Iowa Alumni Magazine | December 2007 | People

Memorizing Mayor: Ivan Ackerman

By Shelbi Thomas
Waverly mayor and Iowa small-town trivia expert Ivan "Ike" Ackerman may know all there is to know about the Hawkeye State. He uses this knowledge to enrich his town with projects such as the Rail Trail Bridge (pictured), part of a two-county trail system that the city council recenty approved to expand.


It's not surprising that Ivan "Ike" Ackerman reads his local newspaper or knows the population (8,968 in 2000) of his hometown of Waverly. After all, he is mayor of the northeast Iowa community that also houses Wartburg College. What is unusual is his knowledge of all of Iowa's 950 towns.

The name of the local newspaper in Clarksville? "Clarksville Star." The population of Iowa City? "62,380." How about Hawkeye, Iowa? "That came up in a panel I sat on recently," says Ackerman, 61BA, 63JD. "Someone said they came from Hawkeye, a town of 500, and I told them they were exaggerating. There are only 489 people. That's one less than Arlington, which has 490."

Ackerman has memorized such trivia and subscribed to many Iowa newspapers (each for a year) to learn about the growth of towns throughout the state. "I'm interested in what makes a community tick and I look for ideas," says Ackerman, who is also an attorney. "You don't have to reinvent the wheel — everything's been tried before."

His technique seems to work. Since he became mayor ten years ago, Ackerman has created a downtown task force to bring new life to old Waverly, helped build a wellness center, and made a Sister City agreement with Eisenach, Germany — home of Wartburg Castle. He's also received numerous honors, including Wartburg College's Wartburg Medal, Main Street Iowa's Spirit of Main Street Award, and the National Center for Small Communities' American Hometown Leadership Award.

Ackerman's zeal for Iowa extends to the Hawkeyes, whose bowl game dates and scores he can easily recall. He's attended all 22 Iowa bowl games, from the 1957 Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, to last year's Alamo in San Antonio.

While Ackerman is fascinated with the state's colleges and towns, he believes that people make Iowa a special place.

"They're bright, well-educated, friendly, helpful, progressive, and have a good attitude," he says. "We have a wonderful population in Waverly, but that's true throughout the state."