GREENE COUNTY - The most famous resident of Paton didn't really exist.
Pfc. James Ryan, title character of Stephen Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan," returned home to northern Greene County after participating in the D-Day invasion of Normandy.
Though a mention in the 1998 blockbuster film brought national - though fleeting - notice to the quiet town, Paton's real world reach extends farther than one would expect of a rural community of 236 residents.
-Messenger photo by Jesse Helling
Eddie and Joleen Lusk share a laugh in the recreation room of Churdan Bar & Grill, the restaurant they own and operate in downtown Churdan. Joleen Lusk has also served as mayor of Churdan for the past eight years.
A 5-acre plant on the east edge of town is the production facility for some of the largest commercially-sold agricultural planters in the world.
Since 2009, Bauer Built Manufacturing Inc. of Paton has produced the John Deere DB120, capable of planting 90 to 100 acres of land per hour.
Bauer Built and John Deere have operated under a partnership agreement since 2002 - meaning that products made at the plant are shipped all over the world via the John Deere dealer network, said general manager David Sturtz.
Indeed, if you've seen the familiar green-and-yellow John Deere paint scheme in a farm field, you've probably seen a Paton-produced product.
In addition to final assembly, nearly all the components of Bauer's implements are produced on-site, Sturtz said.
"If we can make it, we do," he said.
Bauer Built Manufacturing employs 150, making it by far the largest single employer in the town.
In addition to the manufacturing plant, the Bauer family also owns a restaurant under construction downtown. The restaurant is set to open in the spring, according to Sturtz.
However, Paton is home to other industries, including Quad County Ag Service Inc.
The agricultural contractor does complete design of steel buildings, commercial storage tanks and concrete walls and foundations, said Chad Taute, vice president of Quad County.
Like Bauer Built, Quad County's reach extends far beyond Paton.
"We send our guys all over the country," Taute said. During peak seasons, Quad County employ approximately 50 people, he said.
Twelve miles west of Paton lies the town of Churdan.
Though lacking Paton's industrial base, the town of 386 bisected by Iowa Highway 4 seeks to maintain a level of vibrancy in its downtown area.
Among the hot spots are the Churdan Bar & Grill, where owners Eddie and Joleen Lusk work to feed and entertain their neighbors on a daily basis.
Eddie Lusk spent many years in the restaurant business in Minneapolis before he and his wife decided to return to her home town nine years ago.
"I was unemployed and bored," he said.
So, when the opportunity to purchase the Churdan Bar & Grill came about, the Lusks decided to take the plunge.
Eddie Lusk describes the restaurant as a type of co-op.
"We have people in town volunteer to wait tables," he said.
The volunteers work for tips - and a tasty dinner.
"It works out nice," he said.
Upon coming back to Churdan, Joleen Lusk jumped into local politics.
She has served as mayor of the town for the past eight years.
"I'm committed to keeping Churdan looking good," she said. "We have a lot of great properties."
Both Eddie and Joleen Lusk cited Churdan's small-town lifestyle as a plus after many years of big city living.
"It's definitely a slower pace," Eddie Lusk said.
Indeed, the spirit of community is among the strongest assets towns like Paton and Churdan have, according to Becky Tourte, a leader of the Paton Betterment Club.
The group, comprised of community volunteers and business owners, works to organize various social events throughout the year.
Tourte has first-hand experience with both of the northern Greene County towns.
A native of Churdan, she moved to Paton more than two decades ago upon marrying a local farmer.
"It's home now," she said.
Personal connections help fuel the local economy, according to Ralph Riedesel, vice president of Community State Bank of Paton.
Somewhat unique in modern American finance, Community State Bank is locally-owned and operated.
The bank has no branches other than the main office downtown.
"We do offer electronic banking, online banking and all the modern conveniences," said Riedesel with a chuckle.
Still, the friends-and-neighbors commitment, coupled with a common sense approach, have sheltered Community State Bank from some of the negative effects of the national economy.
"We've never had a house foreclosure," he said.
Commitments to the community have also kept Bauer Built and Quad County Ag Service in the area. Each are family-owned and operated.
"Sure, there would be some advantages to being located at the intersections of Interstate 80 and 35," Sturtz said. "But we have the advantage of the support of the town, and giving back to the community is important to the Bauer family."