Iowa Man Inspires Community

Hometown Heroes, Iconic Communities, On the Road, People
on September 9, 2000

A town well was easy; The museum and pool took longer.

When Paul Lovell plants an idea, he tends it until it springs to life. Lovell, 81, a retired farmer, inventor, and businessman, is a community-spirited citizen whose grand ideas have found fertile ground in Logan, Iowa (pop. 1,500).

Once he successfully spearheaded an effort to reopen an abandoned community swimming pool, and when the town needed a site to drill new municipal water wells, Lovell, his wife, Helen, and their twin sons donated the land.

But his latest undertakingthe Museum of Religious Artsis his boldest venture yet. Lovell designed the $1 million, 20,000-square-foot structure to preserve a portion of Christian and Jewish religious history.

I figured my life was filled with blessings from the Lord, and it was time I paid back, Lovell says of his six-year effort to establish the museum, located along Highway 30 two miles west of Logan.

Watching old churches dispose of beautiful altars and statuary prompted Lovell to raise money and community support for the project. He and a friend, Dick Paduska, spent three years gathering artifacts, and community volunteers erected the building to the roofline and did some of the interior work. True to form, Lovell has worked tirelessly on the project despite failing eyesight.

The museums graceful and spacious interior houses a chapel representing the San Juan Capistrano Mission in California. Inside are pews from a Baptist church in Mondamin, Iowa; Italian stained glass windows from Boys Town in Nebraska; a pump organ; and a baptismal font, rescued from a barn where it had become a table for dressing out chickens.

One wing of the museum holds the King of Kings exhibit. Visitors can walk along a replica of a street in ancient Jerusalem and see the life of Christ depicted with 40 life-sized wax figures. The building also houses a theater, library, gift shop, and two large display rooms.

The museum will be one more reason for people to visit the area, says former mayor Judy Dinkel. It will definitely benefit Harrison County. Its extraordinary.

Dinkel was mayor in 1989 when the citys water source was drying up and its wells had to be relocated. It appeared the city would have to spend $80,000 to $100,000 for a new water source. To her amazement, the Lovell family donated eight acres for the citys wells. It was like a prayer answered, she recalls.

Twenty years ago Lovell dove into another project: an effort to reopen the community swimming pool. The kids in Logan and nearby Magnolia had been without a pool for five years, and a bond issue for a new pool had failed twice. People said Lovell was crazy when he leased the property from the town for 10 years for a dollar and promised to mobilize support to fix up the old pool.

I quit farming that year so the swimming pool could open by Memorial Day, recalls Lovell. I was down there every day cleaning up, tearing down the old fence and whatnot. I figured if people saw me working, theyd send money quicker.

Lovell formed a nonprofit corporation with a hands-on board of directors. When the community saw we were determined and dedicated, they got behind it, says farmer Zane McBride. He and his wife, Alverna, were the first people Lovell approached for help.

Board members and their spouses solicited donations and held bingo games, dances, a hog roast, and carnival. They gathered recipes for a big community cookbook. It took three semi-trailers to hold the donated goods they collected for an auction. The effort raised $50,000, and volunteer labor was worth another $50,000.

In 1982, Lovell received the Governors Leadership Award for Community Betterment, which he shrugs off: I think I can find the plaque around here some place.

Its Lovells inventiveness and willingness to put his own muscle into projects that inspire success, McBride says. And his ability to grow ideas.