces - the tower, arch with the carved eulogy, flanking wings, the knights and the tower top - so that the whole monument looks like one seamless structure."

An anchor is also sandblasted on one of the flanking wings, a symbol representing Godbersen's affiliation with water and the line of marine products he invented and developed. "Dad was a unique man," said son Bruce Godbersen. "Everything he did was grand and extremely creative. It's no surprise that his monument reflects those qualities as well."

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