Iowan and WWII veteran Alonzo 'Lon' Adams gave Slim Jims their salty flavor
A Cubs fan, the "flower lady," husbands, wives, and more are part of the more than 1,400 Iowans lost COVID-19 as of early October 2020. Des Moines Register
For more than two decades, Iowan and food scientist Alonzo T. “Lon” Adams II tinkered with a recipe many hungry road-trippers know well.
The Slim Jim.
Called a “towering figure in Jimology” by the New York Times, Lon modernized the skinny beef stick, first invented in 1928, by refining the flavors of the closely guarded concoction. His kids, Eleanor Harrington and Eric Adams, were often conscripted as taste-testers, especially on flavors still in development, they told the Times.
“They went through barbecue flavor and Italian seasoning and pizza flavor and lots of different ones that never made it to market,” Eleanor said.
But inventing a snack food so popular that enough of those classic red-and-yellow tubes are sold annually to circle the globe twice isn’t the only unique part of this Davenport native’s life.
A World War II veteran who survived a bullet to the head during the Battle of the Bulge, Lon was an avid bowler, chef, photographer and beloved cut-up at his Raleigh, North Carolina, assisted living facility right up until his last days.
An outbreak of coronavirus at that facility took Lon’s life on Nov. 28, just two days after Thanksgiving. He was 95.
Born in 1925, the son of a Quad Cities postman and a homemaker, Lon enlisted in the Army after high school, eventually joining the 82nd Airborne Division.
On Jan. 30, 1945, Lon, then 19, parachuted into combat in Belgium at the Battle of the Bulge and was shot in the face, according to the Times.
“The bullet went in under one eye and out on the other side of his face right in front of his ear,” Eleanor told the Times.
Unconscious after the blast, Lon woke up to German voices and a sharp fear he had been captured by the Nazis, his grandson Andrew Adams told the Raleigh News & Observer. Fortunately, he was safely in American hands, just recuperating next to some captured German soldiers.
After a long recovery, Lon enrolled in Davenport’s St. Ambrose College and then Iowa State University, where he received a master’s degree in microbiology. He worked at an Iowa pork-packing plant before moving to Goodmark Foods in 1968 to become Director of Meat Technology.
At the time, American bar grub was pickled pigs feet or pickled eggs, Lon's son Eric told the Times. Goodmark was “looking to upgrade that and have a shelf-stable meat product.”
The lengthy process to make Slim Jims starts with frozen blocks of cattle cheek and forehead, which, after warming, are mixed with chicken and 30 spices, according to a 1996 Times report from the North Carolina factory. After being incubated for 17 hours and cooked for 20, liquid smoke finishes off the snack with a signature snap.
Lon retired as the company’s Principal Scientist — as his reserved parking space declared — in 1991. In his later years, he developed Alzheimer’s disease, but never lost his wit or his sense of humor, Andrew said.
His grandfather’s home in west Raleigh was a “magical place,” Andrew said. Visiting him always meant a delicious meal made from whatever was in his two fully stocked fridges — which of course included lots of protein.
“He was a big believer in eggs being super healthy and we trusted him," Andrew said. "He was the food scientist, you know.”
Lon was healthy before his diagnosis and his passing nearly a week later was shocking, Andrew said.
But Andrew's found some comfort knowing that his grandfather’s work will live on as long as Slim Jims sit on gas station shelves.
“It’s just really cool,” Andrew said. “It’s kind of always been my classroom icebreaker. It’s always been my grandpa and his Slim Jims.”
This story is part of the Iowa Mourns series, a collection of remembrances about Iowans who lost their lives to COVID-19. If you've lost a loved one to COVID-19 in Iowa, let us know by filling out this form or emailing Iowa Columnist Courtney Crowder at email@example.com.
Iowans lost to COVID-19
The following are deaths from COVID-19 were added in the past week to our list of more than 400 Iowans who have died from the disease, found at DesMoinesRegister.com/IowaMourns.
Connie Abegglen, 74, Merrill. Loved the color red found on clothes and cardinals.
Martha Anderson, 89, Cedar Falls. Worked at the University of Northern Iowa's Rod Library for 31 years.
