The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

September 11, 2013

Agnes "Aggie" Schrader, Queen of the Mississippi

By Gary Herrity
Special to the Herald

“Aggie.” What does that name call to mind? Do you remember “The Anchorage,” also known as Aggie’s Boat Dock? Clintonians of a certain age will immediately think back to those amazing years between 1943 and 1970, when “Aggie” Schrader Lutz ran the boat dock at the old marina, north of the Showboat. Boating season always rekindles fond memories of “Aggie” -- one of the most accomplished and interesting “women of the river” in its recorded history.


Agnes Garvey, raised on a farm, took to things that men-folk generally did. She was, for example, an excellent skeet-shooter and game-shooter. She came to Clinton from Boone, Iowa, with her second husband, who worked for the railroad. Agnes had two daughters who were graduated from St. Mary’s, Josephine Cramblet Gerke and Ruth Cramblet Romer, as well as three step-sons.


She loved the outdoors, and when Aggie and her husband decided to take on the marina in the 1940’s, after the kids were grown, she gladly supported the decision and pretty much ran the operation. She took up work repairing boat motors and fishing tackle, and pumping gas. She’d sein for bait, refinish and varnish boats so they were like new and, sometimes, make fishing nets for customers. She often worked 12 to 18 hour days doing such chores at her beloved boat dock.


Aggie and her husband lived right there at the marina, in a barge that had to be raised to street level because of floods. There is a wonderful picture of her, showing heights of different floods, while standing against the north-most lighthouse near her dock. She could look out her dining room window and see and hear the river traffic, loaded barges going by with a toot and a warning for the drawbridge to open.


Sometimes, she would go out and rescue an overly ambitious fisherman who ran out of gas; other times, she’d be asked to assist in looking for bodies of those unfortunates who had drowned. Aggie did it all and often said, “I can keep up with any man. - Just have confidence in yourself.” Her husband backed her up and was proud to say, “Aggie can do anything!” He died in 1956, and Aggie married Bob Lutz in 1963.


Aggie was so busy that her granddaughters often helped out with cleaning and cooking. “B.C. Hass’ Store was the only place she’d go to shop for groceries,” they recall, and, “She was very Irish and had to have potatoes, sprinkled with pepper, at every meal.”


Another granddaughter’s memory is of the time she was dating a fellow whose pride and joy, was a boat with a brand new motor, which happened to be docked at Aggie’s. After a particularly heavy rain, Aggie walked to the end of the ‘finger’ to pump out his boat for him. But, things didn’t work out as planned. Distraught at what she did, Aggie made her granddaughter call the man to give him the news that,… in the process of trying to do a good deed… “Grandma just, (inadvertently), SANK YOUR BOAT!” It must not have hurt though, because the granddaughter later married the man.


Yes, Aggie’s Boat Dock is permanently etched in memories of boaters and non-boaters alike. Aggie ruled the riverfront for 27 years. Everyone knew her and would give a hearty wave as they passed along riverfront. One can still, in their mind’s eye, vividly see… the dock, her home, and the Quonset hut next to it … as they existed here for so many years.


When she started on the Mississippi, there were only 18 boats at the marina. It would grow to more than 150 during her years there. Clinton became a port not to be missed, a place all must stop at, and Aggie was a big part of the reputation. She was also a very accomplished fisherman -- or was she a “fisherwoman?” She held the record for catching the biggest, and the second-biggest, walleye near the dam, and there’s a picture of her landing an enormous catfish, too.


In 1963, when a few great minds first conceived of the idea for a local Riverboat Days Celebration, a large part of it was to be naming the first RBD Queen. Various organizations sponsored candidates, and votes were recorded via penny donations. Potential winners were: Marilyn Mayer, from the VFW; Joyce Bingham, of the JC’s; Sandy Nichols, of the Jr. Women’s Club; Agnes Walton, of Wa-Tan-Ye/ American Legion; Margaret McGovern, of the Letter Carriers Assn.; Pat Schroeder, from the Elks; Caryl Randall, of the Power Squadron; and Agnes “Aggie” Schrader Lutz, sponsored by the Hawkeye Boat Club.


Activities during the celebration included the Mississippi “Skidaddlers,” boat races, tours of Beaver Island, a parade, balloon ascensions, and lots of things for little kids and families to do, including fireworks. The first day brought out 9,000 people, plus 1000 boats on the river. It was a terrific success and the late George Morris, one of the founders, was its first Commodore.


For many, including her daughter, Jo Gerke, the week-long festivities’ highlight was the selection of “Aggie” as Riverboat Days Queen. Her First Princess was good friend Agnes Walton -- at that time, the deputy of the Treasurer’s Office at Clinton County Courthouse. It was a fitting and a perfect selection that Clinton’s Queen of the River was also “Queen of the City” for this special occasion. Mayor Andy Dall crowned her as such, in July, over forty years ago. Aggie will always be remembered as one of Clinton’s very special people, and is revered wherever long-time river-lovers gather to talk about the past.