One of RAGBRAI's early and most beloved leaders, Jim Green, has died
Fly along the RAGBRAI route in this drone video as riders make their way to the midpoint town of Kalona. Brian Powers, Michael Zamora, The Register
James “Greenie” Green, the energetic, passionate and talkative longtime RAGBRAI chief, died Sunday.
Friends and family said Green struggled with health issues after a stroke about two years ago. He was 79.
“He was a good man, a good friend,” said retired Register feature writer John Karras, who founded the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa in the 1970s with the late columnist Donald Kaul.
Green grew up in east Des Moines. His father died when he was young, and the priest at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church took him under his wing, having the young Green work in the church.
Green got a paper route delivering the Des Moines Register, which led to a permanent job in circulation at the newspaper.
He oversaw carriers and made early morning drops to locations across the metro for carriers to pick up their loads for residential delivery.
After a reshuffling at the Register in 1992, executives appointed Green chairman of RAGBRAI. He inherited a ride with a slipping reputation.
Drunkenness had become a problem, especially in the eyes of the Iowa State Patrol, and some communities worried RAGBRAI was bringing a rolling bacchanalia into their cities rather than a family-friendly event.
Green instituted a series of new rules that Chuck Offenburger, a retired Register Iowa columnist, said likely saved RAGBRAI.
Green ordered drinking be curtailed to beer gardens with strict access to keep out minors.
Then, he worked with each overnight city to make sure there was an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting available to anyone who needed it during the ride.
“I don’t think the ride would be what it is today if it weren’t for Greenie,” Offenburger said.
Green also insisted all registered riders wear helmets and got sponsors to create instructional safety videos on how to ride in large groups.
Green got local bicycle clubs to distribute the safety information, and crashes and injuries dropped off.
“Things are a lot different riding in a group setting than when it’s you and your family out on the trail,” Offenburger said. “You’ve got to call out your turns and let people know where you are.”
Green was improving RAGBRAI before it became his job. In the 1980s, Green would encourage his carriers to do their best work. Those who met and exceeded goals were rewarded a day or two ride on RAGBRAI with “Inspector Greenie.”
“He always wanted to help children,” said the Rev. David Polich of Osceola. The priest got to know Green when he was pastor at St. Joseph’s.
To that end, as RAGBRAI director, Green created the Dream Team, a program that helped disadvantaged youths earn a new bicycle by keeping good grades, training regularly and riding the entire route.
“That was his faith at work there,” Polich said. “He believed it was his duty to help others.”
Green’s greatest gift to RAGBRAI was his outgoing personality and boundless energy.
“I think the greatest lesson from Greenie that I carry with me every day is communication,” said T.J. Juskiewicz, who inherited the RAGBRAI mantle from Green in 2004. “He would always say, ‘There’s a time for email, a time for a letter and a time to have a chat.’”
Green is survived by his wife, Judy Green, three adult daughters and multiple grandchildren.
Memorial arrangements are pending, but Polich, who is retiring in July, will perform the funeral Mass for his old friend Green, one the final acts of his priesthood.
“I think it’s a fitting way for us both to go out,” Polich said.
Register Storyteller Daniel P. Finney grew up in Winterset and east Des Moines. Suggest stories at 515-284-8144 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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