Hawkeye Point and the owners the Donna and Merrill Sterler have had an almost cosmic impact on me over 30+ years of highpointing.
I first visited Hawkeye in Spring of 1973 — shortly after it appeared on the Rand McNally map when surveyors had declared that it rather than Ocheydon Mound was Iowa’s highest point. Stopping at a store in Sibley, Iowa, to get formal directorsthe proprietor seemed very excited that had come all the way from my home in Maryville in northwest Missouri just to see the highpoint.
I had just caught the highpointing bug after climbing New Mexico’s Wheeler Peak while being a ranger at Philmont Scout Ranch. So when my mother wanted to visit her old teaching haunts in the Sibley area in a place prophetically called “Climbing Hill,” I jumped at the chance to make a sidetrip after seeing the magic green triangle on the Rand McNally map.
We arrived at the Sterler farm just before sunset. Kids were in the yard and Merrill came out to greet the car saying it was o.k. for us to park in the drive way and pointing over to a row of trees where cattle were grazing and said the highpoint was there.
While my mom sat in the car my dad and I walked to a fence where I snapped a photo. There was no marker or any other indication of the site’s importance. I marvelled at the magnificent view across the rolling hills guessing you could see Minnesota to the north and the lights of the towers of Souix City, South Dakota, to the west as the sun had set by the time we got back in the car as the clouds boiled up in a Spring storm.
Little did I know that this would be the only time I would actually visit a highpoint with my parents (although we had earlier made two specific highpoint visits — to the base of Guadalupe and the deceptively named Taum Sauk Reservoir).
When both of my parents died in 1998, I had no idea how much this visit had meant to them. But as I looked through their papers I found a story my dad had written which begins, “My son has a very unusual hobby…”
As I got more and more involved with the unusual hobby in the late 1990s I had kept meaning to return to Iowa feeling a strong need to return to my roots — perhaps most dramatically when I decided against a visit on a forced cross country drive after the September 11, 2001, airline hiatus forced a drive from Kings Peak, Utah.
Finally in August 2003, I returned with Jean Trousdale as I headed back to visit family in Missouri following the 2003 Highpointers Convention on Charles Mound. Wendy Hecht was organizing the scattering of Jakk Longacre’s ashes on the summit.
As we arrived, the Sterlers were sitting in lawn chairs in the yard. The highpoint complex had changed dramatically over the years. There was a new rural water tower across the road (Merrill was on the board). Farm buildings had sprouted near the highpoint (and had in turn not been used after the Sterlers quit raising cattle). A sign on the highway pointed to the highpoint (as well as one by the Sterler residence) and work was underway to turn it into a four-lane.
The Sterlers treated Jean and I like old friends. They invited me into their kitchen where I interviewed them for the Apex to Zenith Newsletter.
The Sterlers are arguably the most gracious of all the highpoint owners. While other owners had problems with highpointers coming at all hours, the Sterlers found this behavior interesting. No other owner regularly invited visitors in for coffee and to hand out souvenirs.
But it was clear that things were not easy for them. They had to either drive a car or ATV the hundred yards from the house to the summit.
They said they had made arrangements to protect the summit going forward and were looking forward to installing a granite marker to the complex at the end of their feed trough famed for a yellow sign in the shape of the state of Iowa that been photographed so many times.
I presented the Sterlers a certificate of appreciation from the Club. They showed off their log which had a signature from Jakk in 1993. They handed out watermelon to the 20 or 30 highpointers visiting for the Jakk Longacre scattering.
We talked about farming — I had inherited the family farm in Missouri and it remains in the family and Merrill was particularly moved when I unfurled the flag that had covered my father’s coffin for the ceremony. It was the first time I had done this.
Even after all of this, I was slow on updating the standard entry on americasroof.com for Iowa. The picture on the page still dated in 1973 as well as a circa 1990 aerial photo of the farm.
In January 2005 I switched to the blog format for americasroof.com to make it easier to update the site which is many instances was years and years out of date. As I was playing with the rss feeds, I was looking for something for Hawkeye Point. Ultimately I decided to do a search based on Merrill Sterler when I came across the sad news of his passing just two weeks before.
Rr 1 Box 86
Sibley , IA 51249-9801
USGS 7.5 Minute Map for Sibley. The GPS coordinates for the summit are 432754N/0954031W.
Osceola County, northwest Iowa, near Minnesota line
5 miles northeast of Sibley
Latitude 43 degrees 42 minutes N, Longitude 95 degrees 42 minutes W