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Cedar Falls Supper Club

The Cedar Falls Supper Club: “Town” and “Gown” gather for Intellectual Discussion since 1941

 
  

Cedar Falls native Ferner Nuhn (left) married best-selling writer Ruth Suckow in 1929. They lived in Cedar Falls several times during the 1930s and 1940s, where he helped found two organizations. One of those organizations became the Hearst Center for the Arts and the other, the Cedar Falls Supper Club, continues today as a way to bring “town” and “gown” together and encourage intellectual discussion. Nuhn was one of five founders, along with Poet James Hearst (right), Professor Bill Reninger, Professor Martin Grant, and businessman Paul Diamond. They recruited seven other local men, kept organization to a minimum, and encouraged lively discussions and debate.

Hearst gave a presentation to Supper Club on September 15, 1981, remembering its origins 40 years earlier: “We were hungry for serious discussions of what life was like for the other fellow….We were interested in controversy, on opposing beliefs, convictions, commitments” (qtd. by Dorothy Grant, History of Supper club).

The Supper Club first met in 1941 with twelve members. It gave members an opportunity to interact with members from both town (Cedar Falls) and gown, the Iowa State Teachers College (which later became The University of Northern Iowa). It evolves from a men-only club that invited visitors (often spouses) one month a year to a more diverse club with women members in the late 1980s.

These five men, who were friends and intellectuals, were at the core of Supper Club:

·       Ferner Nuhn wrote short stories, reviews and essays: he and his wife opposed the Second World War and traveled to visit Conscientious Objectors. He wrote movingly of the farm crisis during the Depression.

·       Paraplegic Poet and Writing Professor James Hearst grew up on a farm, and wrote about his injury, farmers, and weather in his poetry.

·       Professor Bill Reninger taught in the English Department before interrupting his teaching to join the US Navy during WW2.

·       Paul Diamond was an immigrant from Russian who opened Diamond Bros. Grocery store with his brother Sam on Main Street and eventually had a chain of grocery stores.

·       Professor Martin Grant studied plants, traveling the world with his wife, Dorothy, who typed up his notes. She became the historian for Supper Club, and one of its first female members.

Since the first meeting in February of 1941, approximately 100 people have been members of the Supper Club, which continues to meet today: my husband and I are members.


 
 
 

The legacy of the Supper club continues to bring people together today to explore perspectives, discuss ideas, and argue positions. Mike Dargan maintains a blog that archives presentations, http://cedarfallssupperclub.blogspot.com/


Last updated March 26, 2019

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