Smorgasbord honors veterans and community members

Streets dedicated to Bill Rabedeaux and Jake Davies, a moment of silence held for Pastor Steve Braudt, and Taps played for those who served in the military


The 4th annual Muscatine County Freedom Rock Smorgasbord Community Celebration drew crowds on Monday, May 27, for Memorial Day in downtown Wilton.

Fire departments from across Muscatine County battled it out with water hoses in a game of back and forth with a giant barrel that hung in the sky.

“It’s a beautiful day, and we’ve got more fire departments than we’ve ever had. It’s just a great annual event that we started with Jake Davies a long time ago,” said Becky Allgood.

Fire departments from Wilton, Bennett, Durant, Fruitland, and Bluegrass battled it out, filling the sky with water that fell onto many of the children crowding close to the event.

The Wilton Chamber and Development Alliance organized the ever-popular smorgasbord and the Wilton Fire Department organized the water fights.

“It’s 25 cents now, and we’ve got a ton of brats, potato chips, ice cream, and cake,” said Allgood, noting how the original smorgasbord started decades ago thanks to local grocer Jake Davies.

Speaking of which:

“We decided that this would be the perfect time to dedicate two honorary street names,” Wilton Mayor Keith Stanley told the crowd, “For two people very instrumental in development of this town.”

At that time, emcee Ted Marold held two signs high up in the sky, both inscribed with names familiar to the residents of Wilton.

The first was inscribed with “Bill Rabedeaux Way,” in honor of the former senator and Advocate editor who played a huge role in Wilton for years.

The other was inscribed with “Jake Davies Way,” the very man who started the smorgasbord decades ago at 10 cents a meal. Both signs can be seen on Fourth St.

Davies, along with the Chamber members, would take 10 lbs bags of potatoes, make potato salad, and then mix all of their potato salad together in giant tubs.

Over the past few years, the Jake Davies Smorgasbord has morphed into the Muscatine County Freedom Rock Smorgasbord Community Celebration.

This is due to the inclusion of the Muscatine County Freedom Rock, which was dedicated in 2020 at the Wilton Train Depot.

The Freedom Rock is just one of the 99 found in Iowa, one for each of its counties, with the 100th found in Altoona, Iowa.

Artist Ray "Bubba" Sorensen II wanted a way to give veterans unique recognition on Memorial Day.

Before the water battles began, all of the veterans at the event were asked to gather at the Freedom Rock for a picture, which was followed by the National Anthem and Taps.

However, there was still a bit of weight in the air.

“Before we have our invocation for this evening’s events, I think as a community we need to join together in a moment of silence for my colleague and friend, Pastor Steve Braudt,” said Pastor Jennifer Jennings.

She was referring to the recent passing of Pastor Steve Braudt of the United Methodist Church of Wilton, who was a major name in the community since he started in 2017.

Pastor Braudt died in a car accident on Sunday, May 26.

“Help us to celebrate the life of one of our own and his ministry to us, and help us celebrate the lives of all of those who have served our country fearlessly,” she prayed.

With that, the water battles were underway, soon followed by the smorgasbord.

As community members talked and laughed, the Freedom Rock could clearly be seen in the background. The Chamber managed to speak with artist Ray Sorensen II about the rock prior to the event on Monday.

The Chamber’s first question was what it was like working on Muscatine County’s rock during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was definitely a COVID rock, but because I work alone, outside, I continued working uninterrupted. I didn't have trouble getting paint either,” said Sorensen.

“I have finished all 99 and am currently booking rocks on the 50 State Freedom Rock® Tour, with a goal of finishing at least one Freedom Rock® in all 50 states,” he added.

Sorensen is also a representative for Iowa House District 23, giving him a unique perspective on the state of Iowa.

“I love Iowa and know there is more to it than beautiful open air and cornfields,” he says. “There are countless stories, especially dealing with our veterans over the years.”

“I just wanted to be a storyteller (illustrator) and be an anchor into each of Iowa's counties, showing folks there is more here to see than just 'flyover/drive-through' country,” he says.

Sorensen says that as a representative, he wants to do what's best for his district and the state. So how did he go about painting each Freedom Rock?

“When each county booked me, I would do my own research and have them do their own research,” he says.

“Once we gathered our ideas, I would sketch what I found interesting and what I knew I could illustrate,” he adds. “It was great to have those local folks dig up stories that may not be widely known.”