Crowd of more than 1,000 attends launch ceremony of new Effigy Mounds quarter

The official launch by the United States Mint of the Effigy Mounds National Monument quarter took place Tuesday, February 7 in the Waukon High School gymnasium. Pictured above at the symbolic quarter release into a framed depiction of a bear mound utilized in the new quarter design are, left to right, Tribal Chairman of the Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri in Kansas and Nebraska Edmore Green, Effigy Mounds National Monument Superintendent Jim Nepstad and U.S. Mint Philadelphia Plant Superintendent Marc Landry. Standard photo by Joe Moses.

The Native American heritage so instrumental in the establishment, history and continued preservation of Effigy Mounds National Monument was celebrated as part of the official launch ceremony of the Effigy Mounds quarter Tuesday, February 7 at Waukon High School. The Iron Mound Drum Group (pictured above) and the Andrew Blackhawk American Legion Post 129 Honor Guard (pictured below) each contributed their specialties rooted in the Native American culture to the quarter launch ceremony. Standard photos by Joe Moses.

Dr. Peggy Whitson, an Iowa native of Mt. Ayr and current NASA astronaut aboard the International Space Station, was featured in a video message recorded during her current mission Expedition 50/51 for those in attendance at the launch ceremony of the Effigy Mounds National Monument quarter Tuesday, February 7 at Waukon High School. Dr. Whitson said when studying Iowa history and viewing aerial photos of Effigy Mounds she often wondered what the mound builders thought about standing next to those mounds and looking up, saying that she feels those mound builders were inspired to think about things larger than themselves. Standard photo by Joe Moses.

by Brianne Eilers

The Effigy Mounds National Monument Quarter, the 36th such coin in the America the Beautiful® quarter series from the U.S. Mint, was officially unveiled Tuesday, February 7 during a program at the Waukon High School gymnasium. A crowd numbering over 1,000 of Allamakee Community School District (ACSD) students and members of the public were able to experience the Native American heritage instrumental in the history and creation of the mounds depicted on the new quarter through the sounds of traditional drumming and singing from the Iron Mound Drum Group as they opened the program, and that group also played while the Andrew Blackhawk American Legion Post 129 presented the colors at the start of the program.

Junior Ranger Aida Frey led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance to further kick off the coin launch ceremony. Frey received her first Junior Ranger badge after a visit to Effigy Mounds, and has since visited over 265 National Parks across the United States.

KWWL television news anchor Jerry Gallagher was the master of ceremonies for the event. Gallagher noted that he grew up in Strawberry Point, so he was familiar with Effigy Mounds. “This is a very special day for me, personally,” Gallagher said. He also noted that his wife, the former Kelly Cota, is a Waukon High School graduate and he gave recognition to his in-laws, Tom and Joyce Cota of Harpers Ferry, who were in attendance at the coin launch event.

The first speaker of the event was Edmore Green, the Tribal Chairman of the Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri in Kansas and Nebraska. This is one of the many tribes that have a cultural association with Effigy Mounds. Green stated that the mounds were built 2,000 years ago and have endured, and that he had been to Effigy Mounds over the past couple of years to discuss the coin’s design and the meaning and significance of it.

He talked of the importance of understanding the history of Effigy Mounds and what it has meant, and continues to mean for people today. “It’s very wonderful that we can come here and you can understand the essence of this coin and the essence of the effigy mounds. So that you can understand, especially our young people here, you can understand that we were never discovered, we were always here,” Green said.

The next speaker was a representative from United States Senator Chuck Grassley’s office, Fred Schuster, who noted that the Senate is in session, so Senator Grassley was unable to attend the coin ceremony. Schuster also noted that he remembers visiting the monument in fifth grade, as part of the Iowa History course. He then read a letter from Senator Grassley, congratulating Effigy Mounds on being chosen to “celebrate the nation’s nature, monuments and history.” The Senator also noted in his letter that this quarter will bring more exposure to the national monument.

Brittany Carroll also read a letter from Iowa Senator Joni Ernst. Carroll also said that she had been to visit Effigy Mounds during a school field trip in fifth grade as well as with her parents. She said her parents felt it was important to learn the history of this place and of Iowa. “I hope those of you, especially the young people here today, continue to do that and continue to take your children to visit these monuments,” Carroll said. “It’s very, very important to know the history behind these places.” In her letter, Senator Ernst noted that “since 2010, 35 states have been honored with coins that highlight their finest natural or historic treasures. Today, Iowa joins their ranks.” She also noted in her letter that the history of Effigy Mounds begins long before Iowa was a state and even before the U.S. was a country.

Mike Olson then spoke, representing First District Congressman Rod Blum. Olson noted that he is a banker from Grinnell and a former member of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee to the U.S. Mint. Olson said he has worked with Congressman Blum on legislation to honor the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing with a set of commemorative coins to be released in 2019. In his letter, Congressman Blum noted that the Effigy Mounds National Monument quarter is the first of this series to be introduced in 2017. “This coin will be a nationwide ambassador and testament to the beautiful scenery and deeply ingrained history of the state of Iowa, exemplified through the Effigy Mounds National Monument; a story that every Iowan should be proud to tell,” Congressman Blum said in the letter. He also encouraged the students to begin collecting coins, as they are a piece of history that one can hold in their hand.

