Community members to be honored at Stars and Stripes parade

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Matt Esser has been chosen as this year's Grand Marshal for the 2021 Stars and Stripes parade on Saturday, July 3. (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

Beverly and Ray Black are this year's 2021 Stars and Stripes Super Seniors. (Press photo by Austin Greve)

By Caroline Rosacker

The Guttenberg Chamber of Commerce has chosen long-serving community member Matt Esser to be the grand marshal and community transplants Ray and Beverly Black to represent this year's Super Seniors at the 2021 Stars and Stripes parade set to take place on Saturday, July 3, at 7 p.m. 

Grand Marshal Matt Esser

Businessman Matt Esser has spent almost a lifetime living and working in Guttenberg. "I have lived 73 out of 77 years in Guttenberg," commented Esser. "My family moved here when I was four years old. My father bought a shoe store in 1947 – Burnham's Shoes. He ran the store for 22 years until 1969 when I bought the store. That was 52 years ago!" 

Esser attended the University of Iowa in 1966 and earned a bachelors degree in business administration and marketing. "I moved the shoe store from its original location a couple different times," he noted. "I liked the individual shoe store, but in a small town it didn't work out. You need a lot of space if you are going to sell shoes. I still don't have enough!"

The businessman has expanded his inventory throughout the years. This year Esser added designer labels Under Armour, Bass, Izod and Calvin Klein to the store. "Our store is about four times larger than it was when I first took over," he said. "I purchased the building next to the original store when we created 'Connie's Apparel'. My wife, Connie, passed away in 2009."

Esser is an active member of St. Mary's Church, Guttenberg Rotary Club, Guttenberg Chamber of Commerce, and serves as the treasurer for Umbrella Arts and the Knights of Columbus. "I spend most of my time working and volunteering, but I do like to hike and walk," he commented. "I also like to travel. Karilyn and I have visited Spain, Israel, and Italy. We also attend about six major trade shows each year. You have to attend a lot of trade shows to find the right merchandise at the right price." 

The energetic clothier is not ready to retire. "People used to ask me when I was going to retire and I told them when I turned 70. Now I'm going to shoot for 80. I enjoy what I am doing, and my employees, Joni Talsma and Hedda Wachendorf, are very good, very reliable help. I think it is a wonderful honor to be chosen as the grand marshal," he said with gratitude.

Ray and Beverly Black

Super Seniors

Ray and Beverly Black, formerly of Cortland, Ill. relocated to Guttenberg in 2013. The couple will celebrate their 67th wedding anniversary in late July. Together they raised nine children: Virginia, Michael, James, David, Steven, Mary, Suzanne, Charles and Daniel. 

Beverly, age 85, and Ray, who is 87 years old, told The Press how they met. "Me and my buddy crashed a girls slumber party," said Ray. "Beverly was 15 and I was 17. She gave me a rough time while we were playing ping pong. Her girlfriend and my buddy were dating and want to go out but he didn't have a car."

Beverly added her side of the story. "They convinced me to ask Ray out, and I said nice girls don't ask boys out," Beverly said with a smile. "Ray had an old 1939 Nash that ran on drain oil. It didn't last very long. We went to a beach party and then to a drive-in movie. I wanted to go home after the beach party, but it was three against one." 

Ray, a former plumbing superintendant and engineer, eventually became a plumbing contractor and worked in high rise buildings in downtown Chicago. "Ray's crew installed the plumbing in the John Hancock Center," Beverly proudly shared. 

The Blacks have embraced the local community and are happy they chose this area for their retirement. "I used to bass fish in Pool 10 near Prairie du Chien," Ray noted. "I took up fly fishing and was introduced to the trout streams of northeast Iowa and southwest Wisconsin. We chose to retire in Guttenberg because of its close proximity to our family and the Mississippi River."

"Guttenberg is a beautiful, friendly community," added Beverly. "We were warned that small towns don't always accept newcomers, but they were wrong."

Ray and Beverly hit the ground running as they settled into their new surroundings. "We became involved in many different groups in an effort to meet people," shared Beverly. "Ray contacted the Chamber of Commerce office and volunteered our services in whatever capacity we were able."

Ray became involved in the Lockmaster House Heritage Museum after visiting the historic home. "I was given a tour by Joe Ihm, a former member, and I was very impressed. I started to volunteer and later attended an organizational meeting where four members resigned and I took over," he said with a hearty laugh. 

"We are honored to be chosen as this year's 'Super Seniors,'" they humbly shared. "We really don't know why we were chosen – there are so many others more deserving."

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