The Joys of Iowa Summers: The State’s Places, Products and Events Perfect for the Warmer Months

July 12, 2019 | The joys of Iowa summers

It’s officially summertime, and you don’t have to look too far in Iowa to find a pastime that appeals to your tastes.

Throughout the state, there are unique products, places and events serving as the ideal complements to the summer months. From the Wells Ice Cream Parlor in Le Mars to Winnebago Industries, an Iowa-based company selling outdoor vehicles and equipment, Iowa’s joys of summer stretch far and wide.


Wells Enterprises, the parent company of the Blue Bunny ice cream brand, is a pillar of the Le Mars and northwest Iowa communities. Its impact is felt not only through the business, which employs thousands of people, but through its ability to attract people to Le Mars, the town of about 10,000 people dubbed the Ice Cream Capital of the World.

One of the main attractions in the town? Wells Enterprises’ Tourism Center and Ice Cream Parlor, which reopened in June after undergoing extensive renovation at a cost of more than $3 million. The leadership of Wells Enterprises decided to invest in the center because of its potential to draw more people into the community and attract tourists.

“This was an effort to bring people here and not only have them visit the visitor center and parlor, but also the theater down the street or the great restaurants,” said Shannon Rodenburg, marketing and tourism manager for the center and parlor. “It’s truly a larger vision than the parlor, and it’s about making Le Mars a destination.”

Located in the heart of downtown Le Mars, the two-story building, which underwent renovation last fall and into the spring months, was expanded into the adjacent building. The second story was outfitted with an interactive museum and learning center, which teaches visitors about the history of ice cream, how Blue Bunny treats are produced and the history of Wells Enterprises.

On the first floor is a gift shop, dining center and ice cream parlor, where visitors can purchase their favorite treats. The decor is made up of Wells Enterprises artifacts and mementos.

"We wanted to make this immersive and impactful for people,” Rodenburg said. “We’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback from everyone — young ages to some of our senior citizens. People are really excited, especially the locals. They’ve been seeing construction for months now, and the suspense was killing them.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds attended the grand reopening of the visitor center on June 12, which coincided with the beginning of Le Mars’ Ice Cream Days. Through the rest of the week, the center handed out 20 golden spoons. Recipients of the spoons receive a free cone or dish every time they present the item at the visitor center.

And if you needed any more encouragement to make the trek to Le Mars to get an ice cream fix, the menu is dotted with unique, location-specific options, including vegan choices. Also on the menu are “Extreme” treats, like This Shake is Bananas, which is filled to the brim with ice cream and fruits.

“The name rings true,” Rodenburg said. “Think more stuff in a shake than any one person can handle.”

That sure sounds tasty.


One of the biggest summer boons for Iowa is golf. According to a 2016 study prepared by Teconomy Partners, an economic research company, Iowa’s golf industry generated more than $815 million, employed more than 11,400 people and produced more than $72 million in state and local tax revenue in 2015.

You don’t have to travel far to find a local nine-hole golf course in Iowa, and that provides Iowans with good opportunities to play golf whenever they want.

“In a lot of metropolitan areas, it’s difficult to go out on a Saturday morning and play a round of golf,” said Peter Voorhees, president of Standard Golf Co., which manufactures golf course accessories. “It’s more doable in Iowa than other places because most towns have a nine-hole golf course that you can play rather inexpensively.”

Standard Golf Co., based in Cedar Falls, has been around for more than a century. It was created by Voorhees’ grandfather Walter in 1910 and originally made farm gates. During the 1920s, one of the biggest decades of growth in the golf industry, Cedar Falls built a small, nine-hole golf course, and Walter was the only local manufacturer who could build accessories.

The company’s product line expanded, and by 1974 Standard Golf Co. had completely done away with farm products and focused exclusively on golf equipment. Voorhees joined the company in 1975 and eventually became the third generation of his family to run it.

Voorhees believes golf is one of the best sports to enjoy on a sunny, warm summer day because it’s not as intense as other popular sports.

“There is a certain kind of intensity, but it’s not as intense as other sports are,” Voorhees said. “It’s something you can enjoy a Saturday doing. It’s something you can do by the time you can hold a golf club to the time that you want to keep doing it. And there’s certainly a social activity tied to it that isn’t true with other sports.”

