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  • Writer's pictureRicki King

Forever Free and Underground Railroad

This spring, I had the opportunity to be a part of the Forever Free Pilot Mentor program. I got involved with the Forever Free Pilot Mentor program involving the underground railroad and burials at Woodland Cemetery. The goal is to have Woodland Cemetery recognized by the National Park Services. Because I did not know Des Moines or central Iowa played such a big part in the Underground Railroad. Yes, I had been to the James Jordan house, but that is all I knew about the underground railroad locally.

I was asked to help mentor a student. I thought about saying no because I could help mentor someone on a subject I knew little about. But, instead, I took the opportunity to help my students. My mentees were Drake University sophomore (now junior) Allie Shambaugh-Miller and Valley High School senior (now Iowa University freshman) Maddie Cason. We all grew our knowledge of Iowa history and learned more about Iowa's underground railroad activities.

During the process of submitting our application to the National Park Services to have Woodland Cemetery recognized, a discussion was had about Allie and Maddie sharing what they learned and experiences. Well, Allie, Maddie, Gale Brubaker from the Jordan House, and I joined together to present Forever Free: Rediscovering Heroes, Heroines & Helpers of Central Iowa's Underground Railroad. The presentation is available on the Iowa Culture's YouTube page and previous presentations given for the State Historical Society of Iowa. Check out the Iowa Culture page to learn more.

I believe in Barry Jurgensen's vision for the Forever Free Pilot Mentor program and think we are on the right path to "coordinate a multi-generational community effort to enhance the education, documentation, and preservation of the Underground Railroad."

If you are a relative of any of the people we talk about today or know of a relative that was involved in the underground railroad in Iowa in any position. Would you please reach out to Barry Jurgensen or me? I will make sure Barry gets your contact information. We want to work with you to enhance everyone's experience learning about Iowa's underground railroad.

The future of the Forever Free program is still being worked out. I had Barry answer some questions I thought you might have.

Q: Is there an upcoming Forever Free program scheduled?

A: There is not another project scheduled as we are searching for funding.

Q: Where will the next project be once you receive funding?

A: The funding will determine where we go next.

Q: How does someone become a mentor or a mentee?

A: People can suggest locations and mentors by contacting

If anyone wants to donate to the Forever Free program, they will want to contact Barry Jurgensen.

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