Bringing Back the Beaver

Ken Barker has lived in Rock Rapids 57 years, and he says you don’t live in a community for that long unless you really care about it. One thing Barker has especially cared about over the last several years was a personal goal to bring Jerry Mathers, one of the stars of the popular television show “Leave It To Beaver,” back to the town where he (Mathers) spent a part of his childhood. And now, after many years of not having much luck, Barker’s quest has paid off: Mathers will be coming to Rock Rapids June 16-18 for Heritage Days.

Barker had been thinking about trying to get Mathers to visit Rock Rapids for a number of years, but said he got especially serious about his quest in 2009. “Probably the biggest mistake I made initially was trying to do it all on my own,” said Barker. “And that is not the route to take.”

After his initial lack of success, Barker began talking with Rock Rapids Chamber of Commerce director, Angie Jager, as well as the mayor, Jason Chase, and the Heritage Days Committee. They were able to connect with Mathers’ agent, but the price to bring the star to Rock Rapids was always too steep. “When you get ahold of somebody like that, quite often you have to go through an agent. Well, you know how agents are,” said Barker.

The retired teacher kept at it, however, even as his frustration was growing. “I was getting to the point where I was a little frustrated and was starting to wonder if I was the only one who was interested in having him come, so I was starting to think ‘maybe we don’t need this’,” explained Barker. “But then what happened is that his agent died, and after that I was able to get through directly to his wife, and then of course directly to Jerry via email.”

Barker said he explained to them just why they wanted Mathers to come. “Basically my idea was that I was thinking a visit by Jerry Mathers would do the same for Rock Rapids as what Donna Reed did for Denison, Iowa. Because, you know, here’s somebody who’s well-known, and ‘Leave It To Beaver’ is a family-oriented show you can still watch on TV even today.”

The Mathers family left Iowa before Jerry turned 2, but Barker is glad the former “Leave It To Beaver” star is coming back to his roots. “His dad was from Sioux City and I’m actually from nearby Correctionville, Iowa. Well anyway, Jerry’s dad taught school here in Rock Rapids from 1947-1949 and I wound up teaching here 35 years, so I’m excited Jerry is going to be coming back here,” said Barker.

While Barker didn’t reveal how much it would cost to bring Mathers to Rock Rapids, he did say the price is considerably less than what Mathers’ agent originally asked for. Barker has pledged some money to cover the cost, and he said others have pledged money too, with more pledges still coming in.

“I know other people who have gotten really exited now they know he’s coming, including former students of mine and also former teachers,” added Barker.

Barker said the schedule hasn’t been finalized, but he does expectMathers to appear at a variety of events throughout the Heritage Days weekend. “He will be the parade marshal and I think he’ll be at the all-school reunion as well, among other things. And we’ll take him around to various other places and events. I’m excited and I think it will be a good weekend for Rock Rapids.”

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