Iowa also boasts some beautiful and challenging courses. The Harvester Golf Club in Rhodes, Blue Top Ridge at Riverside Casino in Riverside, the Preserve on Rathbun Lake in Moravia, Spirit Hollow in Burlington and the Veenker Memorial Golf Course in Ames are all renowned for their design and playability. Des Moines also hosts the annual Principal Charity Classic, a PGA Tour Champions event, in June at the Wakonda Club. That’s in addition to the many municipal golf courses that can be found in Iowa towns.

While golf as an industry has remained relatively flat in recent years, Vorhees said, it’s still a huge boost to the state’s economy in the summer months, affording residents and tourists the opportunity to enjoy a leisurely afternoon.

“Golf is fairly important to the state of Iowa,” Voorhees said. “Not only do you not have to spend a lot of money or get on a waiting list to get into a country club, but it’s a great place to start. There are more opportunities to play here. You can go out and practice whenever you want.”


When Dave Bernstein moved back to Sioux City after working in Chicago — where he promoted concerts — he was looking to add a little spice to the northwest Iowa community. Bernstein, treasurer at State Steel in Sioux City, and his friend Adam Feiges were into all kinds of music — rock, blues, reggae, you name it. In 1991 — Bernstein was 24 and Feiges was 25 — they started the Saturday in the Park festival, a free musical event in the middle of town featuring a variety of acts on two stages.

Since then, it’s grown massively. The first event drew about 5,000 people, and today it draws about 25,000 to 30,000 people, mostly from the surrounding areas. The event has seen headline acts like Aretha Franklin, Foster the People, Kacey Musgraves and more. At this year’s festival in early July, Flo Rida, a popular rapper, headlined the festival.

What’s perhaps more impressive than the growth is the support from the community. Bernstein said some sponsors are almost insulted when he calls and asks for sponsorships.

“They’ve been here since the beginning, and they’re like, ‘Why are you calling?’ Just send me an invoice,” Bernstein said. “It’s beyond amazing. This area really, really embraced this type of stuff. You can’t ask for a better response. And the city is tremendous.”

The festival is even more notable in the fact that it’s run by an all-volunteer committee. The group only meets for an hour about a dozen times every year and still manages to churn out an impressive event and lineup year in and year out.

“It’s a very active committee, different than a lot of others because people on the committee really get down and do the work to produce the festival,” Bernstein said. “We have an amazing crew that works on this in all phases. That’s the best part.”

Bernstein pointed out other impressive summer music festivals with rich traditions in Iowa, including Hinterland in St. Charles, 80/35 in Des Moines and Loessfest in Council Bluffs.

“There’s some killer stuff going on,” Bernstein said. “Iowa is really a great hotbed of great live music, especially in the summer. I think that’s something we need to leverage even more in this state.”


Winnebago Industries, based in Forest City, is one of the most iconic and vintage companies in Iowa. Its motor homes and travel trailers have long been staples of summer road trips and camping excursions.

Formed in 1958 by a group of business leaders in Forest City looking to attract industry into town, Winnebago Industries was initially part of a relationship with a travel-trailer company in California. The group eventually bought out the company and by 1967 they began production on motor homes, which became the key to its growth over the next five decades.

“So many families have had the opportunity to get into the outdoors and experience RVs and camping and other outdoor activities through the use of our products for more than six decades,” said Michael Happe, president and CEO of Winnebago Industries. “In many ways, we’ve become synonymous from a brand standpoint for motorized recreational vehicles, but really our brand stands for memory-making and outdoor experiences as much as it stands for our products.”

The company’s numbers certainly reflect that. Winnebago Industries, which is a wholesaler to independent dealers, made more shipments (more than 50,000) in March last year — in advance of the summer months — than it did in any other month. Its revenue in the third quarter last year (March through May) was more than $560 million — more than $100 million more than each of the first and second quarters, which land in the fall and winter months.

The company has also expanded its product lines to capture more market space in outdoor vehicles and equipment. In 2013, Winnebago Industries bought Grand Design RV, a travel-trailer company. In 2018, the company bought Chris-Craft Boats, which produces luxury boats.

“It has been a part of our mission and vision to be an outdoor lifestyle company and grow beyond just recreational vehicles,” Happe said. “We want to grow with adjacent or like industries that offer great experiences through the outdoors with their products as well. Those [acquisitions] have been transformative for our company.”

But the bread and butter for Winnebago Industries is the recreational vehicle market, which will continue to serve as a catalyst for families to enjoy the outdoors during the summer months.

“We have a long history of certainly helping families and friends connect with each and see the great outdoors around North America,” Happe said. “That’s been our connection back to summertime.”