A special video message from Dr. Peggy Whitson, a NASA astronaut and Iowa native from Mt. Ayr, was also played. Dr. Whitson is currently part of Expedition 50/51 on the International Space Station. In her video message from space, Dr. Whitson said when studying Iowa history and seeing aerial photos of the mounds, she wondered if the effigy mounds were built to be seen from above, and what the mound builders thought about standing next to those mounds and looking up.

“The effigy mound builders were inspired to think about things larger than themselves,” Dr. Whitson said, “and the mounds continue to this day to have the same effect on those who are lucky enough to visit this amazing site.”

Effigy Mounds National Monument Superintendent Jim Nepstad then addressed the crowd. He opened by thanking the distinguished guests who participated in the program, namely Chairman Green, the members of the Iron Mound Drum Group and the members of the Andrew Blackhawk American Legion Post 129. “You honor us with your presence here today, and your presence here speaks volumes about your continuing connection with the land of your ancestors,” Nepstad said.

He noted that the National Park Service works with 20 sovereign tribal nations, and many of them have a word in their language or a close variation, "waukon". It can mean, among other things, sacred or mysterious. He discussed what kind of labor would be involved to construct the mounds, figuring several dump truck loads of dirt that was moved with only baskets when they were constructed. “Clearly, the people that constructed the mounds were inspired and clearly they were persistent. Persistence pays, always remember that kids,” he said. "This coin honors the work that they did."

He noted that tens of thousands of mounds once dotted the landscape, but most of them were destroyed. The heart of the effigy mounds territory is in Southern Wisconsin, but the Effigy Mounds National Monument is located in northeast Iowa due to the persistence and efforts of a group of people living in northeast Iowa, including Waukon resident Ellison Orr. “Simply put, the park is in Iowa because Iowa residents and the State of Iowa itself made it happen,” Nepstad said.

He also thanked the State of Iowa and the United States mint for portraying part of their landscape on this quarter, and said that he hoped this would encourage people to come and visit. “Get out there, get inspired, and once you’re inspired be persistent,” he said. “Good things will happen.”

The fourth grade classes of the Allamakee Community School District sang the song "Fifty Nifty United States". East Elementary fourth grade teacher Thea Thies noted that this song is something fourth graders sing every spring as a culminating activity. She encouraged audience members to join in as they performed.

The program then turned to U.S. Mint Philadelphia Plant Superintendent Marc Landry, who noted that the U.S. Mint is celebrating its 225th anniversary this year. He noted that since the America the Beautiful® coin series began in 2010, the U.S. Mint has been releasing five new coin designs each year with a National Forest, Park or other National Site design on the reverse (tails) side. “At each America the Beautiful® coin event, we celebrate our nation’s wisdom in conserving beautiful and historic national sites for all Americans,” Landry noted.

Landry further speculated that with the release of the Effigy Mounds quarter, millions of Americans will now see the quarter and want to learn about the national monument and the people who built the mounds and lived there. The people who built the mounds held the land and the mounds as sacred places and sites. “The design of the quarter embodies the spirit of the sacred landscape, depicting an aerial view of three mounds in the Marching Bear Group,” he said. “This new coin honors a special place where ancient people changed the landscape of their world in a most extraordinary way.”

Landry also introduced Richard Masters, the artist who designed the coin and is also an Iowa native from Sioux City. Landry then presented a plaque to Superintendent Nepstad with two of the Effigy Mounds quarters, both from the first day of production, with one from the Philadelphia Mint and one from the Denver Mint. The park staff of Effigy Mounds National Monument also created a framed depiction of the bear mound, into which Landry, Green and Jim Nepstad poured bags of the Effigy Mounds quarters to officially release the coin.

ACSD students in attendance also received a special quarter to commemorate this historic event. Following the program, Kerndt Brothers Bank held a coin exchange, in which members of the public could exchange money for rolls of the new quarters.

In a follow-up interview, U.S. Mint spokesman Mike White says that 460 million of the Effigy Mounds quarters have been minted - the equivalent value of $115,000,000, and he noted that the number of coins minted is calculated by anticipated demand determined by the U.S. Federal Reserve. White also noted that the new coin will continue to be released into circulation during the next six to 10 weeks, until the next quarter in the America the Beautiful® series is officially released.

Former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner selected the list of sites to be honored on the America the Beautiful® quarter series after consulting with the governor or other chief executive of each host jurisdiction (state/territory/district) and former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Kenneth Salazar, in accordance with authorizing legislation and the site selection process. Each of those state leaders was initially asked to identify one preferred and three ranked alternative national sites in his or her jurisdiction based on lists provided by the U.S. Mint of applicable national sites to each chief executive or governor.

With the state of Iowa having no established national parks, and Effigy Mounds being its lone established national monument, its selection for representation in the America the Beautiful® quarter series was a relatively simple process based on the national historic criteria established in the selection process. The Herbert Hoover Museum in West Branch is also a national historic site in Iowa, with two national historic trails - the Lewis & Clark Trail and the Mormon Pioneer Trail - also facilitated by the National Park Service.

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