Webster and Merrick to be honored in parade

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Neil Webster entered the Air Corps a private and retired from the United States Air Force a 2nd Lieutenant Colonel after 20 years of service. (Photo submitted)

By Molly Moser

Neil Webster, 94, of Guttenberg, was selected by the Stars and Stripes committee as this year’s Super Senior. Neil will be featured in the Stars and Stripes parade, which begins at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, July 3. 

Webster attended radio school in New Orleans and joined the Air Corps with another radio announcer in 1939. He celebrated his 21st birthday on Dec. 7, 1941, while stationed in Honolulu, Hawaii. “What a big blowout they gave me that day,” he teased. Webster was in a Hawaii hospital when the Japanese Navy bombed Pearl Harbor. He spent 60 days as an inpatient there for a broken hand caused by some shadow boxing in the barracks. 

In February of the next year, Webster was relocated to Christmas Island – a two-mile wide, seven-mile long island 2000 miles south of Hawaii that served as a stopover for bombers flying to Australia. Webster was serving in England on D-Day, and was transferred to a German airbase after the war ended. 

Shortly after, Webster was literally shipped out, returning to the United States on the Queen Mary. “It was a very good trip,” he remembers “There were two of us to a room, there was silverware, there was plenty of food. We were happy to be on the ship.”

He returned home to his wife and high school sweetheart, Liz, and the couple lived for a short time in their hometown of Waucoma.  Neil’s father, Neil A. Webster, Sr., opened a lumber brokerage company with an office on North River Park Drive in Guttenberg, so Neil and Liz decided to move to town. “I’d send two or three hundred letters a day to drum up some lumber business,” said Webster. The company sent out 500-600 carloads of wooden egg crates each year, and once filled an order for a quarter of a million wooden popcorn machine handles. 

Webster and his wife raised their only son, Walter, in Guttenberg. “I’m very proud of Walt,” Webster told The Press. His son operates one of the few remaining paddleboats on the Mississippi River, the Spirit of Dubuque. 

Residents of Guttenberg and the surrounding area may recognize Webster from his three terms as mayor, his company which first brought cable television to the city of Guttenberg, his interests in photography and radio, or his hobby – magic. “My father was interested in magic. That’s where I got started,” said Webster, who traveled to various area libraries performing magic shows with Dr. Downey. 

Webster has made his home in numerous places over the years – Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, and abroad, but he says his favorite among them is Guttenberg. “The people are really nice, supportive, and they look after you. They take care of you.”

Grand Marshal: Dr. Robert Merrick has graciously accepted nomination as Grand Marshal for the Stars and Stripes Parade. He retired this spring after 44 years of practice as a physician in Guttenberg. 

Merrick and his wife, Karen, raised their three children, Kate, Emily, and Paul, in Guttenberg after Dr. Downey hired Merrick in 1971. “No one wanted to hire me because they thought I’d be drafted,” Merrick explained. “Dr. Downey said he’d take me as long as he could have me. I never got drafted.”

Over the course of his career in Guttenberg, Merrick mentored many medical students. In 2008 he was awarded Medical Educator of the Year by the Iowa Academy of Family Physicians. The award is given annually to recognize quality in family practice education to a member of the Academy involved in teaching at a student level, resident level or in the continuing education of family physicians. “He's been very involved in education and self-education, and continues to read and learn. He wanted to be the best doctor he could be, and he certainly is,” said longtime coworker Dr. Andy Smith. “Dr. Merrick has been a model physician.”

Committee members of the Guttenberg Development & Tourism board organize the Stars and Stripes Celebration. Director Emily Moser said, “Both Neil Webster and Dr. Merrick have been an important part of the community for many years. We're so grateful for their service that we felt we really needed to honor them both.”

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