When Larry Adams shared Boone County history or presidential history with tourists or Iowa residents, he shared parts of himself, friends say after historian’s death of Boone County in a car accident Monday near Granger.
Adams, 75, was director of the Mamie Doud Eisenhower Birthplace Museum from 1980 until his retirement in 2006. Adams outlived his father and brother, so he relied on a group of close friends in the Central Iowa town of 12,500 for support. He died Monday morning when a tractor-trailer traveling south on Iowa Highway 17 failed to yield to the car Adams was riding in and veered west in front of Adams’ car.
The driver of the car was airlifted to MercyOne Des Moines Hospital and another passenger was airlifted to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City.
“His life was that stuff,” said his friend of over 30, Mel Pins. “Larry was the nicest, most affable person you want to be, but he was also probably one of the most eclectic and eccentric people you’ve ever met.”
Pins, a Des Moines resident who works for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, met Adams more than 30 years ago when Adams called Pins on a lark. Adams read a story from the Des Moines Register where Pins and his military reenactment group were featured as the country celebrated the 50th anniversary of World War II.
He wanted to connect with Pins because of their shared interest in history, Pins said. Adams was instrumental in advancing Pins’ work to help veterans, Pins said.
Adams grew up in Boone. His father Larry ran a local Fareway store and served on the Fareway board. Adams’ brother, Jon, ran several Fareway stores in the area. Jon Adams died in 2005 at the age of 55.
“He really had no family,” Pins said. “His family was the concern of the community.”
Neil Goeppinger, a Boone farm manager, encountered Adams drinking beer in the back of Duffy’s Appliance Store at 822 Story Street in Boone around 1977. At that time, Adams was working as a private investigator. Adams lived in an apartment on the second floor of a building in downtown Boone owned by his family.
“He didn’t live high,” Goeppinger said. “He always dressed in a tie, always walked where he was going.”
Adams collected Boone County history and other artifacts. Many of these things seemed trivial, but Adams relished his informal role as Boone County historian and incorporated these artifacts into his work at the Doud Eisenhower Museum and on the Boone County Historical Society Board of Trustees.
“My family opened a few banks in Boone and he knew a lot more about it than I did,” Goeppinger said.
He collected so many documents and books in his apartment that people feared the floor would collapse, Goeppinger said.
“When you went up to his apartment, you walked down hallways between stacks of periodicals,” Goeppinger said. “They were stacked on the steps leading up to his apartment.”
Keeping a precious chapter in Boone’s story alive
Boone had a distant connection to former First Lady Mamie Geneva Doud Eisenhower, and Adams liked to serve as a guardian of that connection. Doud Eisenhower married Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1916. From 1953 to 1961, Dwight D. Eisenhower served as President and Doud Eisenhower became First Lady. She ran the White House sparingly and was hailed as both a hostess and housekeeper. The guests noticed her charm and the attention she gave them.
Doud Eisenhower was born in a home in Boone in 1896. Three months later her family moved to Cedar Rapids. When she was 6, her family moved to Denver.
In 1980, Adams became curator and director of the Mamie Doud Eisenhower Birthplace Museum. The museum houses many artifacts from his life in his childhood home.
Adams formed friendships with their grandson David Eisenhower and his wife Julie Nixon Eisenhower, daughter of former President Richard Nixon.
“He loved the story,” Goeppinger said. “He knew everything there was to know about the Eisenhower family.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower was a WWII hero and a presidential icon for many baby boomers and their parents. But over time, it got harder to get people interested in this little museum about a first lady who served the country decades ago, her friend Pins said.
During the summers after his 2006 retirement from the Doud Eisenhower Museum, Adams served as curator of the Higgins Museum of National Bank Notes in Okoboji. The museum preserves and exhibits banknotes, legal tender printed and issued by banks.
“It was Larry Adams,” Pins said with a laugh. “He knew a bunch of stuff that was fascinating, but most people probably didn’t care.”
Philip Joens covers public safety and RAGBRAI for the Des Moines Register. He can be reached at 515-443-3347 at [email protected] or on Twitter @Philip_Joens.