Axios Des Moines

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✌️ Greetings, Thursday.

🌀️ Weather: Gradually becoming sunny with a high of 76°.

πŸͺ¦ Wanna visit Jason's future grave? We're getting together with our Axios Des Moines members for a unique walking tour of Woodland Cemetery.

  • If you'd like to come, become a member now to get the details going out this afternoon.

Today's Smart Brevityβ„’ count is 850 words β€” a 3-minute read.

1 big thing: Cemetery savers

Wade Fowler has restored hundreds of headstones like this one in DSM's Woodland Cemetery. Photo: Courtesy of Fowler

A Des Moines investment consultant awakened something unexpected while restoring gravestones in his free time β€” a large and living crowd of more than a million social media followers.

Why it matters: Much of Wade Fowler's work as the "Millennial Stone Cleaner" is voluntary.

  • The videos he posts are generating enthusiasm among a growing movement of cemetery savers, DSM historian and filmmaker Kristine Bartley tells Axios.

Zoom in: Fowler, who works at Bankers Trust, started out cleaning stones near his childhood home in Minnesota about six years ago, he tells Axios.

  • The inspiration came decades earlier when his grandfather nonchalantly mentioned that someone should restore the markers.

Behind the scenes: A friend convinced Fowler during the pandemic that others would be interested on TikTok, Instagram and Facebook in related stories, like the forgotten graves of children.

The intrigue: Fowler was addicted to Adderall during grad school.

  • He sought a mentally safe place after recovering, which he found in the cemetery work, he told Clarkson.

State of play: He's currently working to rehab almost all the monuments in Sims Cemetery, which was established before the Civil War near the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

  • That will be completed late this summer after about a year of work, he said.

The big picture: At least 3,000 cemetery volunteers have donated more than 20,000 hours of service in the last five years, DSM cemetery manager Ganesh Ganpat tells Axios.

  • One group, for example, recently wrote a book about Woodland Cemetery β€” the oldest public cemetery in Iowa β€” and is donating all proceeds to further its restoration.

The fine print: Monuments can be deadly if they topple.

  • People or groups interested in performing preservation work need approval from cemetery managers, Fowler said.

Worthy of your time: This 90-second video showing how Fowler and a friend recovered the deteriorated words on a monument at Woodland.

Keep reading: Cemetery tours

A photo of tombstones.
Tombstone restoration videos posted by Wade Fowler often give a brief history of the person they memorialize and show how fixes were made. Photos: Courtesy of Fowler

2. Vaccines to be paid upfront

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Payment for many immunizations will be required upfront starting in coming months at the Polk County Health Department (PCHD), spokesperson Addie Olson tells Axios.

Why it matters: Vaccinations help prevent communicable diseases, but local taxpayers can get stuck with the bill when private insurance companies deny claims.

State of play: The health department has historically billed insurance after vaccines were provided.

Yes, but: The bills are increasingly going unpaid, Polk County administrator John Norris told supervisors in a memo earlier this month.

  • The health department last month identified more than $26,000 in outstanding vaccine bills in a five-month period that ended in October, mostly those required for travel

Zoom in: The new policy will not generally affect how vaccines are billed for children, except for those that are exclusively required for travel.

  • People on Medicaid or Medicare won't see changes either.

The intrigue: Demand for travel vaccines has remained high since the end of the pandemic.

  • In recent months, PCHD's appointments for them have been consistently been booked weeks in advance, Olson said.

Stunning stat: Some recommended or required travel vaccines like one to prevent respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) can cost more than $500, according to the PCHD.

What's next: The new billing process will begin after the department completes system and technology updates, Olson said.

Keep reading: Travel vaccines: a national problem

3. Where's Jason?

I cropped this one a bit just to challenge a few of you smarties who consistently know where I'm located. Good luck! Photo: Jason Clayworth/Axios

πŸ“§ You know what to do: Hit reply and correctly guess Jason's location and we'll add you to a drawing for a free Axios shirt!

  • Check back tomorrow for the answer and a story about this spot.

4. The Ear: A new private school

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

πŸ“š Des Moines Christian School is planning to build a new high school campus along Northwest 42nd Ave. in Urbandale. (Business Record)

πŸ€ "Every year, I want to be the champion of the Big Ten Conference," said Jan Jensen, the new Iowa women's basketball head coach, in her first press conference yesterday. (Des Moines Register)

πŸŒͺ️ FEMA is coming to Iowa to provide disaster assistance for families affected by recent tornadoes. (KCCI)

πŸŽ“ DMPS Board Chairperson Jackie Norris will receive an honorary degree at The State University of New York College at Geneseo on Saturday.

βœ‹ The campaign manager for Melissa VineΒ β€” a Democrat running for Iowa's 3rd Congressional District against Rep. Zach Nunn, R-Bondurant β€” was fired following allegations that the campaign made dozens of donations on others' behalf to influence a political action group's endorsement.

  • The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board is reviewing a complaint about the incidents today. (WHO-13)

5. Your weekend plans

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios


πŸ˜‹ Enjoy Food Truck Friday at Campbell Park in Clive and listen to Dueling Guitars with Brian Congdon and Brad Seidenfeld. 5:30-8pm.

🎡 Listen to live bands during the family-friendly Greenbelt Music Festival at Horizon Events Center Friday and Saturday. Tickets start at $64.


🌸 Polk County Conservation and Prairie Landscape of Iowa are selling native plants that require minimal care, but offer benefits to local wildlife. 11am-2pm at Jester Park Outdoor Recreation & Wellness Center.


πŸ–Ό Over 50 local artists will showcase their work at Historic Valley Junction Art Fair. 10am-4pm. Free!

🐢 Meet adoptable dogs and donate animal, cleaning and office supplies at Sully's Irish Pub to help benefit AHeinz57. Donors get a free drink. 12-3pm.

🚲 Linh is searching for a backyard in Mount Pleasant for her RAGBRAI team to stay. (Hit reply if you have ideas!)

πŸ‘¨β€πŸŒΎ Jason is trying to keep his garden weeded.

This newsletter was copy edited by Lucia Maher.