Publisher’s Perspective – Volume 5, Issue 2

Saying goodbye to Abby…. and a Hawkeye hero

One of my favorite words is ubiquitous – which means appearing everywhere. And I can think of no word that better describes the careers of two gals who were born in Sioux City, Iowa, on July 4, 1918.

For Americans growing up in the decades 1950 through 1990, very few names could match the impact of these twins. Born to Abe and Becky Friedman (there were two older sisters, as well, in the family), the twins were named Esther Pauline Friedman and Pauline Esther Friedman, but millions of Americans knew them as Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren. And they were indeed ubiquitous for much of the later half of the 20 Century!

Their father was a successful businessman who owned several movie theaters in Sioux City and part of the Friedman Department Store in LeMars. The girls were gregarious and highly popular in their school days, graduating from Sioux City Central High School and attending Morningside College in their hometown.

The twins were such pals that they even got married on the same day and went on their honeymoons together. But their lives soon took separate paths when their husbands’ jobs took them to different cities.

In 1955, Esther Pauline Lederer (known as Eppie) found herself in Chicago and sought a job with the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper as an advice column writer. She was hired to write the column already known as Ann Landers, and became a stunning success.

Soon after, Pauline Esther Phillips (known as Popo) entered the same field when she talked the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle into giving her an advice column. She called herself Abigail Van Buren, taking her name from an Old Testament personage and the eighth President of the United States, Martin Van Buren. Her column was called Dear Abby.

The witty style and friendly demeanor of the twins came through vividly in their writing, and the popularity of Ann Landers and Dear Abby took off like a rocket. At one point, it is estimated that combined they had nearly 200 million readers and received some 15,000 letters a week.

Their huge success and competitive nature reportedly caused a rift between the two, and for nearly a decade they rarely spoke. But they eventually reconciled and stayed in touch the rest of their lives.

Eppie (Ann Landers) died in 2002, leaving Popo (Abby) to carry on alone. But Popo was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1996. On January 16, she passed away at age 94. It was big news everywhere, especially in her native Iowa.

“Abby and Ann put Sioux City on the map,” declared a column on January 18 in the Des Moines Register.

In another story in the Register, Daniel P. Finney wrote that while Popo “became an international star and author”, she and her sister kept their ties to their hometown. They returned many times for reunions, as well as their 65th birthday celebration in 1983. “They never forgot Sioux City,” Grace Linden, curator of the Sioux City Museum and Historical Society, told Finney. “The city ever forgot them.”

The twins made a huge impact on their hometown, their home state and the nation that loved them. Their names are etched in the memories of millions of Americans over the past half century.

In a column for the Sioux City Journal, Bruce Miller wrote, “both were proud of their hometown. Both were eager to sing its praises.”

Miller ended with a call to action, suggesting that it’s time for their hometown to honor them somehow, perhaps with a statue. “They helped put Sioux City on the map,” he said, adding “they always had time for the folks back home.”

I would agree with Bruce Miller that it would be very appropriate to see Sioux City do something special to recognize the contributions that the sisters made nationwide, and to the positive impact they had on the state of Iowa. Other great Iowans have been honored with statues – from Meredith Willson and Karl King to Lou Henry Hoover and the Sullivan Brothers, from John Wayne to Nile Kinnick and Frank Gotch. I think Eppie and Popo deserve the same sort of tribute.

Hawkeye football fans were shocked to hear of the recent death of Larry Lawrence, star quarterback of the Iowa football team in 1968 and ’69. Prior to heading off to become a Hawkeye, Larry was a sensational high school athlete at Cedar Rapids Jefferson, leading his teams to state championships in both football and basketball his senior year.

On Sunday, January 20, I was a guest on the popular radio show “Two Guys Named Jim” on WHO Radio. Host Jim Zabel started off the show by saying Larry Lawrence was one of the three greatest high school athletes he ever saw in the state … and at age 92, Jim has seen most of them.

With Larry running the show at quarterback as a sophomore and with senior Ed Podolak at tailback, the 1968 Hawkeye team was one of the most powerful units in Big Ten history, setting 20 school records.

Larry played two years in the Canadian Football League and three years in the NFL, then returned to Cedar Rapids to run a fitness club called Ra Power. In 2002, he underwent a heart transplant. My wife Bev and I considered Larry one of our best friends, and looked forward to spending time with him and his longtime companion, LaVila Suma, each summer when they came back to Iowa from Houston, Texas, where they spent their winters.

Having a conversation with Larry was a unique and challenging affair. He was adept in that arena as he was on the football field. He was very intelligent, witty and had a keen sense of humor. We spent many an enjoyable evening sitting outside on a perfect Iowa summer evening, sipping a beer and discussing our viewpoints on such diverse topics as religion, philosophy, politics, sports and history. Larry loved history of all sorts and was a loyal reader of Iowa History Journal.

LaVila was fighting cancer the last decade and suffered a relapse at the same time Larry’s health was going downhill. She died eight days before Larry passed away. Then Larry’s father, Ted Lawrence, a legendary high school and college football coach, died two weeks later in Illinois.

As the publisher of Iowa History Journal, I wanted to say goodbye to Larry Lawrence in a public way. He was a joy to watch on the football field, and even more fun to be around when his playing days were over. I will miss him very much in the years to come.

(Mike Chapman is the publisher of Iowa History Journal. Born and raised in Waterloo, he retired from a 35-year newspaper career in 2002. He is the author of 21 books and is a public speaker. He and his wife, Bev, live in Newton.)