Clemons John “Jeff’ Pickart

Between 1922, when young farmer Jeff Pickart began playing for the Norway, Iowa town team, until his retirement from baseball in the 1970s, three Norway boys made it to the major league level of professional baseball (the Troskys and Bruce Kimm), five more (including Mike Boddicker ) played in the minors, and many others earned tryouts with professional organizations.  Yet, across the baseball generations, Jeff Pickart was the one of the touchstones of the game in the region.

Born March 13, 1898, to Richard and Mary Pickart, he was one of six children, as well as the grandson of Johann Pickart, one of the very first immigrants who had taken advantage of the Homestead Act of 1862 and moved west to Norway thirty five years earlier.  The family farmed ground a mile north of town.  

As a teenager, Jeff played baseball on a farm field north of Norway, along with a loose confederation of boys who named their teams the Timber Rats and the Prairie Dogs.  Jeff often told the story of Norway playing the “Boston Bloomers in 1915.  Jeff would have been 17 years old and remembered Norway losing to this all women’s team.  In 1921, when Pickart married Edna Storey, a woman ten years older from nearby Vinton, he – too – took up farming as his trade.  It was an occupation he kept until 1934.  Jeff and Edna’s marriage was long and happy, lasting over fifty years and producing daughter Virginia, along with sons James, Elwyn, Stanley, Julian, and Steve.

Pickart’s 1917 World War I draft registration card states that he was of medium height and build, with gray eyes and brown hair, ideally sized for baseball.  Norway town teams had already played, in various configurations, for four decades, and there was room on the team when Jeff joined the squad in1922, both playing and managing as the situation dictated.  

It was as a coach, general manager, and mentor that Pickart began to indelibly imprint his impact on the people of Norway.  When Hal Trosky, fresh out of high school, was approached by a scout from the St Louis Cardinals organization, the young slugger immediately turned to Pickart for guidance.  Jeff, realizing that he did not have the experience to give informed advice, sent the boy up to visit major league player Bing Miller (in Vinton).  The rest is history:  Trosky signed with the Cleveland Indians, and became a star first-baseman in American League throughout the 1930s.

Harold ‘Pinky’ Primrose, a member of the American Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame, remembers Pickart driving him, and his friends, to nearby towns to watch ballgames before the boys were old enough to drive.  Much has been made of the culture of baseball in Norway, and the influence it had over the Norway High School teams that, ultimately, won twenty state titles.  That culture was nurtured and tended and preserved and sustained across the years by Pickart.  Literally, generations of Norway ball players and citizens played under Jeff at one point or another. 

In 1933, Pickart – called ‘Stinger’ by the local baseball community, and eventually Norway’s “Mr. Baseball” by the rest – moved to town and began driving the bus for the Norway Consolidated School, a position he kept until 1960.  In 1937 he opened a feed store on the main street in town.  The jobs allowed him the freedom to perform his other unsung, but vital, service to the community.  He was the groundskeeper, custodian, maintainer, and manager of the Norway diamond, the town jewel on which countless games have been played. 

In 1941, Pickart’s Norway team defeated rival Watkins in a classic Iowa Valley League championship thriller, and the enthusiasm that swept the community spurred Norway to a volunteer project for the construction of a wooden grandstand behind home plate.  Pickart, the consummate manager, personally oversaw the harvesting of some nearby cottonwood trees, the subsequent lumber milling, and then the overall grandstand construction.  The seats remained a Norway baseball landmark until the structure was razed in 1987.

Pickart served as bus driver for the high school baseball team, as well, for many years.  Coach Jack Davis (1949-1952) remembers Jeff as “very serious” when he was behind the wheel, always putting the safety of the boys above all else.

Jeff was in fine fettle in 1969 when he served as the ‘ceremonial electrician’ and threw the switch and turned on the new lights at the Norway field.  Those lights still illuminate the field for the town team in 2011.  As Pickart eased out of the regular field maintenance and other baseball administrative duties, Norway’s grateful citizens scheduled a “Jeff Pickart Day in July, 1969, but rain forced a two-day delay and turned the affair into “Jeff Pickart Night”.  His family, friends, players, and the community turned out to honor Pickart, staging an old-timers game on his behalf and presenting him with a color television (on which he could watch the Chicago Cubs). 

Pickart was inducted into the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association in 1974, a fitting tribute to his enormous contribution to the state, the community, and the game.  Edna died in 1972, at age 83, and after suffering a stroke in 1981 Jeff lived quietly in Amana until he passed away on March 5, 1994.  They are buried together at St Michaels Cemetery, on a hillside overlooking Norway.