Lonnie Bailey, 61, Fertile. Took a family trip to the Mississippi river and apple orchards every October, rain, snow or shine.
Theodore "Butch" Bean Jr., 81, Cedar Rapids. Built flag display boxes for families of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Cynthia Curran, 73, Marion. Enjoyed listening to the "oldies."
Wilma Haberkamp, 90, Fairbank. Ran "Jo's Thread and Thimble" in Fairbank with her sister after retiring from teaching.
Merlyn Helm, 84, Clear Lake. The mayor of Crystal Lake for several years.
Delbert Holtkamp, 82, West Burlington. Always requested lasagna at meals.
Mark Johnson, 57, Cedar Falls. Worked for Blue Diamond in warm seasons and at Godfather's Pizza in cold.
Donald Knudsen, 87, Dike. Helped move his community forward as Mayor for 44 years.
John (János) Kokity, 92, Quad Cities. Member of the Over 50 Ballroom Dance Club.
Randall Magee, 64, Cedar Falls. Devotedly followed Ricky "the Rooster" Rudd in NASCAR.
Bill Martin, 72, Boone. Stayed lifelong friends with people in his high school marching band, forming the Bill Martin Group to keep playing music.
James "Bert" McGrew, 92, Cedar Rapids. A "numbers" man who loved Sudoku.
Donald Mott, 96, Paullina. Registered for the draft as a conscientious objector and did Civilian Public Service work from 1944 to 1946 in five states.
Carla Naeve, 82, Le Mars. Loved to golf and birdwatch.
John Novy, 88, Greenfield. An Iowa State Patrolman known as "Big John."
Jean Marie Rickelman, 89, Fort Madison. Proud to be both a farmer's daughter and a farmer's wife.
Lyle Sannes Sr., 86, Marion. Known as the "Road Dog" for all of the miles he traveled for work, hunting and fishing.
Margaret Thing, 84, Springville. Sang and played in the bell choir at Springville Methodist Church.
Rita Weiden, 98, Raymond. Most remembered as a waitress at Bishop’s Cafeteria in Waterloo.
Cornie Wassink, 70, Alton. A charter member of the Northwestern Athletic Hall of Fame, established endowment scholarships as Director of Planned Giving and a part of every major capital campaign at Northwestern College.
Mark Bailey, 63, Fort Madison. Department of Corrections inmate.
Robert Vidimos II, 58, Ames. Shared his love for singing, slapstick movies and competitive board games with his children.
Patricia Androy, 58, Dunlap. Worked as a registered nurse at a nursing home.
Jerry Morrow, 63, Cedar Rapids. Died less than 12 hours apart from his wife, Rosie with family saying their love was a true meaning of “until death does us apart.”
Rosie Morrow, 81, Cedar Rapids. Died less than 12 hours apart from her husband, Jerry with family saying their love was a true meaning of “until death does us apart.”
Dwight Stearns, 64, Earlham. The first full-time transport officer for Dallas County Sheriff’s office.
Michele Racanati, 47, Oelwein. Worked with her twin sister, Cynthia, at MercyOne.
John Laflen, 84, Buffalo Center Won awards for his research on the development of a new generation of erosion prediction technologies.
Lyle Thayer, 82, Le Grand. Worked in upholstery, enjoyed hunting and fishing.
Stephen Miller, 77, Marquette. Had fun rituals with his children from Friday family nights at the YMCA to group outings to Badgers basketball and football games.
Patsy Schotanus, 84, Grafton. Had a talent at connecting with young people, many of whom considered her family.
Raymond Jennings, 77, Muscatine. Taught his grandchildren the bounty of catfish ponds and how to keep their eye on the ball.
Shirley Ann Smith, 83, Ames. Could never resist stopping at an antique shop.
John Marks, 61, Urbandale. Worked as an independent contractor for the real estate division at the U.S. Postal Service.
Michael Carr, 59, Fairfield. A two-time kidney transplant recipient.
Bill Bride, 77, Bloomfield. Involved with the area Johnny Poppers Two-Cylinder Club, riding around with his "tractor buddies."
Nancy Emery, 72, Savanna.
Judith Garbers, 79, Keystone. Taught as a teacher for 30 years, and spent the next 20 years as a substitute teaching her former students' children.