The town is named after a record-breaking racehorse, the 1860s trotter named Dexter. And noted for the Barrow gang shootout. These days, excitement in Dexter is less tempestuous.
“Last week, the sheriff called and asked me to meet him,” says Mayor Jerry Smith. “There was an angry raccoon trapped in a house. I helped usher it out.”
Smith moved to Dexter in 1993, “the year of the flood,” he notes. He served on the city council for five years more than a decade ago, and then stepped out of city government. The day before the 2011 election, he decided to run for mayor, campaigned that day by knocking on Dexter doors and talking with the people, and was elected by write-in vote.
The citizens, Smith says, voted for change and a more open administration. His most important directive? To increase awareness, encouraging everyone to be a part of the community and the decision-making process.
“We are getting more participation. We’ve had a couple of town meetings and that has helped,” he says. “I think we need more so we can listen to the people. Everybody needs a chance to express their opinion.”
The tranquil town of 611 is 34 miles west of Des Moines, a part of the West Central Valley Community School District. A mile and a half north of Dexter is 35-acre Beaver Lake. It’s known as a great fishing lake and a pristine place to enjoy a picnic. “It’s peaceful here,” Smith says. “We don’t really have any vandalism or anything like that, we’ve been really fortunate.”
Like many communities, Dexter faces financial challenges. “We have a street problem, a library that is underfunded and we need a new fire station and fire truck,” he checks off the needs like items on a grocery list. “Like all small towns, we’re facing an increase in water and sewage costs.”
It’s nothing that money can’t cure. And with a business district ripe for development, homes for sale, an industrial park south of town and a rewarding renovation project in process, the future looks bright.
Dexter’s historic Roundhouse, the Dexter Community House, was built in 1916. The elliptical building’s 30-foot-high domed roof is supported only by the walls, a feature that has been the topic of speculation and dire prediction since its construction. Still standing and now under the careful eye of an architect, the Roundhouse renovation will bring the structure back to its original design. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, it is the heart of the community, host to town meetings and events such as Bingo with brats and burgers, old-fashioned holiday parties, plays, reunions and, sometimes, just coffee and cookies.
The Dexter Fall Festival, August 24–26 in 2013, is sponsored by the Dexter Lions Club. The home-town festival includes a pie-baking contest, BBQ cook-off, bingo and cribbage. Water fights and tractor pulls for the kids are a fun attraction, but the true delight is in the camaraderie of Dexter families uniting to celebrate their quiet hometown’s quaint appeal.